Maddie’s Fund Incentivizes Better Data From Animal Shelters

As we report often, one thing that's jazzing many funders these days is an eagerness to collect and make use of data. It has become much easier to do that as digital technologies mature, and more philanthropists are seeing the possibility of new breakthroughts from data. Now, tech billionaire and animal welfare funder David Duffield’s foundation, Maddie’s Fund, has entered the mix with digital research and incentive grants.

Last month, Maddie’s Fund granted $1,000 to each animal shelter and rescue organization that registered with the Shelter Animals Count database, which taps data to construct a more comprehensive picture of what's happening at shelters throughout the country. Said Board Chairman Amy Zeifang, "Shelter Animals Count provides an unprecedented opportunity to collect and share national shelter data, to improve decision-making and most importantly, to increase lifesaving."

Saving the lives of stray cats, dogs, and other pets from all-too-common euthanasia is the key operating principle of Maddie’s Fund. The organization has given over $172 million to animal welfare causes since it emerged from a previous incarnation, the Duffield Family Foundation, founded in 1994 by Duffield and his wife Cheryl.

The story of how Maddie’s Fund got its name bears repeating, if only for the "aww" factor. Before Duffield's software billions (he founded PeopleSoft and WorkDay), he spent ten happy years with his Miniature Schnauzer, Maddie. David and Cheryl’s experience with Maddie spurred the couple to dedicate a substantial portion of their wealth to animal welfare, and they pioneered the concept of "no-kill" animal shelters that refuse to euthanize strays.

Maddie’s Fund’s pointed focus on this issue, backed by Duffield’s fortune, has done much to change the general consensus in favor of no-kill. It's a good example of philanthropic success with a laser-targeted approach.  

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So far, Maddie’s Fund has given substantial sums to a wide range of shelters and animal welfare organizations around the country, and it is currently in a state of transition regarding future funding. While commitment to animal welfare in shelters is still a key priority, the fund has broadened its efforts on related fronts, especially veterinary education and data collection. We’ve reported in the past on the fund’s Colleges of Veterinary Medicine grants initiative, which provides significant support to schools that prioritize shelter care as a humane alternative to euthanasia.

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Maddie’s Fund has also stepped up its efforts on data, emphasizing the importance of projects like Shelter Animals Count to the general success of animal welfare work. The fund is also compiling its own data into a searchable database on its website based on contributions from over 500 animal welfare organizations. Collaborative data gathering and easy accessibility seem to be the overall goals, aiding animal welfare providers as they engage in fundraising, advocacy, and outreach. These projects can also encourage communication among shelters, which have been operationally isolated in the past.

As for the Shelter Animals Count database, several big names in animal welfare have joined Maddie’s Fund as sponsors, including the ASPCA, the Humane Society, and Best Friends. From the private sector, Petsmart Charities and the Petco Foundation have also backed the database. We’ll be monitoring the effectiveness of Maddie’s Fund’s incentive grants in bolstering future participation.