Animal Welfare Professionals

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Leaving a toxic organization

  • 1.  Leaving a toxic organization

    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous
    Posted 10-20-2021 02:43 PM
    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous

    I've received valuable help and wisdom in other discussions, so I'm hoping to get some here as well.

    For reasons too varied and drama-ridden to go into, I'm leaving my volunteer position at a small rural humane society. I am part of a mass exodus of key volunteers who aren't able to work with the current board of directors, which has mostly been the same people for 10 years, is highly resistant to changes that would improve the lives of the animals and the people who care for them (both staff and volunteer), and engages in an astonishing amount of back-stabbing and petty gossip. The final straw for me was a recent board decision to re-hire someone who was previously fired for cause (I was on the board at the time of the firing, so I can confirm that it was for a legitimate cause).

    I say all that to say that I am certain I am doing the right thing (for my conscience and my mental health) in leaving -- I have tried to work with this group and I can't bash my head against a wall anymore. I believe that the shelter is failing under this terrible leadership, but they won't allow anyone with new energy and fresh ideas (and who isn't burnt out) to participate in any meaningful way.

    I can't be the only person who has walked away from a toxic shelter situation, but it is breaking my heart to do so. Has anyone else done this? How have you coped with the guilt and the feeling of failing these animals who have become my friends? 

    Thank you.
    #OrganizationalManagement
    #PeopleManagement(includingVolunteerIntegration)


  • 2.  RE: Leaving a toxic organization

    Posted 10-20-2021 03:04 PM
    Wow that is so tough, and I'm sorry you are going through that.

    First I would say that protecting your mental health has to always be a priority, and so if stepping away protects you, then it is the right decision. I always think of the airplane theory "put your own oxygen mask on before helping others" and in order for you to be most effective helping people and animals in your community, you have to be your best self.

    In terms of what to do about leadership you feel is not adopting progressive policies, etc., could you write a letter signed by you and other volunteers asking for feedback on why they do not want to make these changes? I think if you can approach it from a place of truly trying to find common ground and understanding, that is always the best way to go. 

    I would:
    • avoid accusations and stay in the lane of questions
    • talk about how you believe you all want the same thing/ have the same goal which is quality of life for pets and people
    • offer to connect them to resources like the leaders here at Maddie's Fund to provide guidance and context
    I believe people generally are more receptive to hearing feedback when they feel listened to, so frame it in a way that makes it clear you want to understand where they are coming from.

    Hope that helps!

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    Alexis Pugh
    Director, Memphis Animal Services
    www.memphisanimalservices.com

    Organizational Management
    & Pet Support Services Specialist
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  • 3.  RE: Leaving a toxic organization

    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous
    Posted 10-20-2021 04:39 PM
    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous

    Thanks for your kind words and suggestions, Alexis. I'm feeling a lot of guilt about prioritizing myself over animals that depend on humans to survive and thrive, so your reminder about putting my mask on first hits home.

    Unfortunately, I think the situation is too far gone for your other suggestions, but the basic premise (that listening can get you further than talking) is good and one I'll remember in the future.

    Thank you for your support.


  • 4.  RE: Leaving a toxic organization

    Posted 10-20-2021 03:21 PM
    My heart sincerely goes out to you.  I know it was extremely difficult to come to this decision.   I completely sympathize.
      It is my hope you can use your time and talent with a local rescue....

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    Patty Rytlewski
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  • 5.  RE: Leaving a toxic organization

    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous
    Posted 10-20-2021 04:44 PM
    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous

    Thank you! I'm involved with another nearby shelter so I'm planning to put some more energy their way!


  • 6.  RE: Leaving a toxic organization

    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous
    Posted 10-20-2021 04:23 PM
    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous

    I hate hearing these stories, but I think they are very very common. Especially in rural areas, it seems boards and those in charge are often resistant to change and resistant to change coming from volunteers. I have sadly been in this position with several groups. In fact, I founded a non-profit dog rescue in the hopes of making a difference in my small community, but sadly found that it was just as toxic amongst the community of dog lovers. Constant in-fighting, backstabbing and just rotten behavior often from keyboard warriors became hazardous to most of us and we had to leave. You must take care of yourself first. It has taken me a long time to get to consider this and often struggle with this, but you can only do what you can do. I found that, for me, fostering has usually been pretty good. I take care of the animals, mind my own business and steer clear of any rescue issues. But I know I'm not truly making any big changes in the world of animal welfare. That is hard to take but I do know I make a difference in the animals I care for. I'm really sorry you are having to deal with this and I wish everyone was in this field of work/volunteer to truly care for animals, but it seems a lot of ego is involved.


  • 7.  RE: Leaving a toxic organization

    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous
    Posted 10-20-2021 04:40 PM
    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous

    Thank you for responding and sharing your story. I'm sorry the politics overran your rescue, too.

    It may be that I limit my interaction to fostering or taking dogs out for a day trip or something less involved, and I can see how that may take some time to get used to. This was my first foray into leadership instead of being in the trenches, I was so excited to share my ideas, and the politics of it took me completely off guard.

    This really struck me: "I know I'm not truly making any big changes in the world of animal welfare. That is hard to take but I do know I make a difference in the animals I care for." I will keep that in mind every time I look into my rescue dog's eyes -- I've made a difference in at least ONE life and that's not nothing.

    Thank you for your support.



  • 8.  RE: Leaving a toxic organization

    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous
    Posted 11-03-2021 11:03 AM
    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous

    I'm struggling with this now. I have my dream job at a toxic organization. The organization has the potential to go the distance and make a real difference for animals, but the BoD is outdated, misogynistic, and abusive. We all try to keep our heads down and do the work, but the BoD always finds a way to pull the rug out from beneath us for no reason other than ego. Their policies harm animals in our care and in the community, but they can't/won't see it. Their abuse harms our staff and leadership team, but they do not care - we are all replaceable to them (well, not all - there are attractive women in the organization that have absolute immunity from discipline or firing, no matter how bad of a job they do, because a member of the board has taken a shine to them). Worse still, the bylaws the BoD put in place make removing bad actors impossible. My mental health has declined significantly over the course of my employment and I see my colleagues fading every single day. 

    The good we are able to do for animals through the chaos keeps me there, along with the talents of my colleagues. The guilt I feel when I consider leaving has a chilling effect on any plans to move on. I do not want to leave the animals in the organization nor the animals in the region to the whims of a group of toxic inexperienced egomaniacs, so I press on at my own peril. 

    Non-profit governance is a serious problem, especially in states where regulation is frowned upon. Has anyone found sound solutions on dealing with a toxic BoD? Please share if so.


  • 9.  RE: Leaving a toxic organization

    Maddie's Fund Staff
    Posted 11-04-2021 09:48 AM
    I want to echo Alexis Pugh's comment about putting one's mental (and physical) health first. It's true that we are in a field of helping others, both people and animals, but we have to be kind to ourselves, too. 

    I agree that the disconnect among BoD, Executive Director, staff and volunteers is prevalent in the nonprofit world, including within the animal welfare industry. 

    For BoD that are more open to suggestions, I might suggest recommending programs that offer certification in nonprofit management or looking for opportunities for building board and leadership capacity.

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    Irene Chansawang
    Maddie's Fund
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  • 10.  RE: Leaving a toxic organization

    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous
    Posted 26 days ago
    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous

    I'm so sorry that you're going through this. I don't really have any words of wisdom except to echo what others have said about taking care of yourself. It's also been a consolation to me to help dogs at another shelter -- my involvement (and therefore my stress level) is limited, but it's reminding me that there will always be a place for me to do good in the world.

    Best of luck as you decide how to move forward.


  • 11.  RE: Leaving a toxic organization

    Posted 11-05-2021 06:45 AM
    For you and the other posters saying that there is guilt in leaving, try to minimize that.
    You are no good to anyone if you are burnt out and unhappy. Your decisions suffer and your work suffers as you do.

    There are many places in this world to make an impact, and of course you have loyalty to the organization you are with - those people are more than colleagues. Be an example for them of how to walk away from a situation that does not allow any of you to thrive.

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    emily wood
    Broward County Animal Care and Adoption
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  • 12.  RE: Leaving a toxic organization

    Posted 22 days ago
    Anonymous,


    Thank you for this post and for your honesty.  I must let you know that I can identify with what you are feeling.  I must applaud you for puting your mental health and sanity first and realizing when it is time to walk away. My experience is that I worked at a place and they offered great services to the community and they had a ver nice building however things internally were a MESS.  Accountability was obsolete and no matter how much " good" I brought to the table it was never enough and the harder  I tried to save ad fix things I felt s though all my efforts were overshadowed by the stubborn, unilling to hear/listen to change and new ideas, bull headed higher ups. 

    Through that experience I learned that no matter how hard I try I will never be able to save the world. I realized that I cannot change anyone or make them listen to me.  I learned that what I want and desire for these animals is not the same view that others have. I learned that this work is HARD.   I learned that there is a time to stay and there is a time to walk away and protecting your mental health and peace is the number one priority. You will never be able to help the animals if you do not care for yourself FIRST.  You owe it to yourself to take cae of you.


     I think that you should give it some time and once you have stepped away and have had time to think you should send a letter or an email and let the board know how you feel.  I think that you should state facts, say things like ' I feel" or " It has been my experience" phrases o express our thoughts and feelings so that it doe snot come across that you are being critical or putting anyone down.  I think that this wll help a lot. Remember that you may not be able to change the world or the place you were at but at least you put your thoughts and ideas out there and then the ball will be in thier court.  Keep in mind that it is not about the item ordered but how it is delivered.  be conscious of your delivery of your message and things will work out the way they are supposed to.  Your talents and great ides are great and this board my not accept them but TRUST ME someone will love this information and all you bring to the table. Wishing you all the best and I am so proud f you for putting yourself first. That taks lots of courage and strength.

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    Marissa Reid
    Clinic Director
    LifeLine Animal Project

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    Access To Care Specialist
    Clinic Management Specialist
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