Interview by Sarah Shumick
As a college student, Rachel Finney started an organization to help her best friend who was in need of a transplant. Now, as CEO of Columbus Humane, Rachel keeps innovation at the forefront, looking at problems through a different lens when things aren’t working best. Recently, Columbus Humane launched a program which is now a national model, reducing cat euthanasia by 70%. In the last year, Rachel has led the organization in continuing their tradition of innovation, including the purchase of Eat, Purr, Love Cat Café, as well as launching Gigi’s Shelter for Dogs. Since 1883, Columbus Human has been helping people help animals in Central Ohio.
Give us a brief overview of your organization: Columbus Humane was founded in 1883 to advance the welfare of children AND animals. Today, it is our mission to fight animal cruelty, help animals in need and advocate for their well-being. Our vision is that all animals live free of suffering and that all companion animals are members of loving and caring families. We serve 8,000 animals and thousands more people annually through adoptions, animal cruelty investigations, community partnerships to address overpopulation and with compassionate counseling and options for those struggling to keep their animals.
How you are innovating in the nonprofit space? Innovation is a core value for Columbus Humane. We are always aimed at upping our game to help people and animals in need. In the last year, our most innovative projects include purchasing the Eat Purr Love Cat Café (a social enterprise, first in Ohio café where guests interact with adoptable cats); the launch of Gigi’s (a multi-agency partnership designed to support rural Ohio animal shelters with critical resources and get more dogs into loving homes faster); and our partnership with CHOICES for Domestic Violence to accept pets at their new facility.
How is your organization making an impact in Columbus? We help people help animals. We are creative in helping community members successfully KEEP their pets in addition to helping find new homes for pets in need. But we do so much more than adoptions. Columbus Humane is a private, nonprofit organization and we are also a law enforcement agency. We make more than 6,000 visits investigating animal cruelty, neglect and animal fighting in Franklin County each year. Our investigations team sees the highest volume of activity in Ohio and we file more animal cruelty charges annually than any other organization. That means that we hold abusers accountable and keep our community safe.
What makes your organization thrive? Our people, hands down. Our staff, volunteers, Board members and supporters are so completely driven to help people help animals. Every action we take is fueled by that drive. We are our very best when our people are aligned in that vision.
As a leader, how do you come up with innovative ideas, and what helps put those ideas into action? If I don’t like what I’m seeing, I try to find a way to look at the situation or its results differently. By switching my view, I often see things more clearly and that’s when I have my best ideas. For example, we struggled for decades with the staggering number of homeless cats in our community. We were focused on how we could take in as many cats as possible, as quickly as possible to meet the community’s needs. By switching our focus to helping our community successfully keep as many cats as possible, we reduced euthanasia by more than 70% and our results keep getting better. This program is now a national model.
Give us a snapshot of your career path—what is your background, and what led you to work in the nonprofit sector? My entire career is in nonprofit management. In college I started an organization to promote education and awareness of organ and tissue donation because my best friend needed a double lung transplant. That program went national and was on 15 college campuses when I graduated. I was fortunate enough to study nonprofit management in school. When I graduated, I became the director of a resource center for people experiencing poverty in south central Indiana. I came to Ohio following a handsome tall man (who is now my husband of 17 years) and worked with Junior Achievement of Central Ohio. After 3 years as their Vice President of Programs, I took my first role in animal welfare as the Executive Director for the Union County Humane Society. I was there 5 years before coming to Columbus Humane, where I’ve been for nearly 11 years.
What is the one thing you are most passionate about? A life worth living for all living things. Alive isn’t good enough. It needs to be alive and well!
What inspires you? Anyone who uses their talents and resources to truly help another. The underdog. People who can find the upside of down and make the most of difficult situations.
How do you stay motivated? What drives you to take things to the next level? I’ve always had intense drive. Honestly, I have a difficult time shutting it off and that can be a challenge for me. I’m motivated knowing that my efforts save lives every single day. What more motivation could you need?
What struggles or adversities have you had to overcome to get to where you are today? My closest childhood friend died at age 20 and my brother died at 38. Those losses really changed me. I appreciate how precious life is and I take every opportunity to show my love and gratitude to those around me as a result.
Why do you think people should care about innovative nonprofits? Because we deliver extraordinary outcomes with meager resources. Just imagine what we could pull off if we weren’t held to a different standard than for-profit businesses that celebrate their investments in people and growth.
As a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? “The boss.” Also, a writer.
What might others be surprised to know about you? I’m the youngest of six children.
How can others in the Columbus community get involved with your organization? Donate! Volunteer! Adopt one of our amazing pets. Learn more at ColumbusHumane.org
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? We’re a young, growing family in so many ways.