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Christine Hajek

Horses and Non-Profits – Christine Hajek (Gentle Giants)

Gentle Giants-Christine Hejak

Miriam: [00:00:00] All right, friends. Today I am super excited to have Christine hijack with us today. She is the owner and founder of Gentle Giants, and this is a charity that rescues draft horses from slaughter, abuse and neglect. They are located in Maryland. They have over 300 acres and rescue, to date over 1500 horses.

So part of the reason that I want to have this conversation, as we know my podcast, is about ending self sabotage and developing yourself in your business so that you can make a difference in the world. And Christine has certainly done that and is doing that. I’m just so excited for this conversation.

So welcome, Christine.

Christine: Thank you, Miriam. It’s such an honor and pleasure to be here.

It’s so great.

[00:00:47] Christine’s Journey to Horses

Miriam: So I don’t even know how I got exposed to your charity. I probably saw something on Instagram. That’s my best guess. And I started saying, what is this? And started sniffing around and have [00:01:00] kind of not only

donated but been following your, your nonprofit work for at least three or four years. We had the privilege of talking, I had the privilege of talking with you last year and did a little bit of coaching and that was fun. So your motto, rescue, rehabilitate, retrain, rehome. It’s the whole package. Why don’t you tell me a little bit how you got started with this venture?

Christine: So There’s a long story and a short story, so to try to compress them both together. I did grow up in a home with horses and it was a relatively small breeding farm. But like most commercial equine ventures, all the horses at the farm had to earn an income in order to be there. So that meant that at the end of each horse’s service,

If one of the mayors became unable to get pregnant, if she had more than one complicated delivery, if she had a FO that was born, you know, less than [00:02:00] satisfactory conditions or had crooked legs then those horses were liquidated and they were liquidated at the auction. And at the time when I was a kid, I really didn’t understand exactly what that meant.

But as an adult, when I was into horses on my own, I purchased a draft horse at an auction very, very impulsively. Having been grown up and being told the horses at the sale are trash, they’re the throwaway horses. They all are there for a reason.

The Reason

I ended up purchasing this horse, and when I went to the stall to collect him, the Mennonite fellow who was selling him was stroking him and talking to him, and he was crying, and so I said, I’m really, really sorry that you have to sell your horse, but I’m really glad that I was able to buy him and I promise I’ll give him a great home.

And the gentleman was really relieved and he was like, I had no idea it was a private buyer. I thought he sold to the meat men. And I said, the, the meat men. and I promptly got a very, very thorough education of exactly [00:03:00] what was happening to all of these horses who were no longer wanted and weren’t working out for their homes.

I was a little appalled. I was 28 years old when I learned about horse slaughter despite having had horses since I was six. But it really is truly a dirty little secret of the equine industry that nobody speaks about openly. Because nobody likes to admit, number one, that they know that it’s happening, and two, they don’t like to admit that they’re contributing to it because this is a financial benefit for these farms to have a way to dispose of their horses, rather disreputably, but then also to still earn an income with that disposal.

So that was kind of the start of Gentle Giants. I met that first horse who was named Elijah, and he was indeed not trash. He was not a throwaway horse. He was absolutely amazing. So I knew that if there was one Elijah out there, there were bound to be many, many more.

So that started my quest to go out and find them all.

[00:03:58] Starting Gentle Giants

Miriam: Wow. Well, [00:04:00] 1500 horses is nothing to sneeze at, and I’ll be honest with you. I, I’m gonna take a tiny digression. I’m a therapist by trade and current coach, and I know how to control my emotions, but when you tell that story, I got choked up and I had to just pull, pull that back, and I cry every single time I read one of your newsletters.

Horses are expensive, huge animals. Draft horses are three times the size and the expense of the regular ones.

Almost all of people in general are divorced now from the land and the animals, and they don’t understand the suffering that is caused by simple choices.

Now, I don’t know what it costs to euthanize a horse these days, but I’m gonna guess somewhere between a hundred and $200 to euthanize them and have the body disposed of.

So it’s not a huge amount of money that these animals could not have their [00:05:00] last days be full of terror and fear and pain and suffering.

And I’ve seen the pictures of these animals you’ve rescued the before and after where they’re skeletons. Mm-hmm. and then they’ve put on five or 600 pounds and

So anyway, I’m not gonna get all like emotional on you, but I appreciate what you’re doing and it’s no small thing.

So let’s, let’s get into how did you go from one to many? Because there’s a story there.

One to Many

Christine: So in the very early days of general Giants, it really was truly just a hobby. And it kind of, it was in my backyard, just a couple horses at a time. When it got to the point that we had four or five rescued horses, my at the time, boyfriend, now husband kind of came to me and said, this is, this is getting to be a lot of work, and I really think that we need help.

What we really needed [00:06:00] at that point in time was volunteer help more than funding. And so we kind of had a short discussion and had to decide are we either gonna scale back and go back to one to two horses at a time, or do we wanna incorporate a nonprofit so that we can get some people to come out and help us?

And we quickly decided we did not wanna scale back. It was time to incorporate and become a nonprofit. And we both went into this with absolutely zero knowledge or education about the nonprofit industry?

At the time I was a paramedic firefighter. My husband is still an active duty firefighter. But I will say one, one of the things that definitely helped me was one, I’m a very, very nosy person by nature, so I immediately started following and investigating other equine charities that I looked up to and reading their financial reports, looking through every single page of their website, just getting any information I could.

And I also looked at some of the charities that I did not admire and looked at what [00:07:00] they were doing and how they were doing it differently.

Mentoring

but then I reached out to some of the charities that I did admire and I was really, really surprised that a couple of them really welcomed me with open arms. They gave me some great advice.

They helped me out with practical things like writing my bylaws and forming my articles of incorporation and coming up with succession plans and things like that.

And that’s part of why I pay that forward now with doing mentoring with smaller startup organizations also, because if I hadn’t have had that support and assistance in the early days, I don’t know that we would be here.

Miriam: Yeah, that is an important point to, to just mention that wherever it is that you are right now- you were somewhere else five to 10 years ago. Mm-hmm. . And who were the people in your life that made it possible for you to get to where you are right now and how can you help that happen for the next person?

So I appreciate just that you’re [00:08:00] talking about that when,

when you look at the maybe difference in mindset from you rescuing one animal to turning it into a nonprofit, and a nonprofit is a business, every bit as much as a for-profit is a business, it just has a really different kind of focus on what you do with the funding and you know, the laws and everything.

Explain to me the mindset shift that had to happen in you to go from one to many.

[00:08:31] Clean Slate

Christine: I think one benefit that I had is because I was coming into this not having previously been in the for-profit world. I mean, my. Career had been as a paramedic and a firefighter, which is very structured and kind of paramilitary.

So I didn’t have things I had to unlearn, so I was kind of starting off as a clean slate and able to learn this whole new thing from the beginning. I think the biggest mindset I had to battle with in the beginning [00:09:00] was I was personally afflicted with a very common thing that that seems pervasive in the nonprofit community as a whole, which is the idea that because nonprofit work tends to normally passion centric jobs, that there’s an expectation that the people that work in the nonprofit industry should be willing to sacrifice financial security or even a competitive salary just because it’s the nonprofit industry.

And, you know, that’s something that I certainly now no longer believe and General Giants pushes back against that. It’s, it’s a very, very strange. Psychological Psychological conundrum that people seem to have this really, really visceral reaction that people should not be paid for doing very good things in the world.

However, people do not have the same reaction and they actually seem to expect people to be paid quite highly for going out and doing absolutely horrible [00:10:00] things in the world.

Scaling the Business

You know, if you wanna, yeah, if you wanna create violent video games or horrible, you know, music that talks about violence and drugs, people are like, oh yeah, you’re gonna make billions and billions.

In our, our early days, I very strongly felt that we should not have employees, that no one should be paid to do this. And then we hit a point that I, I actually realized, you you can’t provide adequate care and work unless the people who are doing that work are being fairly compensated for it.

Miriam: Absolutely. There’s no way to scale without that. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Volunteerism gets you from one to many, but then at a certain point in time you have to hire a team of people that you can count on and that when they’re terrible, you can fire. And when you know you can, like, you have to have that structure.

There’s no way to scale without it.

So one thing I find with maybe [00:11:00] newer business, Is that depending on the business owner there is more or less structure depending on the person. And then over time they learn and iterate and that whichever direction on the spectrum they were, if they were less structure, they’re like now I have to make a policy about that.

Mm-hmm. . And maybe they get more structure and then if they’re the other way around, then it becomes less.

[00:11:23] Business Structure

What have you learned? Like let’s just go with the animals, their care, et cetera, et cetera. Where did you have to start putting in what you would call business structure? You mentioned you have bylaws and you have these other things. It’s not a free for all, and it’s not just what any ever anybody wants to do. . Mm-hmm. .

Christine: Well, I mean, starting out the gate, we were certainly well aware of the, the, the business structure that we would have in order to have to meet our obligations to the IRS as a a 5 0 1 So that, that’s the simple stuff.

The bookkeeping, the accounting so on, so forth.

As we [00:12:00] have grown, I’ve actually kind of been surprised at the amount of policy that we’ve had to create and, and put into place that I really, never expected. So I definitely would’ve fallen on the spectrum very, very, very far to the super loosey goosey, no policy person.

And now have kind of developed along that line into, okay, now we have structure and policy.

So that can be anything from, you know, we certainly format our goals and plans for All the goals we want to meet with stewarding donors or volunteers. But it can even be down to the minutia of having to create policies about social media use with our staff.

One common thing that happens is, you know, if we have a sudden loss at the farm, we don’t necessarily want our staff sharing that on social media until we’ve had an opportunity to announce it. Because, if either a volunteer who was very close to that horse, saw that social media [00:13:00] post before we were able to call them, that would be really hurtful.

Policies

Mm-hmm. , same thing. Mm-hmm. I mean, if we have a donor who sponsors that horse and they were to learn about it through this, you know, odd third party or whatever, that would also be very hurtful. So I’ve been surprised sometimes that some of the policies we have to put into.

Miriam: Yeah, that makes sense to me.

I, I was talking with someone literally earlier today, and we were talking about how these challenges that come up within the business become the impetus for the new policy. Mm-hmm. , it’s like, oh, I didn’t, I didn’t know I needed that. Now I know I needed that.

And I’m sure you run into it from everything from – not everybody and their dog can give our horses snacks, you know, or treats or whatever. Like we have, we have rule, here’s where you put the manure fork. Mm-hmm. , here’s how you handle when you have a grievance. Here’s how you handle when someone wants to do x. I mean, you just don’t know until you know, and then out comes the policy.

[00:14:00] Can you give a little, like, give us an idea of the size, like how many volunteers do you have? How many employees, kind of what’s your annual budget? Help us understand how many horses are you currently working with?

Christine: Sure. So our current herd sits at 157 cuz we actually just had a new horse arrive about 20 minutes before we got online.

[00:14:21] Fostering Goodness

Wow. So we have 157 horses and in order to care for them, That takes a staff of 34 full-time people, two part-time people, and we have a army of about 220 volunteers. And of those volunteers, we have a core group of about 50 volunteers that are giving at least one, if not two full days a week. They take their volunteering very, very seriously.

They will call out sick. They will let us know when they’re planning to take vacation. They literally treat their volunteering time as if it were a job with the same responsibilities. And those volunteers are [00:15:00] bread and butter because we actually can rely on them to the same level as a staff member.

Christine: Yeah. That’s fantastic. What do you think it is that you’re doing that is creating that kind of loyalty? Because that’s unusual? I’m not sure. We do ask our volunteers that all the time. Most of them have said, you know, they’ve certainly appreciated that the, the more time they’re willing to invest in us, the more time we invest in them the more training and expansion opportunities we give them, the more responsibility we’re willing to hand over to them.

People who can commit more than 20 hours a month are extended riding privileges and some extra hands-on horsey time. but that’s not the reason for everybody. I mean, we have out of that really core group of volunteers, I would say more than half, aren’t interested in writing or those other opportunities.

Good Experiences

I really do think they just enjoy the hands-on care and they come to a point where they have a personal [00:16:00] ownership over the horses and the rescue, and they feel a responsibility to it. And that’s always what I wanted to create. I wanted to create a situation where our volunteers felt more like they were coming to their very own boarding barn where their own horse might be, rather than feeling like they were reporting to the factory and like punching a clock.

Yeah, and that comes from my own personal experience as a volunteer at some different rescues, some, some horse rescues, some wildlife rehab centers, and I’ve had some good experiences and some not so good experiences, so I’ve certainly cataloged how those experiences made me feel as a volunteer so that we could better structure a program that would meet people’s needs and be enjoyable.

Miriam: Sure. I have to think at some level, part of their motivation has to do with you are giving them an opportunity to be a part of not only something larger than [00:17:00] themselves, but something that is clearly doing good. If you look at the before and after pictures in your newsletter, there’s no doubt that you’re doing good.

Losses

Even if you have rescued an animal only to put it down 12 hours later because it is not saveable. You have spared that animal fear and pain and suffering and I’m, I don’t know, you’d have to tell me, but I’m gonna guess 90% of the animals you bring there are rehabilitate-able. Maybe not to full potential, but they seem to really do pretty well.

Christine: Mm-hmm. , they do. They really. And I mean there, there’s certainly in, in this line of work, there are a lot of losses and those losses can be very, very painful. But I, you know, we also, we bear that as a group. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. And so that, that’s very bonding as well.

Can you tell a couple stories of some of the horses that you felt like made a difference, either in your [00:18:00] life, in someone else’s life?

[00:18:02] Making a Difference

Yeah. Tell us a couple stories. So the, the horse that comes to mind first who’s probably made the biggest difference for general giants as a whole would be Manhattan. And so we found Manhattan at the biggest slaughter auction at the east, on the East coast. That would be New Holland, which is in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania.

And I purchased new Manhattan. I was bidding against a kill buyer and managed to win his bid. It was relatively low, I think it was like $460. So he was a relatively inexpensive horse. And as I was gathering him up, I didn’t notice it before I purchased him, but I noticed after I did that he had a four digit number engraved in his hoof.

And I asked, did the state veterinarian who is on site there, he inspects the horses for them to get their U S D A meat stickers and everything. Asked him what it was and he told me, oh, that’s a New York City carriage horse. And I was [00:19:00] appalled. We did reach out to New York City and we were able to track down his previous owner.

And I do want to say full disclosure, his previous owner was not the person responsible for him ending up at the sale. His carriage owner had sold him to another horse trader that deals in carriage horses because he wasn’t handling the really big trucks and trailers well in the city. They thought he would do better someplace else.

He was supposed to be going to Mackinaw Island where he’d be pulling a carriage and there wouldn’t be any vehicles. But instead they ended up taking him to the auction where we found him.

Carriage Horses

So in the beginning This was a bad thing because a lot of media got released about general Giants finding this horse, and a lot of information from that kind of got spun to really frame the carriage industry in a negative light.

But through that we were slowly able to meet with those folks and kind of develop a relationship and explain to them that [00:20:00] we are not their enemy, We don’t wanna see carriages go away.

People only care about what they see. And many people, the only horse that they ever interact with in their life might be a carriage horse.

We wanna see carriage horses cared for better than they currently are. We wanna make sure that carriage horses have permanent retirements when they’re no longer working or able to work so that they don’t end up at an auction like Manhattan Did. But Manhattan solidified that relationship and since then we’ve had over 50 carriage horses from across the country retired with us.

Wow. So that really made a big difference. And a lot of people are very, very surprised to hear that we are pro carriage. A lot of people expect that our answer’s gonna be, that we’re anti. In no way do I feel that the current carriage industry is perfect or even great. But I don’t think that the answer should be abolitionism.

Getting Better

I don’t think that we should [00:21:00] completely take it away. I do think there’s still a place for horses in our world, and the less that we have the public interacting with horses, the less we can expect public to care about what happens to them. So yes, that makes sense. Carriages continue, but better. Sure that makes sense.

Miriam: You know, I think actually it would be worth our while to take a couple minutes and have you explain this meat industry thing, because I am certain, I mean, I understand it. I know what it’s about, but. I think most people would say, well, I don’t understand. People don’t eat horses, so what, what is this about?

Why don’t you give a little bit of a tutorial on that?

[00:21:42] Horse Slaughter

Christine: Sure. I would love to, cuz there’s so much misconception about horse slaughter, especially in the United States. So most people believe that there is a ban on horse slaughter in the united. There actually is not. What there [00:22:00] is is there’s a tiny little half of a sentence in the agricultural spending bill, and that little half of a sentence says that tax dollars will not be used to pay for U S D A meat inspectors to inspect the carcasses of equines.

And that means that if a horse is slaughtered in the United States, that it can’t be sold for human consumption. So that originally was put in place in around 2007, and that was what closed the three slaughter houses that existed in the United States. There isn’t actually a ban, so it is legal to slaughter a horse in the United States.

It’s just not legal to slaughter it and then sell it for human consumption. There are still a couple very small slaughter houses that do process horses to be fed to large predators in zoos and other private sanctuaries. . I might not like that, but right now, that’s not my hill to die [00:23:00] on. I’m gonna fight against horse slaughter for human consumption, and then we’ll deal with that issue later once we fix the bigger problem.

So at its height back in probably the mid to late 1980s, almost half a million horses were being slaughtered in the US. Every year, most of that meats being exported into Europe. So the biggest consumers of horse meat are typically Belgium, France, and Japan- italy a little bit too.

Consumer Interest

So what has happened now is horses are shipped over borders into Canada and into Mexico, where our US horses are then slaughtered there, and then ex exported for sale for human consumption in other European countries where horse meets literally on the table.

Demand for horse meat is greatly, greatly slowing. One thing that has happened over in European countries is consumers have become aware of the fact that our US horses are [00:24:00] actually privately owned horses that they’re eating. There’s a lot of the promotions are very much billboards of horses out in expansive big fields.

So it, it’s kind of this presumption that these are like wild horses and or horses that are raised specifically for slaughter because most of the countries that do consume horses have two classes of horses. They have the horses that they eat, and then the horses that they ride and enjoy the companionship of.

So now that they’ve become aware of the fact that. No, these are actually, these are lesson ponies. These are race horses. These are show horses, these are workhorses. A lot of consumers have become less interested in horse meat that’s originating from the United States, so consumer interest is definitely declining.

The other big thing that I hear in relation to horse slaughter is people who are for horse slaughter, like to use the argument that if we did not have horse slaughter, there would be no way to dispose of all of these [00:25:00] unwanted horses, and then there would be starving horses running loose all across the United States.

And to that, I say that’s just unreasonable and it’s not true.

[00:25:11] Understanding the Issue

Starving horses and abuse and neglect exists now, even though horse slaughter isn’t an option. Those people could have chosen to sell their horses to slaughter if they didn’t want those horses, but they didn’t make that choice. They made the choice to starve the horses.

My experience working, you know, for 20 years. In conjunction in supporting animal control and humane law enforcement is that the starvation in abuse of horses is a mental illness. It’s not a financial illness. And a lot of the people that have been involved in those cases actually could afford to care for their horses. They just did not because they were mentally ill.

The second thing is to look at the sheer numbers. There’s approximately 9 million horses in the United States. . In 2020, only about 140,000 horses got shipped to slaughter. So at that [00:26:00] point, we’re dealing with less than 1% of the equine population.

Every year, almost a million horses are euthanized because of illness, injury, end of life decline, and that’s obviously a much larger number than a hundred thousand. So, The equine industry doesn’t really have to adapt very much to absorb these quote unquote unwanted horses that I would argue are not actually unwanted at all.

I do believe that our, our equine industry could absorb those numbers.

We might have to ask our breeders to be 1% more selective when deciding to breed horses. We might have to ask our private owners to rather than sending your very, very old, sick, lame, blind horse to the auction, please just euthanize it and put it down.

Do the responsible thing. Don’t make your problematic horse somebody else’s problem. But it’s, it’s a very solvable issue.

You know, I look at other [00:27:00] issues like the overpopulation of dogs and cats, and that truly is an issue. That’s an overwhelming issue. I look at the issue of course, slaughter and I’m like, we can fix this.

Horses Have Feelings Too

Like in a year or two, it’s all we need is the equine community to come together and we could absolutely fix this and it wouldn’t be necessary anymore.

Miriam: Yeah. I love that you’ve taken it on. I mean, I was thinking about our interview earlier today and I was thinking somehow somewhere you landed into your calling.

this has become your calling and you know, I don’t know if you’ll single-handedly end it, but you’re gonna be a huge, you know, voice in the ending of this thing that is just kind of a besmirch on the United States. It’s just not anything to be proud of. Something I’m always after people, you would never, you know, send your 14 year old dog to to auction, you know, [00:28:00] you just, you would never do that.

And why people think just because the animal is bigger, that it doesn’t have, you know, muscles that feel pain and sentience, that feels confusion and whatever. And I don’t know, I, I’m like, I a person who is probably different than most people out there, but if I have an animal, it comes to my house and it stays there until it is no longer with us.

Mm-hmm. , and you take that into con, into account before you get the animal, how, what is its lifespan, what is this likely to cost? And if I can’t do right by it, and I then I, I have to do right by it, whatever that means.

Right.

[00:28:41] Responsibility

Christine: and there’s lots of ways to do, right? Like, I’m not saying that every person who ever purchases a horse has to keep that horse until the day that horse dies. They may not be able to do that. Right? But there are responsible outlets. I mean, I am the same way. When an animal joins my family, they are here for life.

But I did [00:29:00] once have a dog that I raised from a puppy who did not work out in my household, and no amount of changing the way the house operated or hiring behaviorists and trainers. Nothing was going to work. I had multiple dogs and this dog needed to be in an only dog home. We connected with a really reputable rescue.

The dog stayed in our home. They helped us network her. They helped us interview families. They helped us place her. They put her under their contract, and it was absolutely smooth and flawless, and we were able to stay in touch with the new home. Yeah, and it worked out great.

Miriam: So it was a win for everybody.

Yeah, it was well earlier. Before we got online or before we started recording, you had showed me a book that you said was hugely influential in the development of your thought process about nonprofits. Do you mind sharing what that is?

Christine: Yeah, so that is [00:30:00] Charity Case by Dan Palatta and I love Dan Palatta. Maybe one day he’ll hear this.

Hi Dan. Love you .

Dan Palatta

I got hooked on Dan through his very, very famous Ted Talk and he did a TED Talk called how we Think about or. What we think about charitable giving is dead wrong. But my favorite book from him is Charity Case, and it’s how the nonprofit community can stand up for itself and really change the world.

He’s an incredibly innovative nonprofit guru. He was the driving force between the AIDS Ride for Life and the Susan G. Coleman three day walks, I mean, just really, really impressive, super out of the box thinker, and he’s really pushing people to kind of take down a lot of the psychological walls and barriers that prevent the nonprofit sector from being able to best do its own work.

Miriam: Can, can you list any of those offhand?

[00:30:54] The Non-profit Sector

Christine: Well, sure. One of the first things he talks about is kind of branches back to that, that earlier topic of the, the [00:31:00] psychological trap of believing that just because it’s nonprofit sector work that you’re going to be expected to accept, very unfair and disproportionate Compensation for that work.

Mm-hmm. that if you were doing the same work in the for-profit sector, you’d be paid sometimes four or five, 10 times. Yeah. What you would be expecting to earn in the nonprofit sector. The other area is we’re really limited on advertisement and the ability to invest in advertisement. Whereas in the for-profit sector, you know, everyone’s going to tell.

You know, spend, spend, spend until your last dollar’s not returning any amount of income. But in the nonprofit sector, people don’t want you to advertise. I mean, they want you to get it donated. And then it’s gonna be on TV at three o’clock in the morning. Yeah. Or it’s gonna be on, you know, one of the very, very back pages of a magazine.

And the third area where the nonprofit sector is really, really limited is its inability to take financial risk. and you know, [00:32:00] that kind of goes back to. Donors are expecting that every single fundraiser that a nonprofit is going to do is, is going to return at least threefold its investment. And anything less than that is basically a crime.

And you know, no one in the for-profit sector has to meet that kind of demand, right? And oftentimes that’s really, really unreasonable thinking. We can’t always return a threefold investment on an event. I mean, what if we schedule an event that’s an in-person event and a snowstorm happens, or, you know, something else major happens that day?

Challenging Culture

I mean, all of that is funding lost and not, not every fundraiser goes exactly as planned. So I think a part of that too is, is kind of changing culturally our expectation of what nonprofits are supposed to be able to accomplish and, and kind of lightening up on them.

And that’s something that there have been times in the very, very early days of general [00:33:00] Giants we were building our donor base and our fundraising wasn’t as effective as it is today.

And there were a couple years where, you know, our fundraising expenses took up 30 or 31% of our annual budget. And sometimes I would get very irate phone calls and letters from donors who were absolutely agast about it until we really got on the phone and talked about how it is as a small startup nonprofit trying to build that donor base and trying to fundraise.

And then as that donor base gets bigger and bigger and bigger and more reliable, , you know, now we’re in our 18th year and we’re super excited that our fundraising expenses are less than 15% of our annual budget. So we’ve gotten to our point where our fundraising is really effective and it is really streamlined.

Starting Small

But you don’t start there. Yeah. Like, and, and people, supporters and donors have to give you an opportunity to grow there. Mm-hmm. , it’s not something that’s gonna happen. Right out of the bat, and you’re not going to [00:34:00] change the world with money that comes from a bake sale.

Miriam: Yeah, that is true.

Christine: So we had talked about, we have 157 horses and we talked about the size of our staff. Our annual budget runs from. Five to 6 million a year. And that’s what it takes to keep this whole machine running and operating. A lot of people don’t really realize how big General Giants is.

We span almost 350 acres, so it’s a very, very large operation. We’re having 12 to 18 horses adopted a month, so there’s always horses going out, new horses coming in. It’s a lot. Yeah, it really is a lot. It’s a lot.

Miriam: You haven’t even mentioned that many of the horses coming in have severe medical problems that many times can be fixed.

So that’s part of the rehabilitate space. And what would you say. Changed in you? How did your thinking have [00:35:00] to change to manage a five or six or 7 million operation versus a hundred thousand or 500,000? Like as this thing gets bigger, your skillset has to adjust and grow.

[00:35:14] Relationship With Money

Christine: I think that is an area where I came into this with a little bit of a

gift that, I don’t know where it came from. I, and it’s something that I see in a lot of the smaller groups that I mentor. I’m very, very fortunate that I’ve never been a person who bought into poverty mentality and I didn’t buy into it even when I actually was poor , you know, as a single starting off firefighter, that I look back at that now and I’m like, how did I even survive?

I’m like, I don’t know, but I never felt poor. Yeah. I think one of the most important things has been and when I mentor smaller startup groups, one of the first questions I always ask the founder or director, whoever I’m dealing with is, [00:36:00] what is their personal, emotional relationship with money?

And if their emotional relationship with money is ideas, like money is the root of all evil, or rich people are stingy or that there aren’t many wealthy people or people don’t wanna give, or there isn’t going to be enough money, then I immediately tell them un, until they can get to the core root of that belief and change it, they’re not gonna be successful because everything they’re doing is coming from a scarcity mindset.

but if you look at money as an idea of it’s neither good nor evil, it’s just a tool for getting things done. No different than any other tool you might pick up, like a hammer or a pocket knife. It just is what it is. My personal belief about people is that most people are incredibly generous and they’re happy to help.

Part of Something Larger

They’re, they’re just waiting to be asked and that everybody has something that they want to share. It might not be a check for $20,000. It might just be a check for $20, but they [00:37:00] still wanna be invited to share. And that I think has been, for me, the, the biggest benefit. And it’s where I see the biggest weakness in startup groups.

Miriam: Yeah. Yeah, I can really see that. Again, I see you giving people the opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves where they get to participate in doing good. So what would you tell the you of 18 years ago?

Christine: I’m not sure, I probably would’ve told myself to lighten up. Not worry so much. You know, and just as always, and with anything, you know, we, whenever we’re, really presented with a problem, our first thing is as a group, our board goes back.

We read our mission statement and our core value statements, and then we’re like, okay, now that we’ve refreshed that, how do we wanna answer this problem? You know, what? What do we want to do? Yeah.

Miriam: Oh, I love that you do that. reviewing regularly your mission [00:38:00] statement and your core value system just keeps it front and center and it allows all decisions to be made through that grid, which is brilliant.

Very. Well worked.

[00:38:12] Horse Story

So we’re gonna end in just a minute, but I do have my own curiosity. You said somebody arrived, a horse arrived just like 20 minutes before we started. What is that animal story and what are you projecting for its future?

Christine: Oh, so this animal is a great indication of how things are changing in the horse world and things with horse slaughter.

So this is actually a horse that we were contacted by the horse’s owner who happens to be an Amish farmer. So I will say, and, and it’s a little stereotypical, I hate to stereotype, but most. Amish and Old Order Mennonite people that I have interacted with around the idea of horse slaughter have been [00:39:00] incredibly detached and pragmatic about it.

They understand exactly what is happening to their horse when they take it to the auction. They know what the outcome is going to be. They have no moral or emotional objection to it. To them, it is strictly financial. That horse is no longer able to do its job on the farm. Every horse on the farm has to earn

its keep or it can’t be here. Therefore, that horse needs to go and it’s going to go in the way that earns the money rather than the way that costs them money.

Caring for the Horse

But this farmer. Picked up the phone and said, which, I mean, that takes effort. , he had to find our number and he had to go find a phone. And he called and said that this had been his father’s horse.

And then when his father retired from farming, it went to him and he’s worked this horse for two years now. This horse is having a health problem. That means it can’t plow anymore.

And even though he’d be going forego. Probably a thousand dollars is what he’d get for this horse at auction [00:40:00] right now. He was more than happy to actually give us this horse just to know that this horse would receive the medical care that he’s not willing or able to provide, and that the horse will be safe for the rest of its life.

So the tides really are changing. It’s a little slow. Yeah. But we’re starting to see that more and more.

So whenever we’re contacted from somebody who’s in a direct like horse farming community, we’re never, ever, ever going to say no to them. Yeah. Because this is such a new change. Yes. Or their culture to look at this a different way and to start seeing the horses as sentient beings and companions who have a right to retire just like we do when the end of our working days come.

Miriam: Wow. Wow. Christine, this has been so great. Thank you so much for just your time. Can you please tell people how they can find you, how they can help? Yeah,

[00:40:56] Where To Find Christine

Christine: absolutely. So you can certainly learn all about [00:41:00] us@www.gentlegiants.org. We’re also on Facebook. We have an absolutely hilarious and very, very active TikTok.

If you enjoy watching funny videos about horses and you can also find us on Instagram.

Miriam: Awesome. So my listeners know that I always give as a thank you, a gift in your name to one of four charities. And what I mentioned to you before we started is this time I would like to do something different instead of giving a gift in your name to a different charity in addition to giving a gift to General Giants, what I would like to do is just profile your.

Your nonprofit, your organization in the year of 2023 with, with my podcast. So that’s something that we’re gonna do, and those of you who are hearing this will hear more and more about general giants. And whether you have horses or not, here is an awesome way to do some good. So thank you again, Christine.

Christine: Thank you so much. It’s really been a pleasure.

End Credits

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Music by Tom Sherlock.

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