Funding Seeing Eye Dogs

Service dog organizations face challenges fundraising in a sea of nonprofits
By JoAnna Lou, November 2013

Seeing eye dogs give people freedom and confidence, all while amazing us with their dedication and abilities. It would seem to be an easy case for fundraising, but the cost for raising these dogs is expensive and coming up with the money to run these programs has become more and more challenging.

Even with dedicated volunteers, a guide dog can cost approximately $45,000 to $60,000 for the two years of care and extensive training. Service dog organizations must compete against other nonprofits, which each have their own compelling mission. The Urban Institute estimates that 1.6 million such groups operate in America today, a 25 percent increase in the last decade.

Many people choose to give their money elsewhere citing the high failure rate (which organizations are addressing by training dogs that don't pass the test to work as PTSD or police pups) and the fact that guide dogs can only work for eight to 10 years before they retire. That means a blind person could need six to seven dogs in their lifetime. Also, while no one will argue the impact of these pups, the guide dog organizations help hundreds of people each year while other organizations, like initiatives to feed the homeless, have the ability to touch thousands or even millions. 

Donor profiles are also changing, forcing organizations to change their fundraising strategies. The Seeing Eye, a guide dog organization based out of New Jersey, currently receives three-quarters of its support from bequests and estate gifts, two areas that are decreasing as younger donors seek to give while they are living. 

The Seeing Eye and Guide Dogs for the Blind in California are lucky to currently have large endowments, but most other service dog organizations rely on individual donors and fundraising events like walk-a-thons and dinners. 

Still, despite the barriers, giving to a guide dog foundation may reflect a person's interests and passions. And each dollar donated means the world to the people who are enjoying newfound independence thanks to their service pups.

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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