BLM interviews Alex Mayers – Head of Programmes at The Donkey Sanctuary about the charity’s international growth and how Barclays have helped the charity in their mission.
Can you give me an overview of The Donkey Sanctuary?
The Donkey Sanctuary will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. We started out as a sanctuary for donkeys in the UK but our late founder, Dr Svendsen, wanted our focus to be global, wherever donkeys needed help. To do this she set up a charity called the International Donkey Protection Trust (IDPT). That trust then became part of the sanctuary.
We started out with some partnership projects in universities across the world. We had one in Mexico City and the University of Ethiopia – and that was for training vets in order to get better treatments to the donkeys. We’ve grown into a charity that works with all stakeholders to improve the welfare and status of donkeys which are relied upon by millions of people around the world.
As a charity, we cannot reach about 45 million (FAOSTAT) donkeys in the world by ourselves – now we are already reaching nearly two million donkeys in over 35 countries. We need partnerships with other people, such as Barclays.
Can you tell me about your role within the charity?
My role is the Head of Programmes within the global programmes team. When I say ‘global’ – it really is all encompassing. We are drawing together programmes of work looking at all sorts of challenges – from helping donkeys in tourism to those in the construction industry. This is especially concerning in India where there are multi-storey buildings being constructed, and where you can see donkeys taking bricks right up to the top floor. You sometimes see donkeys working with broken legs and many others injuries in industries like this.
We are working on both national and international levels to increase the knowledge and awareness of donkeys and the people that use them in their communities.
As we work with different countries, we need to know how donkeys are being used and valued, and we work with partners who have knowledge of local customs, cultures, laws and values. Through this work, we are now reaching donkeys in over 35 countries.
Can you tell me about the sanctuary itself?
We are open to the public 365 days a year, and we always have staff on site managing the donkeys. Last year we developed our visitor experience and opened a large restaurant, a visitor centre and a gift shop. We have a number of different farms, each with a number of donkeys on, whether they have been rescued or given to us by owners who can no longer look after them.
Many of those donkeys come with different challenges, but we have an incredible team here. We look after the health and welfare of the animals – this is a place where donkeys can be free and have a home for life. The donkeys here are extremely blessed as we have nearly 50 years of expertise. We are always learning more information about their welfare, environmental issues, their use in human society and the relationships they need to have with each other.
We also have a state-of-the-art donkey hospital, which is a one-of-a-kind facility. We are extremely valuable as a local attraction. Our main objective is to be a home for the donkeys, but that has meant that we have also become a real family attraction – and entry is always free!
How have Barclays helped you?
The way that we work is largely through partnerships across the world, such as the one with Barclays. For example, we have offices in Ethiopia and in Mexico City which have grown through partnerships with other people and organisations. Most partnerships require funding of some sort – this can help a project, employ staff or provide new equipment or facilities.
What Barclays do is help us get funding to our regular partners. Our accounts team work very closely with Barclays to make that happen. If it wasn’t for that ability to get that money where it needs to go quickly, we wouldn’t be able to reach the number of donkeys that we are currently doing. They offer us a convenient method for funding our regular partners. That’s where they come into their own.
Our Relationship Manager at Barclays means we have a direct line to get what needs to get done as soon as possible. They have helped us in our long term plans, to help us get the funding to the right places at the right times.
Are Barclays helping you with your future growth plans?
Yes they are, especially as our future growth plans become more complex – as we are looking at how we spend our money overseas. We are looking at different ways in which we can grow and help more animals. Our growth comes with due diligence processes and working in new countries comes with new challenges – and as we evolve we need partnerships that look at a wide range of options. Barclays understand that this is an important part of our growth process.
Is it the case that charities are having to become more like businesses?
In many ways, we are already businesses – the ways in which we work are not radically different. We still have governance structures to adhere to and stakeholders that we report to. We have an income that we need to report against.
Like a business, we work to strict project and programme management structures. We have governance structures and legislation that we run our charity by. We are already a business – we are just doing it not for a profit.
Can you tell me about the role that The Donkey Sanctuary plays in the local economy?
We have just gone past 700 employees across the entire organisation, and we have become the second largest employer in East Devon, after the district council. The impact that we have had on the local economy is significant, but not just for staff numbers.
In May, we host Donkey Week, where we get hundreds of people from all over the world and open up all our sanctuary-farms for them. Normally, only the main sanctuary site is open to the public, however during that week we have talks, shows and events for donkey lovers. This has a great impact on our local economy.