Dr. David Haworth | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Dr. David Haworth

Background:  

PetSmart Charities Inc. is a nonprofit animal welfare organization that saves the lives of homeless pets. Each year, nearly 500,000 dogs and cats find homes through the adoption program in all PetSmart stores across the U.S. and sponsored adoption events. PetSmart Charities grants more money to directly help pets in need than any other animal welfare group in North America.

The Mistake:

I immediately went into a discussion about the budgets and financials [with a donor].

When I was just starting out as an executive at an animal-related nonprofit, I was called to New York to speak to one of the organization’s major donors.

This was someone who gave around $50,000 per year and I had been told by staff that he wasn’t sure we were using his money in the most efficient way. I had come from 11 years in a corporate setting, so I was ready for that conversation.

When I showed up, it was him and his wife. I immediately went into about a 15-minute discussion of P&L [profit and loss] statements, budgets and financials. Finally, his wife looked at me and said, “Dr. Haworth, do you even like animals?” It floored me.

I loved animals. But I actually needed to say it. 

The Lesson:

The lesson, which was so obvious in the moment and is still obvious to this day, is that people who are involved with nonprofits – whether it’s donors or volunteers or even employees – put the mission first. Even if they have questions about something else, they really just need to understand the passion from the leadership behind that mission.

Of course, I’ve wanted to help animals from the time I was 4 years old. So, it seemed fairly obvious to me – having spent 11 years in higher education to become a veterinarian – that, of course, I loved animals. But I actually needed to say it. So, that was the real lesson. I think she needed assurance, and what was obvious to me wasn’t nearly as obvious to them.

That lesson has carried me through – not only speaking to donors but also speaking to staff, colleagues and peers. It is really important.

I think this transcends nonprofits and applies to all businesses. The mission is what’s key. But if you can’t establish that you are core to the mission of your company, then the rest of it is pretty secondary.

Follow PetSmart Charities on Twitter at @PetSmartChariTs.

Photo courtesy of David Haworth

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