For more than a decade, a Napa nonprofit dedicated to finding homes for abandoned pets has led a largely hand-to-mouth existence. Now, its volunteers hope a program that steers portions of online sales to charities can lend it an extra hand.
Whiskers, Tails & Ferals is a local nonprofit allied with iGive.com, a Web-based company in Florida that allows online shoppers and merchants to reserve a portion of the purchase price to local nonprofit groups.
Founded in 1999 as the Napa Valley Spay Neuter Network, Whiskers, Tails & Ferals works through a network of about 100 volunteers to rescue cats and dogs from animal shelters as far away as Kern County, and prepares them to live with new owners. Whiskers holds weekend animal adoption events at the Pet Food Express and Petco branches in Napa.
Usually reliant on two annual fundraisers — a silent auction and a Christmas tree sale — along with adoption fees charged to new pet owners, the charity has had to subsist on “not even a shoestring budget, a nothing budget,” according to volunteer Heather Vance. The group first partnered with iGive three years ago, but online donations languished until Whiskers began heavily promoting the program in June, she said.
“It’s hard to get people to pay attention, because they don’t always read everything you give them,” said Vance, a Napa native and Cordelia resident, who estimated Whiskers has picked up $300 in online contributions since the summer.
Launched in 1997, iGive links shoppers, online stores and nonprofits by adding an on-screen button for subscribers to the websites of about 1,000 retailers, including Amazon.com, The Home Depot, Macy’s, Orbitz and others. Customers enter the name of a local or national nonprofit to support, and iGive sends periodic checks to the charities, funded by a percentage of customer purchases that varies by retailer, according to Robert Grosshandler, founder and chief executive.
“Part of the magic is it’s a charity you choose, something across the country or in your backyard,” Grosshandler said by telephone from iGive’s headquarters in Miami Gardens, Fla. “The real power lies in the fact that you’re making the decisions.”
iGive channeled about $600,000 to charities in 2011 and has collected some $6.5 million in its history, he said. The company counts about 55,000 charities and 335,000 customers on its roster, with 60,000 donating at least twice a year.
Vance predicted the coming holiday shopping season would provide a true test of Napans’ willingness to donate with a mouse click. Hitching its new fundraising methods to the old, Whiskers plans to erect a banner publicizing the iGive partnership at the annual Christmas tree lot that serves as the nonprofit’s main revenue source in the winter.
The tree sale begins on Black Friday, Nov. 23, outside the Petco store at 3284 Jefferson St. in Napa, and is scheduled to continue into mid-December.
“I was hoping a few more would sign up and support, but I’m happy with fact I’ve upped my numbers,” said Vance, the Whiskers volunteer. “I do expect Christmas will definitely be the test, to see who does pay attention and sign up.”