So you want to start up a horse rescue and/or an organization to help horses?
Why - Seems like a silly question; however, it will be the first question asked of you when you go to apply for your 501(c)3 non profit status as well as when applying for grants. Do you want to help that sad skinny horse at the feed lot? Or do you want to help by retraining horses? Or both? Many groups out there do apply for the 501(c)3 status to help receive funding for their already established business. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it's done with the right intention: helping horses. Horses receive an education and in turn makes them ridable for the equestrian community. Let's face it, nobody gets rich off of horses, it's a consistent balance of trying to break even with some good and bad breaks in between. It's all about keeping the program going, and we do it because we love it and are passionate about it. Helping is helping, period.
Mission Statement - Your mission statement should be a summary of what your organization does in one sentence. Be clever, but also be straight to the point. This will be used when applying for your 501 as well as grants. It's what you stand for, so it is important.
Specializing - Make a plan. Do you want to specialize in auction/feed lot horses? Horses who are no longer useful for riding, such as a sanctuary? PMU or nurse mare horses? Elderly horses? Racehorses? Re-training? It is easier if you have a direct plan so people know exactly what you do and are more apt to want to help and adopt.
Motivation - It takes a very motivated person who can commit a majority of their time to the rescue. This is an everyday, full time business that requires a lot of your attention and time. trust me, I know that well. If you cannot be committed, don't take on the responsibility.
Funding/Grants/Donations/Applying for 501 - I suggest you hire a CPA or someone who specializes in starting up a non-profit. There is a lot involved and if you miss anything, all that time and money you put into your application process will be denied. A professional in the field will also help you with all the yearly filing requirements to keep your organization up to date with the state regulations. Failing to meet those regulations will end up in suspension of your non profit status. The start up process is not cheap, it will cost a couple thousand dollars in total to get all set up with the filing. It takes a solid 6 months to get your approval letter and you must be an established non profit through the government for one year before you are eligible for most grants. Having a good grant writer is huge. You will have lots of competition when applying and there is only so much money, your application needs to stand out from others. Hosting fundraisers, online auctions, or even giveaways are a good way to collect small amounts of donations to help. Many large online horse stores will give you items or gift cards to help you with your fundraising if you ask and apply.
Website - Get the word out, let the public know who you are and what you are here to do. Create a Facebook page, an Instagram account, build a website. The more your organization is known, the more you are able to be successful in what you are trying to accomplish.
Facilities - Having your own land is ideal or one you can rent and manage yourself to help cut costs. Running an organization out of a boarding facility will limit you on horses you can take in, whether it be the high cost of boarding or stallions or even sick horses. Boarding facilities are not ideal; however, if that is the only route you can go, then make sure you don't get in over your head financially.
People Skills - Very important one here. You will not just be dealing with the horses, you will also be dealing with potential adopters as well as donors. Respond to your emails and phone messages within a timely manner. Learn to deal and handle complaints professionally. If you need to make right by someone, suck it up and do it. Brush up on your people skills, look and act professional and most of all BE NICE. The horse world is very small and word spreads very quickly. A non-profit should not be treated any differently than a well run business. Your reputation is everything, without it, you are more than likely to fail.
Drama - Stay away from drama from other organizations. If you must get involved, do it to help and not to bash them online. You run your organization and they run theirs.
Horse Knowledge - This would seem pretty basic, however I have come across a few who have some basic knowledge, but really lack in horsemanship all around. Having a strong knowledge and experience will help you in dealing with many different horses and their baggage and can in turn help save you some money being able to deal with certain situations on your own.
Volunteers - Volunteers are priceless. Many of them want to help and will follow your lead and be there to help you do duties around the barn or even video your rides for you. Most of them probably don't have much riding experience, but they can certainly lend you a hand in other areas.
Plan for Everything - Having a plan for everything, such as a horse with a poor riding diagnosis, or an emergency surgery, a surprise mare in foal, or even a horse who requires euthanasia. Unexpected bills come up all the time, being able to properly handle them is what counts.
Sanctuary vs Retraining/Rehoming - Very important one here. You really need to define yourself if you will be accepting horses who need life long care (Sanctuary) or you will be adopting them out. Keep in mind, the more you keep, the less space you have for others.
Knowing when to say "NO" - One of the hardest things to do, but is a necessity. Too many rescues get in way over their heads because they cannot say no, and in the end, the horse suffers. You cannot help them all, but the ones you can help makes a huge difference in that horse and that is what counts.
Knowing when to ask for help - When you are in over your head, whether it's financial or just too many horses, please ask for help. I cannot stress this enough. 99% of failed rescues end up in horrible situations with starved and neglected horses because they simply did not ask for help. Don't be that organization. Many people will be more than happy to help if you just ask for it. The horses should never have to suffer because of poor business planning or simply bad luck.
Most of all, if you lose focus or passion, get out. No one will look down on you and say you failed. There is nothing worse then trying to keep something going that you no longer are passionate about or able to continue on at 100%. Helping horses is an amazing feeling, and seeing the happy faces of adopters with their horses does make it all worth it in the end.