About half a week ago, my friend Debra stopped by with a kitten that had been abandoned at a colony she had had sterilized years ago. Debra and I became friends many years ago when she was looking for some assistance with sterilizing that first feral cat colony in Waverly, NY. Since then she's become a major cat advocate herself, as well as dealing--as many of us do--with human care issues as well. We may love cats, but family and friends are vital to us as well.
Neither one of us has free dollars to just toss at cat rescue. It's a regimented thing. "XX dollars" are available this month that hasn't been spent on food, gas, mortgage, etc...so "XX cat(s)" can be rescued. Sometimes, however, cats and kittens show up when the checking account is empty or all the bucks within have been "assigned" to gas, electric, and other bills. But the cats are living creatures. You can't just let them starve. But you can't become a hoarder, either. And you can't ignore your family because a cat needs to be spayed. You lie in bed at night amazed that you have humans on one hand that you care about, cats on the other--as well as people who care about those cats. Imagine what it's like when someone calls you desperate for help. It's no longer just a cat issues. It's a community issues. Just as if you were sharing food. You are sharing help with cats. You are taking an emotional burden off of people who are often trying to handle other issues as well. Family. Health. Finances.
So on my porch, over a bottle of wine (provided by Debra--thank you!), we discussed the inevitable 501(c)(3) charity status.
It really is absurd that I haven't obtained it before now. I have grant-givers whomping me over the head in my travels ("What? You don't have your 501?") One reason I have not "pushed the button" is that, when I was a business--people I helped took responsibility. "Hi. I have wildlife control business and I've heard you have a problem with cats. I'll donate my time and get them fixed, if you would be willing to have your staff feed them, and let me bring you shelters...." And you'd be amazed how many businesses see you as a partner...someone donating something vital. They would step forward with real help. Land. Supplies. Staff who would feed the cats.
But when you become a charity? Sometimes, things change. "Isn't this your JOB? Don't you CARE about these cats? How can you turn me AWAY?" When you are a charity rather than a business, somehow, to some people, their problem becomes your problem. In some cases (not all) they want you to take the burden off their shoulders, instead of being partners, half way. For that reason, I shied away from 501(c)(3) status for a long while. Yes...decades.
I used to work for an SPCA, so I know how different it can be, between being just a "person" donating your time, or a "business" donating your services, versus a "charity" whom everyone believes is shirking their duty if they don't take in each and every cat that needs help. In reality, there is no difference. Dollars are dollars. Minutes are minutes. But to the public, there is a big difference. "Don't you care about these cats? How can you not help me/them?" Hey, I do it myself. I know how peeved I've been at shelters who won't take in every cat, so that people end up calling me...just a person. I have to remind myself that these shelters don't receive any municipal aid for cats. Just as I don't. We are the same. It's just that my rescue is just a person. Their rescue is a group. Does that make much difference? Not when it comes to space, dollars, time, and sanity.
So for Debra and I, the day comes: Is cat rescue just a thing you do as a hobby? Or something more?
So we talked about our lives, and also about getting the 501, and the grants that are available, when justified.
We made the decision: Go for it.
A mere day later, I was thumbing through my Time magazine, and found this
The IRS has FINALLY put their expedited 501c3 process in place. Instead of a 23 page form---it's a three page form. Instead of $800 in application fees, it is $400.
How is that for timing?