"Compelling Stories" — We Talk Shop With a Fundraiser for Animal Advocacy

When I asked Angela Grimes if there was anything that she didn’t like about her job as director of development at Born Free USA, she replied with a flat-out “No,” without a bit of hesitation. In fact, coming to work each morning with the purpose of supporting the organization’s mission of global animal protection and wildlife conservation energizes her, she says, in spite of the many heartbreaking and grim situations confronting almost all animal protection groups every day.

The 44-year-old Grimes began her work in the nonprofit field just out of college as the operations director for the Chicago Symphony Chorus and later as director at Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation outside of San Antonio, Texas. In between, she managed to do a volunteer stint in Costa Rica working in wildlife conservation.

She says that even though the welfare of animals has always been important to her, it was her work in rescue and rehabilitation, along with her earlier experience in Costa Rica on sea turtle preservation, that were the pivotal experiences for her. “Seeing how much of a difference people on the ground can make in this line of work sealed the deal for me; even the smallest things make a difference. It was very eye-opening for me to see animals living as they are supposed to live in the wild, and I knew that would be part of my life’s work.”

Keeping wildlife in the wild is the mission of Born Free USA. The group works in the three broad areas of animal advocacy around the world, pro-animal welfare legislation, and ending global trade in endangered animal commodities such as ivory, furs, and exotic animals.

As a veteran nonprofit professional, Grimes had firsthand experience with the charitable giving famine that occurred during the recent global economic crisis, and the ardous but steady recovery that brought in just over $5 million to Born Free USA last year.

With 90 percent of the organization’s contributions coming from individual donors (including estate gifts) and the rest from a handful of loyal foundations and corporate partners, Grimes says that like many animal-based organizations, social media can be a powerful tool for building awareness and a fan base which ultimately can lead to a stronger base of individual donors.

This is keeping on-trend with animal rights organizations that use real-time media for raising awareness about animal welfare issues or appealing for emergency funds for crisis situations. Because animal protection issues can be emotional by nature, Grimes says the impact of showing donors and potential donors what their money can do is stronger when you can communicate often and in real time.

Its website contains a plethora of information on the organization’s activities, which range from pressing for passage of pro-animal legislation to appealing for funds to end the ivory trade; there's even a link that allows supporters of the organization to participate in ending the mistreatment of animals in zoos and circuses by taking pictures and videos and keeping a checklist designed to help Born Free USA take action against the offenders. Several videos, including one of a baby elephant caught in a poacher’s snare, are hard to watch, but necessary, according to Grimes.

"We are able to share photos of monkeys who have just arrived at our Texas Primate Sanctuary touching grass for the first time in their lives," she says of the organization's work to rescue and rehome monkeys formerly used in laboratory research.

Grimes says that social media appeals usually result in immediate, direct contributions when related to an urgent need such as a report from the field on a rabies outbreak in the Ethiopian wolf population that requires emergency vaccine assistance. "It’s the urgent situations that bring in quick donations, it’s the compelling stories of how their money is being used that keep a donor giving. And of course, the nurturing of our relationships with our handful of loyal foundations cannot be stressed enough.”

A recent $161,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (the biggest award in recent years, according to Grimes) helped fund a project in West Africa conducted in partnership with the Species Survival Network for capacity building in critical countries of West Africa, such as increasing enforcement of international trade regulations and protections under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Grimes says the 20 employees and seven board members of Born Free USA are keeping their fingers crossed for a grant of $100,000 from a private foundation. The funds will go to the Primate Sanctuary, and to Global Friends, a program that creates opportunities for children by improving school infrastructure, teacher training, and the promotion of environmental education.

It’s all in a day’s work, says Grimes. “Big or small, every donation makes a difference, and what counts is being part of the solution.”