Nothing makes me happier than people who dedicate their career to helping animals, and this week’s Real Women Doing Real Things is no exception! Deb Fair, Executive Director at The PEDIGREE Foundation, is a lightening storm of energy and is working toward some really big initiatives to help rescue animals. Here’s what Deb has to say about how she got started and what she does on a “typical” work day…
Tell us a little about the Pedigree Foundation and your role as Executive Director.
The PEDIGREE Foundation is a 501(c)(3) grant-making organization dedicated to supporting other organizations that get more dogs adopted into loving homes. We’ve been in existence since 2008 and contributed more than $6.1 million through 4,700 grants to shelters and rescues across the U.S. We are funded by the PEDIGREE Brand and passionate dog lovers in the U.S. Because of this support and passion for adoptable dogs, we are able to provide three types of grants: Innovation Grants ($25,000), Program Development Grants ($10,000) and Operation Grants (up to $1,000). Innovation Grants are awarded to programs that are new creative initiatives to get more dogs adopted. Program Development Grants are generally capital or support for existing programs, and Operation Grants support daily needs to keep a shelter running.
As the Executive Director of the PEDIGREE Foundation, I work as a bridge-builder and connector for shelters and rescues, our internal Mars Petcare Associate volunteers, external volunteers and our community. My primary responsibility is to raise awareness and funding for our grants program and share best practices from our grant recipients to other shelters and rescues. It’s about finding solutions together to reduce the number of homeless pets – about 4 million dogs enter shelters, and only half find their perfect forever home.
Next year (2018) is a huge milestone for us. We will be celebrating 10 years as a foundation supporting shelters and rescues. I am really excited about how our 10-year anniversary – a year-long celebration leading to our “BBQ, Boots and Bling” dinner on October 11, 2018 – will provide touch points for how people can engage with us and the shelters and rescues we support. “Adopt, Volunteer, Donate” is our message, and the more we educate and raise awareness of what we do, the more we can support shelters and rescues to get more dogs adopted and into loving homes!
How did you get your career start?
I started working as an intern for Hill & Knowlton in public relations. Agency life is high-speed, and it provides you with many opportunities to experience all facets of the field – from non-profit communications and cause-related marketing to product PR. I was able to springboard from an agency to a non-profit focus in a corporate environment for both Toyota and Nissan. Toyota and Nissan had uniquely different focuses for their foundations, but both were built on the principles of offering a better opportunity for those in need – whether creating magnet schools, supporting math and science programs in the city, or rebuilding a community. Each gave me an opportunity to see how we can work together and have an impact through partnerships with corporations and other like-minded non-profits. The best part was, and continues to be, connecting with people and hearing their stories of how they are making a difference through their passion.
What’s your best piece of advice for young women who want to pursue a similar career path?
Follow your passion, connect with others in the non-profit sector, intern and get some exposure to how it all works. I’ve always been passionate about pet adoption. My three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels – Bonnie Hunt Fair, Lily James Fair and Chloe Stella McCartney Fair – came from rescues (Lucky Star Cavalier Rescue and Cavalier Rescue of Alabama) and serve as my inspiration for what I do (I grew up in Los Angeles, thus their celebrity names).
Get involved as a volunteer. I volunteer for Cavalier Rescue of Alabama, conducting home visits in Nashville, and I always find it rewarding when I connect beautiful dogs to their future families. Once you gain experience, look into the possibility of joining a non-profit board. You’ll learn a lot about vision, branding and long-term strategy work that enables a non-profit to serve its community and continue to grow – leaving a legacy of good work.
What’s a typical work day like for you?
I wish I could say there was a typical day. There are days that I meet with others in the non-profit field to bounce around fundraising ideas – as an example, we recently fielded a team of more than 60 runners who raised money for the Foundation at the Nashville Fourth of July Race. More than $25,000 was raised by our PEDIGREE Foundation Run for Rescue team. After an event, I like to meet with others in my profession to see how I could improve and learn from their fundraising activities – continuous learning is part of the job.
I also regularly connect with our past grant recipients, making sure we are highlighting their adoption initiatives and dogs via our Facebook and Instagram channels. At the moment, a big focus for us is on evaluating grant applications. For 2017, we received 519 grant applications and are reviewing 200 applications for our larger grants. Once these are done, our auditors will go out into the field and review the semi-finalists. Last year, we awarded more than $600,000 to 325 organizations. We’ll announce our 2017 grant recipients on Giving Tuesday, like we did last year.
Part of the job is also about being alert and agile, and recommending strategic changes for the foundation to address the evolving needs of the community. Just last week, this was put to the test with Hurricane Harvey, as the impact devastated both humans and pets. As a grant-giving organization, we felt it was very important to immediately address that need. While the Foundation has never previously distributed emergency grants, we implemented a new Disaster Relief Grants program to help with the pet rescue efforts in Texas, and we will continue to evaluate future real-time disaster relief needs within our communities. Find more information on the Disaster Relief Grants at PedigreeFoundation.org.
What’s one thing you want everyone to know about adopting and fostering rescue animals?
Adoption and fostering a shelter or rescue dog is a huge commitment. You need to fully understand the dog’s past history, behavior and medical challenges. Was the dog a former puppy mill dog or a stray? Does the dog have heart or other issues that require special meds and needs? Can the dog adjust to other dogs or animals, or does it need to be an only dog? Is the dog comfortable around children? So many of these dogs are broken, and with the proper match, love and commitment of a forever family, they can be a wonderful addition! Patience and love is key! I have often thought about fostering, but know that I would be a foster failure. It takes a special person to foster, love and let go. So, I volunteer as a home visitor. I love talking to prospective adoptive pet parents and seeing if there’s a perfect forever home match! It’s always gratifying and fun to see their follow-up stories on social media and see how great their new furry family member is doing.
Deb’s three Rescue pups – Bonnie (she’s 13 years old and lost an eye); Lily is the middle red head dog (6 years old) and Chloe is the tiny 8 pounder (she’s 2 years old)
What’s next for the Pedigree Foundation? Any upcoming initiatives people can get involved in?
The PEDIGREE Foundation is in the midst of planning our 10-year anniversary celebration – “BBQ, Boots and Bling” on October 11, 2018. Since we are headquartered in Nashville, we wanted to celebrate it with a fun, casual songwriters night with a live and silent auction – all to benefit more shelters and rescues with grants for the work they do to get more dogs adopted. More to come about this…follow us on Facebook and Instagram to learn more about our upcoming activities. 2018 is going to be the year of the dog!