It’s no secret that we’re obsessed with career-savvy and passionate women here at L&C, but I’m exceptionally excited to explore our March theme of giving back and combine it with our favorite series. Kaitlin Allen, Director of Development at PAWS Chicago, has morphed her passion for animals into not just a successful career, but a life-altering one.
In today’s WWL, we’re chatting with a lady who embodies everything we admire and talking about heart-warming stories, non-for-profit obstacles and how she overcomes them on a daily basis.
Kaitlin, take it away!
How did you first get started with PAWS?
I first became involved with PAWS as a volunteer. My dog had passed away and I had his bed and toys and food and wanted to donate them to a shelter so that they could help another animal. I had never been to PAWS before but found out they take donated items. I still recall walking into the lobby of PAWS Chicago’s Lincoln Park Adoption Center with my arms full of these items and being blown away by the kindness of the front desk staff and warmth and cleanliness of the facility. I immediately signed up to become a volunteer, took the orientation and soon after was spending time walking dogs and helping out in “Dog Town.” A few months later, I found out they were looking for a Director of Development. I applied and the rest is history..
How does PAWS differ from other animal shelters?
PAWS Chicago is a No Kill shelter, which means that we work to save, treat, heal and find a home for every dog and cat that we take in, regardless of age or medical condition. PAWS boosts a 98% save rate, which is really amazing when you consider that nearly 6,000 dogs and cats come through our doors each year.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’ll usually check my emails before I head into the office to get a handle on the day – and also that is the best time for me to have a focused and quiet mind to draft responses. When I head into the office (sometimes accompanied by my PAWS dog, Kyna!) I’ll typically have a mix of internal and external meetings to attend. We have a small department so I wear many hats – I have to understand the inner workings of our Database team, work with the Communications team on our direct mail program and fundraising email and social media strategies, oversee the Grants and Corporate programs, and do a lot of outreach to donors about PAWS funding needs. Any given month will include some evenings spent at Committee meetings or PAWS events, but I do try and make sure to carve out time for something unrelated to work, whether it’s as simple as going for a long walk with my dog and my husband or enjoying something cultural, like attending a dance performance.
What is your favorite part about your current position?
My favorite days involve the chance to meet with donors and volunteers and show them PAWS facilities – the Adoption Centers and/or Medical Center and Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic – and talk about the programs and opportunities to get involved and help us save more pets.
In what ways has PAWS grown and changed over the past few years?
PAWS has grown dramatically over the last few years. We added a second Adoption Center (the PAWS Chicago North Shore Adoption Center in Highland Park) and a Training Center for dogs (1933 N Marcey Street). These new facilities mean we can take in more homeless dogs and cats, which is so wonderful.
Do you have any pets of your own?
Yes, I have a border collie mix named Kyna.She is nearly 2 years old, a rescue from Oklahoma, and so sweet and smart. Border collies are bred to work as herding dogs – I heard they can run up to 23 miles a day – so I have to make sure and keep her active and give her “jobs” to do. We do agility training once a week and she takes me on runs to the park!
Do you have any advice for readers pursuing a career in non-for-profit organizations?
I would say the #1 most important thing is that you are passionate about the mission of the organization. Working for non-profits is a lot of work, and starting out can be really tough. Your motivators will come from being a part of effecting change – for a cause you believe in. Also, once you find the direction you want to go, try and get in the door however you can – internships are great. Give 110% and make sure and network. So many non-profit jobs come through referrals.
What have been some challenges you’ve had to overcome for your role at PAWS?
I became involved initially because of my love of animals, but I soon found out the animal welfare world has history and complexities that I was not familiar with. It was a quick learning curve for me, but one that has been so interesting and has led me to an even greater passion for the mission.
How can we get more involved in your organization?
Volunteer! You can sign up online at pawschicago.org/volunteer. The PAWS volunteer force is literally what makes the organization run.
We know you’re not supposed to- but do you have some favorite animals?
I’m a sucker for herding dogs – they are so smart and sort of insane and obsessive. Anyone that knows me knows I can’t pass up a border collie.
Do you have any favorite stories about animals coming from tough situations and getting placed in loving homes?
This past summer, one of our volunteers found a cat that had been nabbed by some bad kids who tortured her and tied fireworks to her and lit them. She was extremely injured, with burns and terrible wounds, but still wanted to snuggle and be with people. The PAWS volunteer brought the cat (we called her Nikki) to our Medical Center, where she was treated for her wounds. One of our wonderful foster families took her into their home while she recovered and she was eventually adopted into a loving home, never to be on the streets in danger again.
What has been your biggest learning experience while at PAWS?
We see and hear a lot of really traumatic stories about the animals we rescue. I sometimes can’t believe how dark and depraved people can be. It’s been a learning experience to try and not judge but instead to bring compassion to every situation. I should also note that for every tough story I hear, I see the opposite as well – people showing love and compassion like you wouldn’t believe.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Always make sure your shoes are polished. Just kidding… sort of. But how people perceive you matters. You show respect to yourself and to others when you make sure and put your best self forward. Be polished, be neat, be prepared for meetings.
Who is your role model or someone that has inspired your career?
I got my start in the Development field working at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Greg Cameron was the one who hired me, and saw something in me that helped direct me on this path. He’s an incredible fundraiser and an incredible person. I learned much from observing him and how he worked.
What’s next for PAWS?
We are going to be expanding and renovating our medical facilities, which we’re very excited about! This will allow us to bring in and treat so many more sick and injured dogs and cats, which are the most at-risk population.