What really goes into keeping Nibbles Open and Running

It's a long blog post this month, because there is genuinely a lot more going on behind the scenes than the average person is aware of. For those not involved in rescue, it's easy to not fully understand just how much there is to get done on a daily basis. From caring for the animals, working in the office, collecting and ordering supplies, trips back and forth from the vet and being available for adoption and surrender appointments. Time is our most limiting resource.


So what's really going on behind the scenes...


First and foremost, we have the animals to care for, from feeding and cleaning to medication, veterinary care, grooming and health checks.



Cleaning routines in a rescue setting are dramatically different from animals in forever homes. As we have animals arriving from different locations and circumstances on a regular basis, it's incredibly easy to bring disease into the rescue and without great care over biosecurity it's even easier to spread that to other animals. The last thing we want to do is make another animal sick.


We have four different types of clean; part, full, deep and change over. A part clean can take between 15-20 minutes, to a change over clean taking 60-90 minutes. Remember that's for each enclosure, to part clean every kennel, pen, and cage takes at least 7 hours. With setting up and packing away, sweeping walkways and mopping floors it's easily an 8 hour day on our most basic clean.


Aside from cleaning and feeding, we have to stock check daily to ensure that we have plenty of supplies, things like food, bedding, disinfectant, hay, supplements and enrichment and place any orders needed or make any runs to collect items when necessary.


We need to regularly book vet appointments for routine surgery such as neutering and dental treatment, along with vaccinations and get animals to and from their appointments. We also have our fair share of non routine appointments for animals suffering from illness or injury. In such cases we have to drop everything to get them the treatment they need.


We also need to keep detailed records for each animal in our care. With so many animals and so much going on each day, it's incredibly easy to forget dates, medication dosages, or who needs a booster vaccine. This year we invested in excellent management software which helps us keep on top of the individual and specific needs of each animal, but we still need to input the information into the system and check it daily for any alerts.


In addition to the day to day care of the animals we have a mountain of admin.


Finances


Each week the accounts have to be dealt with. As a charity we have a legal duty to provide transparency with regards to how and where our funding is spent. We have to submit a full report to the Charity Commissions every year which is publicly available via their website. To help keep our supporters regularly updated, this year we have been sending out quarterly reports to all our monthly pledge donors and sponsors and will be producing a much more detailed annual report which we will also make freely available on our website. We have been able to achieve this as a result of our management software, which has made it much quicker for us to compile these reports with easy access to the data we need, along with providing an easy to use accounting package. We also collect information left by our one off donors so we are able to send our thank you messages. In addition we have a budget and forecasting spreadsheet that needs to be continually updated. This provides us with an instant insight into the funding available to various areas, such as veterinary fees, and project costs (ie our new building work). It also helps us keep track of funding available for staff salaries and little items like print and marketing and our savings towards bills such as insurance, web hosting, and software subscriptions. It enables us to see exactly where we need to allocate funds and how we can plan ahead over the coming weeks and months along with keeping track of what's been spent from each kitty.


If you looked at our accounts you'd be forgiven for thinking that we aren't in urgent need of further donations, however, this is very far from the truth. As our funding is incredibly unpredictable we have no other option but to raise staff salaries 12 months in advance. We have to be 100% certain that we are able to cover staff salaries, which in turn enables us to provide the animals with the care they need and keep the centre running. If we worked on a month by month basis, we could easily fall short, be unable to pay salaries and suddenly have a major crisis with animals becoming neglected because there aren't enough bodies on the ground to care for them. Our top priority will always be the animals in our care and if we become unable to provide for all their needs we'll close, it's as simple as that. From January, we'll need to be raising close to £1,500 a month to cover salaries during 2023 or there will be no Nibbles. So while our bank accounts may look very healthy there isn't a single penny which isn't accounted for, whether that's to pay vets fees, buy timber, pay a wage or purchase insurance.


Digital Media


We are regularly planning social media content, campaigns, appeals and blog content months in advance. This includes taking photos of the animals, creating graphics and scheduling content. We currently have three social media channels and each one requires regular updates. We aim to provide a new blog article every month and a newsletter to keep our supporters updated with what's going on at the rescue. Coming up with new and imaginative content ideas is an absolute nightmare. None of us have any experience in digital media marketing and, to be honest, most of the time we're making it up as we go along. Sometimes it's a great success, other times a complete flop. We try to learn from our mistakes and build upon our successes, but hours each week need to be devoted to social media alone. Blogs can take days or even weeks to complete and, as with social media, we are constantly trying to think of interesting and useful topics which people will find engaging.


We also have our website to keep up to date. We've been hoping to reduce time here by using a plug-in from our management software, but there are issues which go way above and beyond our very non-existent coding knowledge. If we can get this up and running it will remove the need to update animals available for adoption manually on the website, totally removing that job. I'm still trying to complete our pre-adoption guides for all these species we cater for but struggling simply due to a lack of time. We also need to update our rodent care sheets and rabbit care guide, along with seeking sponsorship for printed copies. All of this has been on the list for at least 18 months but we've had no time available.


You may be asking why we spend all this time on digital media. Well once I didn't, because I didn't have the time or feel that it was time well spent. In 2019, Nibbles came within weeks of closing due to a lack of funding and non-existent interest in adoption. Why? Because I wasn't using social media and didn't have a good website. The vast majority of our funding comes via social media. Without funding we can't exist. It's as important as caring for the animals, as without funding we can't feed the animals, pay vet bills or even keep the lights on.


Other Weekly Office Jobs Include

  • Processing pre-adoption and waiting list forms

  • Replying to emails and messages

  • Printing out receipts and invoices

  • Printing and sending out sponsorship packs

  • Preparing and sending out information when needed to HMRC, PayPal etc and usually becoming incredibly frustrated as we've already sent out the information or they are asking for information which doesn't exist as we are a charity and not a business.


Other Jobs as Needed

  • Preparing, writing, designing and sending grant applications

  • Various other design needs such as Christmas cards

  • Preparing online auctions, sadly we've run out of time to prepare one for this year - these take at least 2 full days, usually 3


We've never had a week in the office where we've actually been able to complete all the work. Last week I wanted to complete a blog on hamster care for January but I never even opened the document. Facebook wants us to provide business documentation to prove that I run the rescue, despite sending them our charity information which clearly shows that I'm a trustee. Tried to solve this, still wasn't good enough. PayPal required a valid driving licence from a specific trustee, who doesn't have one due to the backlog at the DVLA as a result of covid, had to ask another trustee for theirs, still need to submit this and hope for the best. The Work Place Pensions people are insistent that we need to create a pension for our apprentice who according to their own checklist doesn't qualify for a pension, but won't let us register this fact. A volunteer let me know that she'd taken the last box of timothy hay from the shed so I had to order more. Our apprentice came in to tell me she was concerned about one of the animals and I had to deal with that. The phone rang a number of times, and I had a number of emails to reply to. By this point I had 30 minutes left and just gave up. That's a normal day in the office.


Staff and volunteers


Now, I know what everyone is thinking… get more help. Yep, we need more but here's the problem 1) We can't afford to hire more staff or increase hours for our current staff. Abi does a lot of work at home on a voluntary basis, but with a new baby and three other young children her time is already limited. 2) We've had very enthusiastic people offer to volunteer with various aspects of our admin, even just with small one off projects. We've been seriously let down, usually at the very last moment, every single time. Three things happen as a result, the job gets done, but something else less urgent gets thrown on the fire, the job doesn't get done and is abandoned or I stay up until the wee hours to get it all done before the alarm goes off at 5am and I start again. We've learnt the hard way that we can only rely on ourselves and definitely now once bitten twice shy.


To give you all an idea of how busy I am, I've been trying to decorate my front room for 3 years! I've done bits and pieces, but nothing has been touched for months now. I'd also like to ride my neighbours horses and work with my own pony but I genuinely can't even squeeze out half an hour from a day at the moment to do that. When I say busy, I genuinely mean busy and I'm still not managing to keep on top of my to do list. Over the last two weeks we've been seriously messed around by people wanting to surrender animals into our care. One didn't show up at all, despite it being urgent, and after I'd spent an hour scrubbing down and setting up an old cage and one of our volunteers setting up rabbit kennels. The second was a seriously urgent welfare case involving a group of rabbits and after 8 hours being spent between Abi and myself to organise placements with other rescues and transport, along with emergency temporary housing here, the people stopped all contact and everything fell through. Only for them to demand that we deal with these rabbits 4 days later, we had to start the process all over again. I'm 100% certain neither party considered for a single moment how much of our time they'd wasted and the knock on effect it would have. As a result I've failed to try two single guinea pigs together with the prospect of one of our volunteers adopting them, which would allow us to take in all the guinea pigs currently on our waiting list and I have had no time to work on bonding Tim and Georgie which would free up space for us to take in more rabbits. I haven't had chance to do a meet and greet with the girl rats and our single neutered male, which would create space for more rats. Forget about my annoyance and frustration over the situation, this has had a serious impact on animals urgently in need of rescue support.


All of the above is an average day in rescue, it's not unique to Nibbles. Every single small independent rescue I know faces the same daily struggles and fights the same frustrating battles.


Time

Time is certainly our most precious and valuable commodity and it's the reason why we have to run the rescue the way we do. It's why we can't discuss individual animals in our care until we've received a pre-adoption from. I've wasted hours in the past, back and forth with emails or on the phone, only to discover at the last moment housing is a 4ft hutch, existing rabbits aren't neutered and vaccinated and they are fed on muesli. That's time I could have used to do something productive. So now we simply won't engage until we know that the home offer is suitable. It's why we can't offer a personalised advice service, if we took out time from the day to compose lengthy replies, we lose time on dealing with keeping our PayPal account open and running or trying not to get fined by HMRC because we can't tell them that we don't need to set up a pension. It's why the vast majority of our direct contact with the public is either self-service or automated because we are trying to get rabbits cleaned and fed as a volunteer couldn't come in that day and we're out of the office as a result. It's why we don't allow drop in visits to the rescue to see the animals, or allow visits before a successful pre-adoption form, if we are showing people around we aren't keeping the accounts up to date or dealing with our social media. It's why our appointment days and times can't be altered, as that's when we have enough people here to cater for them and still see that all the other animals are sorted and everything else done. We aren't purposely trying to be difficult, unhelpful, uncaring or uncooperative. We simply can't do it, because we don't have the time, funding or human resources available to do it. We pull off miracles every day, but we can't alter the laws of time and space. Believe me, I've tried, but my time turner doesn't work, despite it coming directly from the Harry Potter gift shop!


So please please please understand that everyone is trying their very best, under incredibly difficult circumstances. We are constantly stressed and anxious about what we haven't done, what is now becoming urgent and what we won't have time to do. Please use the systems we have in place as that saves us time in the long run and will be much quicker for you too. We will always do everything we can to help everyone, but we can't do the impossible.


I would like to end by thanking our amazing team of volunteers and Abi. Although Abi is paid for a number of hours each week, she regularly donates her time to the rescue from dealing with admin at home or coming in to help with various projects. She most likely volunteers more hours than she's paid for every week and has never once complained, or let me or the rescue down. We have an amazing team of animal care volunteers who turn up each week pretty much without fail. They are true heroes and Nibbles couldn't operate without them. They are a vital part of our family and always go above and beyond to help change lives. We also have amazing volunteers who will help us, usually at very short notice, with transport runs, either to take animals to other rescues or bring animals to us. In most cases they will take all the stress away from our end by coordinating runs between themselves and just let us know when they will be arriving. In some cases they've even settled animals in themselves because everyone else was busy. Then we have our fantastic trustees who give up their time on very important behind the scenes work and manage the charity as a whole. My dear old Mum never wanted Nibbles in her back yard and definitely didn't want to be involved. But she regularly collects supplies, takes animals to vet appointments and picks them up after ops and she takes full responsibility for everyone every Sunday so I get a full day off to decompress and relax, without which I would have thrown in the towel years ago.


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