by Haven Cook

These are the basic steps I followed in creating a new DART team here in Tallahassee after the previous one fell apart, generally due to poor organization and few members.

  1. I picked a date for a meeting and made up a flyer advertising the meeting to attract new members.  I included the date, time, location, and a brief mission statement.
  2. Posted the flyers at animal shelters, vet offices, pet stores, and circulated it by email among my friends in other pet-related organizations (rescue groups, dog trainers, dogsitters, groomers, etc.)
  3. About 8 people showed up for the first meeting, all new to DART. I had a draft set of bylaws ready for the group to look over (we can provide ours as an example). We spent the first meeting making some minor changes to the bylaws and agreeing to adopt them by a vote of those present.  We then immediately elected a President, Secretary, and Treasurer.  We set a date and location for the next meeting.  Also, we had an old brochure from the previous DART organization, and we continued to use it and hand out at events. This also helped foster the appearance that we were somewhat organized. Our Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation are available to anyone to use as examples.
  4. At the next meeting, we talked about training needs and began working on getting a DART training here in Tallahassee so that our members could get trained up. We also instituted dues of $5 a year.  I also used my own money to develop a DART display, which I took to every Pet-related event, fair, adoptathon, etc., and handed out brochures about disaster preparedness for pets, as well as talking to people about DART and recruiting new members.
  5. For every meeting, I made sure there was a flyer advertising the date and location and posted it around and circulated it by email to everyone I knew, always 2 weeks before the meeting.  I made sure there was a brief agenda for each meeting, so that we could stick to the topic and get through the meeting in an hour.  People like short meetings. The flyers and agendas at each meeting gave the members a real sense of organization and a purpose. After each meeting, I type up notes of what was covered and send them out by email to the group.
  6. In 2004, we were asked by the local Red Cross to set up and operate a pet shelter next door to their human shelter.  It worked very well, we used mainly the HSUS forms from the HSUS DART training, and we got some good publicity plus some good donations. We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the local chapter of the Red Cross to set up pet shelters when they open human shelters (copy available).
  7. I drafted up an “Emergency Pet Sheltering Manual” for the group to take home and comment on and provide suggestions. The manual was suggested by some of our group after the confusion of trying to do a Pet Shelter for evacuees and not having a checklist or manual to go by.  They wanted a step-by-step description of how to set up an emergency pet shelter. Having the members make comments and suggestions on the Manual made them feel involved and contributing to help found the organization. Since then, I’ve sent this Manual out in response to request from people in several states who wanted to form a DART/CART group as well as municipalities. Some adapted it for their use, and some simply borrowed the entire manual and put their name on it (either was fine with me – no copyright issues).
  8. In 2005 we applied for Incorporation status with the Florida Department of State, which allows us to solicit donations in Florida; each year we must renew our registration online with the FL Dept of State.  We then went on to apply for 501c3 status with the IRS as a nonprofit organization, which allows us to apply for many grants. Getting 501c3 status was not as onerous as most people think; I am willing to share a copy of our application with other groups to use as a guide.
  9. We were able to get a DART training scheduled for a few months later (2005), and we had 50 attendees (mostly county shelter workers from nearby counties because we had “piggybacked” the training with a state SART training).  Some of these attendees became members and have been the backbone of our organization. We also offered another DART training the following year (2006).
  10. Our 2005 DART training provided us with some DART-trained people to send to the Katrina effort, but our 2006 training captured many people who had simply gone over to help with Katrina, then found out about DART and wanted the training.
  11. In 2006, I applied for some grants (no grant-writing experience, but…) and we got money from the ASPCA and the HSUS to buy and equip a trailer with pet sheltering supplies, make up tshirts for the group, and do a much more professional brochure (one of our members designed it for us). We also got a local grant from the Capital City Bank Group to buy a generator to run the A/C on the trailer, in case we need to transport pets in it or sleep people in it.
  12. Early in the formation of the team, we picked March (in the off-hurricane season) to have our yearly elections meeting (January makes more sense, but we picked March).  We elect the board and our officers; there is some turn over but not much; I remain the key organizer, making sure we set a date for the next meeting, securing a meeting place, sometimes lining up speakers, and getting the flyer and agenda ready.
  13. In 2006, I pulled together some 1-day trainings to keep our members involved and broaden their skills.  We had animal first aid (a local vet donated his time and clinic to us one afternoon), a trailer-hitching-and-pulling training, catch pole and snappy snare trainings, a Pet Shelter Supervisor training, plus we always have a live simulation of a hurricane each May with the local Red Cross.
  14. Also in 2006, we embarked on some fundraising efforts: car washes, yard sales, wrapping presents at Borders during Christmas for donations, things like that. We continue to set up the DART display at any event we can (with our donation can) such as pet adoptathons, employee fairs, disaster preparedness events, etc. Most of the money we’ve gotten from donations has been spent on equipping the DART trailer and the rescue team, and we’re pretty well set now.

I guess it all seems simple to me, but it was a lot of work and I remain the driving force, although lately I’ve been out west on wildfires when our team has been activated and other members are stepping up and taking charge. I don’t think it’s necessary for DART groups to incorporate or become nonprofit organizations (there are (simple) yearly reporting requirements attached to both) but it adds credibility and we can give people a receipt that allows them to deduct their donation from their taxes, plus the big benefit of being able to apply for grants.

Another possible way would be to align with a local SART team or County Emergency Management, with your County Animal Control office, or with the Red Cross. Our team is closely allied with both the Leon County Animal Control and the local chapter of the Red Cross. Memorandums of Understanding can help facilitate this type of partnership, since DART teams can provide expertise (and people) that they don’t have.

As with any small organization, you need one or two people with superb organizational skills – someone who can find meeting places, get flyers out two weeks in advance, build an email mailing list, make up a quick agenda, and keep a meeting on track.  It’s this kind of organization that makes people feel it’s worth it to get involved, because things HAPPEN.  I take notes during each meeting, and send out the meeting notes to the email list so that people who can’t attend can at least keep up with what DART is doing. They are not formal “minutes of the meeting” but we do try to follow the basics of Roberts Rules of Order during our meetings, especially for board votes.

I like to move the meeting around to different locations so that our members get to know the various places around town (Animal Control; Humane Societies; Red Cross; Emergency Management, etc).  Moving it around also means it’s closer to some folks every once in awhile so they don’t have to drive as far.  We have speakers at our meetings now, but in the early years, each meeting was really taken up with planning the development of the team, how we can get different trainings, how we can get equipment.

Finally, with small organizations, I’ve found that it’s the board that does all the work, cause it’s hard to get volunteers to do stuff – everyone’s too busy.  So it’s important that it be a “working board” – get people on the board who are willing to get stuff done, not those who are looking to be on the board because it sounds impressive (we encountered that, too).  It’s the board members who turn out for our car washes, yard sales, and other fundraisers.  They’re expected to; it’s part of their job.

If you have any questions, contact me. I’d be glad to try to help!