How to Systematize Your Nonprofit Organization and Attract More Volunteers to Your Cause! – with Carole Baskin

Last Updated on May 15, 2014 by Owen McGab Enaohwo

Let’s be honest when you think of the word “nonprofit”, what usually comes to your mind? I doubt you think of a completely systemized business that delivers results like a well oiled machine!

In this interview Carole Baskin, the CEO of Big Cat Rescue reveals How to Systematize Your Nonprofit Organization, Attract More Volunteers and Dramatically Increase the Public’s Awareness to your Cause. You will discover how she has built the the world’s largest rescue facility for exotic cats and how by systemizing her nonprofit she is able to generate over $2mill annually for her cause!

Carole Baskin the CEO of Big Cat Rescue



Tweetable Quote:


In this Episode You will Discover:

  • How Carole systematized her organization to ensure worker safety and accountability.
  • How Carole tracks relevant information for each cat in the sanctuary.
  • How Big Cat Rescue implemented classes and certification in the organization for training her staff and volunteers on every topic.
  • How Big Cat Rescue educates the public about their organization’s cause.
  • How Big Cat Rescue created a life-changing customer experience.
  • How Big Cat Rescue refined their system for observing their animals.
  • How Carole implemented employee reward systems to encourage a positive work environment.
  • How Big Cat Rescue implemented a system to distinguish volunteers by experience and certification level.


Noteworthy items Mentioned in this Episode:

  1. Google Apps for Education for data security
  2. Zerve for tour bookings
  3. Volgistics for volunteer management
  4. Google Glass for hands-free maneuvering
  5. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins
  6. Internet Business Mastery for ongoing learning
  7. Your Website Engineer for ongoing learning


Episode Transcript:

OWEN: My guest today is Carole Baskin. She’s the CEO of Big Cat Rescue. Carole, welcome to the show.CAROLE: Thank you for having me Owen.OWEN: Let’s get started. What exactly does your company do and what big pain do you solve for your customers?CAROLE: Big Cat Rescue is the world’s largest, accredited sanctuary that’s dedicated entirely to rescuing big cats like lions, tigers, and leopards. So the service that we provide that we provide our clients is that we take care of these animals until they die of old age. And we try to end the abuses that cause them to need to be rescued in the first place.

OWEN: Okay. And so, how many full-time employees do you currently have?

CAROLE: We have 12 paid employees and 2 that work virtually. We have about 100 volunteers that are volunteers that are in the volunteers [Unintelligible 00:00:50] of the animal care.

OWEN: Wow, okay. And I think during the pre-interview you mentioned how– okay, how does this work? So none of the people are paid to do the animal care, stuff like that?

CAROLE: Right. Because when it comes to lions and tigers people will work for free just to be around these kinds of animals. So we don’t pay anybody to feed the cats, or clean the cages, or do the medical care, or any of those kinds of things. So these are all done by volunteers. But volunteers need management. And so, the paid people are managing those volunteers to make sure that they get the necessary training, that they’re going to be safe to schedule them, to take care of all of the different aspects of running a sanctuary.

OWEN: Awesome. And so, my listeners always want to know the scale of your business. So last year what was the annual revenue and what do you expect to do this year?

CAROLE: The annual revenue last year was about $2.7 million. This year I expect it to probably be closer to 3 million because we have been seeing increases every year.

OWEN: Wow. And just to make sure, are you guys a non-profit?

CAROLE: Yes. We’re a non-profit 501c3 but we have to run this exactly like anybody would a real business because there are real cats with real appetites, and they have to be fed.

OWEN: Yeah. One of the things I like to is during the pre-interview we want to actually go and look at the finances. We can actually go on there and see that. That’s awesome, seeing non-profit sharing the data behind the finances and all that. And so, this interview is all about learning how to systematize a business. And in your case you have a non-profit which you’ve literally systematized. And before you got to the point where the non-profit runs without you, we want to go back and talk about what will you say was kind of like the lowest point in the business and how bad it got.

CAROLE: The hardest part for us is communication, because with 100 volunteers and a dozen paid staff, and 100 big cats, it’s really important that we communicate. And we were really struggling with that for many years. And it wasn’t until probably about 2009 that we started systematizing our processes. Because before then, if somebody saw that an animal was maybe leaving food behind, and so that’s an indicator that the animal isn’t feeling well. They would write it in a paper book and then I would have to go through the paper logs every day. And you couldn’t see if there was like a trend happening. Like maybe every May this cat might bringing to heat, and so maybe that’s why they’re not eating as much as they used to. But you couldn’t see those trends when you’re dealing with paper systems. And there was also another issue with some of the people that were in key positions the way that they would protect their thiefdom would be to hide information. So they would have some volunteers just write it on a yellow to keep tab and stick that in the book. And then if they didn’t want me to see it because it looks like maybe they weren’t doing their job they’d peel those sticky tabs off and then I wouldn’t have any idea what was happening.

OWEN: Wow.

CAROLE: Yeah. It was really scary and it was not safe for the cats. And so I knew I had to do something where I couldn’t be kept from knowing what’s going on with the animals because the buck stops with me and I need to make sure these animals are getting the care they need.

OWEN: Yeah, and literally it’s not even safe for the people if stuff is not getting done predictably. Lions can bite them.

CAROLE: Yes. A lot of the issues where maintenance issues. So not taking care of the equipment properly, and not making sure that the doors were working properly. Things that were huge safety factors that I didn’t know about because those little yellow sticky tabs would go unattached.

OWEN: And so, now we’ve talked about some of the issues they had back then so we understand what prompted you to change things around. So, let’s talk about specifics about how you solved this problem. Before we even talk about how you use Google Maps, Google education apps for your business, I’m trying to figure out, when you realize this, what was the very first thing you did to solve these problems that you mentioned?

CAROLE: Well, the first thing that I did was I really stepped up my oversight. So I was having to come out a lot more frequently. I was having to look at those books and trying to see the tabs before they got thrown away. I was having to do a lot more walking through the sanctuary myself and visually inspecting things and making notes of my own. But again, when it was a paper-type system, I just could not see the trends that were so important when you’re dealing with animals because with big cats its survival of the fittest. And these guys do not let you have any indication that they’re sick in the wild because they would be killed by other animals. So they try to hide it from us as long as they possibly can. And if I don’t catch them in a trend really fast then the animal could die. So, it was really important that we come up with a better system. But all of the systems that involve transferring information from one paper sheet, to another paper sheet, to another, those things were just not– they were never going to be adequate.

OWEN: So you decided that you want to use Google education apps. So let’s talk about that and how that helped.

CAROLE: I was really fortunate because I applied for Google education apps I think pretty early in their process. I’m pretty sure we had ours by 2009. And we got the grant, and we were able to build out this site. But I know an awful lot of other people that we tried to help, we’ve created just regular Google sites rather than Google education apps so that they don’t have to wait for that process of applying and being granted that access. So we’re willing to make it so that anybody today could have the same systems that we have immediately. And it’s not exactly the same because it’s not as good as Google education apps, but Google sites still does manage to automatize an awful lot of this stuff.

OWEN: So let’s talk about the specifics about the Google educational app. And so, is it possible that the site is password protected so it allows you to create auto sanctuary sites. Talk about that.

CAROLE: Well, part of the ability of us sharing everything that happens with our cats here, with each other in the sanctuary is that we need to know that, that is protected. It’s not everybody out there who hates us, getting access to this information. And you might think who would hate us in Google sanctuary? But we are the leading voice against animal abuse for big cats. And so the people who abuse big cats, circus acts, and people that use them in performing acts, and people breed them so that the public will pay to have their picture. But all of those abusive industries, they hate us. And if they could possibly get a hold of all of this information and mischaracterize it and misuse it against us it would be awful. So having it be a Google protected site where it’s password protected and the only people that can access it are the people who have an email address. And then we know that when we share things we’re only sharing it with those in our organization.

OWEN: So you figured out that the main issue was the lack of transparency to the communication and the data around your business. And so you decided you wanted to make use of a system and you started with the Google education app. So after that, what was the next thing that happened? Because I wanted to piece it together to see what was happening behind the scenes so that the listener can learn from what you did.

CAROLE: It probably took us about 3 months to really build out the site. And the reason was all of that information that our volunteer committee and our volunteers here had, it was in the hands of individual volunteers who wanted to control that information. So, if there was a trending class on how to give out meds to a cat it was hard for me to get them to give me that training class in a digital form. Obviously, I could have re-typed everything. But everybody already had these classes in digital forms, they just were not wanting to let go of that. Because once they did then I think they felt like they no longer control who got to see it, who got to use it. And as petty as that sounds, I think it’s kind of typical in the workplace that people see that kind of control as job security.

OWEN: And we talk later on about how you dealt with that. Because that’s one of the challenges that you experienced. So let’s talk about the specific systems that now enable the business to run on autopilot without you. And so, during the pre-interview you mentioned how everytime a volunteer, they can log in their observation into the system. Talk about that.

CAROLE: Google apps has a wonderful way of setting up every single page that you create so that you can subscribe to the pages. So, if we have a page called observations, and each cat has their own observation page, then you could subscribe to changes on that page. And it will send you an email immediately if something is added. So I subscribe to every single page on the site, our veterinarians subscribe to all of the pages that are that related. Our operations manager subscribes to every page on the site because maybe she wants to know everything that’s happening. So, if somebody logs that a cat had less than inch of water left in their bowl, I get that email immediately. The president gets it, our operations manager gets it, and our veterinarians get it. And they know right away, “Well, that’s kind of interesting. That cat drank an awful lot of water today.” But as we get 3 days in a row where we’re getting that same cat as coming up on the observation chart as drinking too much water then we might think, well, maybe there’s something wrong with their kidneys. And so it flags because of the fact that we’re giving those emails every single day about all of the different cat issues. You can kind of see this trend in your head, but you can also go to each cage that we’ve created, say, for Frosty the Circle, we can go to his page and we can see all of those observations right there, and we can sort them by date, we can sort them by type. How many times did he drink all of those water, or how many times did he leave behind, or how many times was his poop all grassy, or whatever. And so then we can really see the trends. And that way when we take the cat to the vet we have the entire history right there.

OWEN: So what I get from that is each cat has their own page, and with each page the volunteers can communicate and attach information to that specific page for that specific cat. And the president and also the operations manager, you guys all subscribe to each page for each cat, then the vet themselves can also see the information. Same thing with the maintenance people, and you guys can easily address any issues that arise for each cat.

CAROLE: Right. And the wonderful thing that Google sites allows is it creates page templates. So I can create every type of thing that we know happens with the cats, where every type of maintenance issue that we deal with. So they’re only clicking it off of the box. So it’s standardized. It’s not somebody saying the cat left behind an inch of water, and then another person saying the cat left behind a little bit of water, and the cat left behind no water. There’s only choices that they can choose from so that we can see what the actual events are. So if it’s not convoluted by people using their own language, it’s all standardized.

OWEN: I totally understand. And so you also mentioned– so we now talked about how you solved the communication part of it. But you also mentioned how you have training because it’s a huge part of making sure that the job gets done right because you’re making use of a lot of volunteers. So how exactly do you guys handle the training and documents stuff?

CAROLE: Well, we do it 2 different ways. One is every single thing that a person does here, there’s a class for it. So if you feed the cats there’s a feeding class. If you clean the cats there’s a cleaning class. If you give a tour there’s a tour class. And those are written classes. We have created video classes that are exactly like the written classes that show them as they’re doing it. So some people are more visual learners, some people are better from reading, some people are–

OWEN: Yeah.

CAROLE: So we have all of those classes. And then we have courses that are attached in this, we call it the site. In the site they take their classes to know whether or not they’re proficient. And then they have another sheet where they have to actually go out and do it with a monitor watching them for 3 times on each one at the things that they have to learn how to do. And so all of that is done in the sheets that are kept within the site. So it gets us a way of knowing whether or not people have taken all of the courses that they need to before they can graduate to the next level.

OWEN: So on one hand you have training both in written form as well as in audio, as well as in video to physically appeal to any style of learning they have.

CAROLE: Right.

OWEN: And on top of that you have exams to test to make sure that they did understand what it just trained upon. and then thirdly when they go on to the field you have your paid staff supervise them to make sure that for each activity they’re carrying out, they’re carrying it out and they do it according to standard.

CAROLE: Right. Certifications is what we call them.

OWEN: Awesome. And so, you also mentioned that for the public now, you have a way in which you educate the public. I think this is in regards to the DYI tour app. Can you explain that?

CAROLE: Yes. There was a really cool do-it-yourself tour app made by Tour Buddy and I think it was about $2,000 to actually launch the app, but they launch it in both the Google Play Store and in iTunes. And I was able to– I don’t know anything about building an app. When you told me you’ve built an app I’m just law, “Oh… Here’s a [Unintelligible 00:15:29].” I don’t know anything about that sort of thing. But this one was a do-it-yourself thing so what we did was we created a tour app where– the only way that the public can visit our facility is on guided tours. So they walk around in groups of about 20 people and they have 1 person that leads the tour, and then 1 person that follows behind to make sure everybody stays together. And in the past this has always been a verbal tour. But the problem is if you have 100 people and they’ve heard the story from somebody else, and they heard it from somebody else, and starts to really get convoluted. So I wanted to make sure that the stories people were hearing were absolutely accurate and relevant. So what I did was I took every story that we tell on the tour path without all of the cats. And I had those done by a voiceover artist, and did sounds of the cats in the background, and jungle music, and try to really make it interesting for people. And then every single cat here, there’s 100 cats, each one has their story based on their names. So we would push Angie and play Angie’s name. And push Alex and get Alex’s story. And this tour app was originally created just for the purpose of our tour guides to walk around with an iPad and play the stories for everybody listening with an audio headset.

OWEN: Yeah.

CAROLE: But what I found is people loved it and they wanted to download it afterwards. And so we get like 90-100 downloads every week from people just going to the store and buying it for themselves. So, it’s a great way for people who don’t even come on a tour to hear every story here. And they see whole pictures of every cat here. And I’m just thrilled with the app, I couldn’t be happier.

OWEN: And so, one of the questions that I ask all guests usually is imagine your business as a conveyor belt. On one end is the customer who– not yet a customer. Someone who is interested in your service, and maybe they sign up. And on the other end is a happy customer who is ecstatic about your service and the product that you have. But we want to go behind the scene and talk about all the different systems and parts that’s making that happen that is unseen to the customer. So in your case, now, I don’t even know who the customer is. Is the customer the lion and the cats that you guys help, or is the customer the public who’s coming to check-out the cats during the tour? So, either way you want to take it. Just tell us and let’s go behind the scene, and how the different parts are working?

CAROLE: Well, I can tell you for sure that if it were not for the customer, the cats wouldn’t have any food. So, I think the customer is our client. And what we do to make their experience [Unintelligible 00:18:12] is often reported to be life-changing. There’s a lot, like you said, that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t know. And I think the most important thing is transparency. We try to be as open as we possibly can. Like you saw, we post all of our finances online. We post every story about the cat. If the cat has a problem we talk about it. If the cat’s dying we talk about that. And you don’t hear that kind of stuff in the zoo, or in most other type organizations because they’re going to pretend everything’s perfect and it’s not a perfect world. And so, I think people really appreciate the fact that we bring them into the lives of these cats and we tell them the truth, and they want to support us. And we have seen just amazing growth in the amount of support that we get from the public during the time when people were closing sanctuaries because of the economy.

OWEN: I think maybe it will even be better if we answer this question about the conveyor belt in 2 forms. The first form now is the customer being the cat, right? So, what’s happening behind the scenes? I guess when you identify the cat as an animal you want to bring into the sanctuary. So, what goes behind the scenes from the point to the cat is now part of the system, what are you guys doing behind the scene?

CAROLE: One of the things that sets us apart from most other sanctuaries is that we will not enable bad behavior. So if somebody wants to give up a cat, we require that they contract to us to never own another exotic cat. Because most of them are just trying to get rid of last year’s baby so they can have another cute cub to play with. Because once they get to be a couple of years old, they become very dangerous predators. And you get rid of them fast [Unintelligible 00:20:01] time they’re 500 pounds. So, that contract is what keeps most people from dropping the cats off on us. If they are willing to contract to us then we have to look at a number of things. Can we afford to take care of a cat, a lion or a tiger? These cats cost us $10,000 per year, per cat for the rest of their lives. And here they can live into their late teens and early 20’s. So we have to make sure whenever we rescue a cat that we’re not jeopardizing the 100 cats that we already have. Typically we can’t rescue a cat unless one of our cats has died from old age. So, as that happens there’s usually 5 or 6 cats a year that die from old age then looking for again, new cats for those enclosures that we have, and for the fund raising treadmill that we’re capable of running in order to take care of them. So, once we’ve decided can we take this cat, is it appropriate to take this cat, will the owner give up the contract with us on the cat? Then the rescue is always different.

OWEN: How so?

CAROLE: Well, depending on where the cat’s coming from. If it’s from outside of the State of Florida, which often is, we have to get an import permit from the State. Once we have that import permit it’s only good for 30 days. But now we have to arrange everything that goes into rescuing some– like there’s a lady who committed suicide in Illinois and she left behind 2 cougars. And so, I had to get the import permit for the cougars. But now she’s dead, there’s nobody taking care of the cats. The family wants to have their funeral, they don’t want to deal with going out there and letting us take the cats but nobody wants us to just go on the property without them. So you’ve got all of these delays and things that are going on, and then snowstorms which you can’t up there. And we finally get up to the cats and there’s no way to load them because the way these crappy little backyard cages that people keep these animals in were so dangerous that we ended up having to like build a cage around the cage to get– funnel down into the transport that we were going to move the cat in. And so you’re talking hours if not days of trying to get the cat into the cage and then transport them back to the State. So, everyone of those is so amazingly difficult. And if it’s a case where the cats have been confiscated, maybe by the local Sheriff. We had this happen in Kansas wherein they’re trying to pick up the cats and the owner comes home with a shotgun and wants to kill everybody. So, you’ve got all of that, that you have to deal with and waiting for them to arrest them, and haul him off, and then be able to go back to loading cats. And it was in the middle of the big field, and somebody turned all their cattle loose on us, and so there’s all these bulls running through and they’re trying to load tigers into cages, and it’s just–

OWEN: Wow.

CAROLE: You’ll be amazed the horrible conditions that these animals are kept in and the Looney tunes people who own them.

OWEN: And I’m curious, on the rescue part, it seems there’s so many variability that happens but I’m sure there is a framework around how you guys go around doing it. Maybe, yes there’s situations that are always going to be different but the framework always allows you guys to guide you on how you rescue them, right?

CAROLE: Yes. There are some things that we always have to do. We always have to make sure that we have a veterinarian on the end where the cat is, because even though we have 2 vets that often would like to travel with us they can’t carry drugs across state lines. They’re licensed here in Florida, they can’t practice in Kansas. So I have to find somebody in Kansas who’s willing to come out into a really scary situation, put their drug license on the line because they don’t know us from anybody and be willing to say, “Yes, I will give you the drugs to dart this drug if you have to or if it gets loose, or whatever.” And so, we have to make all of those kinds of arrangements. We have to make sure if there are like the really big cats, sometimes we need bigger transports than what we have. So we may have to hire a trucking company that has the appropriate transports and making sure that we have the rolling wagons that will fit the number of cats that we have. And of course we have our checklist for making sure we take our dart guns, and our blowpipes, and our nets, and our gloves, and our first aid kits, water, and everything that you could think of that you might need in case you broke down on the side of the road which is [Unintelligible 00:24:34].

OWEN: Yeah. And I’m also curious because I’m seeing in those situation where yes, maybe you guys raise funds from supporters, whatever. But also, a huge part of funds coming in might also be the tours, right?


OWEN: And so, I’m trying to understand. From the tour side, the conveyor belt, the systems you guys have in place, how that works behind the scenes?

CAROLE: If it weren’t for the tours, which were about a third of our income, then we couldn’t do the kind of work that we do. So, yes, every time somebody comes out– for them it’s just a day walking around the sanctuary, but what they’re doing is they’re funding our ability to rescue animals who end up in peril some crazy owner who’s abandoned them or gotten in over their heads.

OWEN: So what does that usually look like from the standpoint of– I’m sure it’s not just randomly happened in terms of the people coming to experience the tour. It’s not just randomly happening, there is a process behind how you guys take them through that tour and whatever. I’m just trying to give the listener a way to see behind the scenes, what is the system that’s making that, in this case now, the person who’s on the tour to basically have a great experience.

CAROLE: Once those people who find out about us, find out about us online, or from their friends. So we come in kind of with a warm reference already. Word of mouth seems to always been our best way of advertising and we spend almost no money on advertising. We use a service– we’ve just started doing this last year, it’s called Zerve, and they are like a booking agent usually for things like bus tours and that sort of thing.

OWEN: Yeah.

CAROLE: We hired them and they get a small fee for booking our tours, but we found that they’ve doubled the number of tours that we’re doing. So it’s really worthwhile for us to have them do that. So when the people bid here they’ve already signed the release form, they’ve already paid for their tour. They show up, they are checked in because there’s obviously some people that are just walk-ins who we ended up having to collect money from. We get them an orientation video that tells them about the rules. And then they get the [Unknown word 00:26:49] system where it’s a headset that they listen to that hangs on their neck.

OWEN: Yeah.

CAROLE: They hear the stories of the cats as they go through the sanctuary. And what the guides are there to do is– there’s a hundred cats but you can only tell maybe 20 of the stories during an hour and half tour. So what the guides are doing is they’re looking for who is the cat that’s out visible because 100 cats, they’re all be doing different. And a lot of them sleep a lot of the time. So trying to make it interesting for people, they’re picking out different cats. And they’re also trying to keep in their head what these cat stories are, because by the time the person leaves we want them to know about all of the issues. We want them to know about how these cats were rescued from fur farms. They were killed for their fur before they came here. They weren’t killed. The other cats were killed for their fur.

OWEN: Yeah.

CAROLE: They came from circus acts, they came from people that had them as pets, they came from laboratories, they came from zoos, they came from just all manner of different types of things. So, as you’re picking out the stories for a person to hear you want to make sure that they really get a well-rounded appreciation for all of the different things that these cats are facing all across the country or around the world for that matter. Because we also talk about saving them in the wild, and what kind of plights they’re faced in the wild. So, by the time the tour is over the thing I hear more than anything else, when I’m just walking around and listening to people is they’ll say “I had no idea.” They had no idea that cats were killed for their fur, they had no idea the way cats suffer for the circus, they had no idea that zoo animals are often killed because they want to see [Unintelligible 00:28:28] cubs every year. And so, as soon as the tour is over, we take them to this one particular area where we show them. They’ve seen our cages, and our cages are like are like a 5 pound cat, smaller than your domestic cat at home [Unintelligible 00:28:45]. This cat has a 1,200 square foot enclosure. A lot of people’s homes aren’t even 1,200 square feet.

OWEN: That’s the house.

CAROLE: The cat’s got the whole house to himself. And some of our enclosures are two and half, three acres. So, when people see that sometimes they feel like, “Wow, a tiger should have more than 2 or 3 acres.” And they should. But we show them that in the State of Florida, you can keep 2 tigers in a cage about the size of a parking space. And Florida’s considered to have one of the most humane laws of all of the other States. So as bad as that is, it’s worst in most other places. And so at the end of the tour we explain to people, “This is how these animals live in other places. And they shouldn’t be in captivity. And you’ve just heard these stories of these cats and what we want you to do is go inside and call your representative, call your member of Congress, and ask them to support a ban on the private possession of these animals.” And then we have people inside that will dial the number for them and hand them the phone and say just tell them to support the Big Cats and Public Safety Act. And we are getting about 65, 70 of those calls every week. So, it’s working.

OWEN: What I like about that too is like not only on one hand you are having the tours happen and using to generate revenue for the cause, you also engineer the way which the people who come on the tour also help– they’re basically buying to the cause that you guys are trying to protect these animals. And also become active volunteers, someone that just came to experience the tour now is turning into an active volunteer. It’s because you engineered the process around that and I wanted you to share that with the audience and thanks for doing that.

CAROLE: Well, thank you.

OWEN: And so, what challenges did you experience when you initially tried to create systems around what you guys do, and how did you solve these challenges?

CAROLE: The biggest challenge, like I said earlier was that people didn’t want to give up the information. And so, it came down finally having to put it to them as an ultimatum. You either give me the information you have or I will re-type it because it was available to me, it just wasn’t digital. I will re-type it all and you just don’t have a place here anymore. And that got me most of the enumeration that I needed to be able to flesh out the entire site. And then once the site was built there were still people who resisted using it. And there were 2 reasons. 1 is because of those who didn’t want to give up the control they had. The other is that we have an awful lot of volunteers who were older and not part of the computer age.

OWEN: Oh, that’s true.

CAROLE: Yeah, it was hard for them. And I really wanted those volunteers to stick with us. And so, we have held their hands through I can’t tell you how many iterations, [Unintelligible 00:31:46] until they can use the system reliably and comfortably. And now, some of these people, they just crack me up. It’s like you know they can barely use their phone but they know how to log-in to the site, they know how to make their observations. And I think they’re proud of their ability to do that.

OWEN: And you know, given the fact that the whole thing about creating system is one of the most– the idea of creating a system around what you do, sometimes it’s the thing that people will just want to procrastinate on, and now they won’t attempt it because they just rather just go ahead and do the task. Knowing all that aligned with the challenges that you had, how did you stay focused and committed to this new direction with all those challenges already?

CAROLE: It’s just a matter of never giving up and not letting things slide. So, if I see that– like recently I noticed that people were being told that they shouldn’t put certain observations on the chart because it was felt like there were too many people that were posting the same thing. And so, I had to put in big red letters across the top of the page where they make those observations, “Nobody can tell you not to post your observations. You post your observations.” Little, things like that. Plus we do a monthly newsletter that we send out just to our volunteers. And in that we do things like we award people for having superior attitudes when they’re using this. We pick out people who have done something particularly awesome. Or if somebody has maybe made an observation that saved a cat’s life, all of those kinds of things. We rally around it, we support them, and we award them, and we do that all in front of all of their peers. So everybody wants to do a good job because they know that they could be the person that is noticed for doing that. And we also take care of what we call myth busters there. If we hear something that’s being said that shouldn’t be said because it’s not accurate, or it’s not appropriate, or whatever, then we will bust that myth in that monthly newsletter so that everybody is on the same page. We also do quarterly appreciation parties where we get all of the volunteers together and we have a potluck, or we do a movie, or we do something so that they are working with each other and feeling like they’re all part of the group. I had a discussion today with our president. That’s a really hard thing to do when you’ve got 100 people, is to get them all working together and staying focused in the same direction. It’s really easy for personality issues– you know people who get cat-y with each other. So we’re always trying to work on how can we make this better, how can we get people to work better together.

OWEN: I think you’ve might have touched on this before but let’s see if we can [Unintelligible 00:34:45] a little bit about some of the systems that you have in place that enable the employees as well as the volunteers to know exactly what to do. I think during the pre-interview, one of the things you mentioned, you said all the staff and volunteers have to clock-in using the tool called Volgistic, can you explain that?

CAROLE: Yes. For years we had an honorary clocking system. So our volunteer program is really important. We train people and make sure that people are committed because they could lose their lives here.

OWEN: Yeah.

CAROLE: And so, we have a tiered volunteer program. It’s just like a stoplight. So, when you first start you’re a red shirt, you have to wear a red shirt. And it’s like a stoplight, you can’t go anywhere by yourself, you can’t do anything by yourself, you always have to have somebody with you to make sure that you’re not getting into areas that could get you in trouble. And they go through this whole training process. They have to put in at least 4 hours a week to be a red shirt. After 6 months, if they take all their classes, and they pass them, and they get all their certifications they can graduate to yellow. Yellow is the cautionary part of the stoplight. And so with yellow they can take care of cats up to the size of the cougar, which is starting to get into the really dangerous animals like cougar. And they have to put in 6 hours a week. After 2 years of working with cats up to the size of the cougar, if they pass all of their other classes, and all of their other training, and get all of their certifications, then they can graduate to a green shirt. And green is go. They can go around any of the cats here, they can take care of the lions, tigers, leopards, the cats that could really kill you. But before they ever give them the other side of the barricade with the lion, tiger, or leopard, they’ve been working with the smaller cats for 2 years. And nobody here is allowed to touch the cats. I don’t touch them, nobody touches them because, 2 things, 1 they’re dangerous and they could rip your arm off if they got a hold of you. And two, it’s disrespecting cats, these are cats that would never let us touch them in the wild. So just because we have them in a cage does not give us the right to go up and forces ourselves on them. So, if anybody gets caught putting their hand on the cage or touching a cat they are immediately thrown out of the program and never allowed back in.

OWEN: Yeah, I love how you have systems that literally– visual systems where someone is starting out as a new volunteer. They have the red shirt, they wear the red shirt as they go around. People literally can see that this person is new and what the person can and cannot do. And as they continue and pass more exam and go through more training they start wearing yellow shirts, and eventually green shirts. So it’s visual and yet it allows them to move through different steps of the training. But how does the tool called Volgistics, how does that come into play?

CAROLE: I have completely [Unintelligible 00:37:43] didn’t I? So, we had this honorary system where people could come into a computer and they could say, “Okay, I’m logging in.” And they could put in any time as far as when they came in and they could log out, and say anytime when they left. And there was no way for us to force it to be like a time clock. So Volgistics has an online service that we put on a touch screen computer. And when they come in they can put in their key code, and their key code only lets them into their file. But it clocks them in whatever the time is when they clock in. And when they clock out it clocks them out for when they clock out. And they can’t access it any other time except when they’re here. So we know for sure how many hours they’re putting in and whether or not they’re keeping those hour levels that they need for each one of those levels of service.

OWEN: Awesome. And you also mentioned how the volunteers, they’re into 2 different camps. One is the keeper camp and the other is the partner camp. Can you explain that just so the listeners can learn from that too?

CAROLE: For years we only had 1 volunteer program. And so everybody who came here ended up being a keeper. But what we found is there are a lot of people who want to donate their time who may not have some physical ability to do the really heavy work of carrying a 60-pound bucket of poop around. So, those people wanted to work in the gift shop, or give tours, and things like that. So what we did was we created 2 different paths. You can choose to be a keeper or you can choose to be a partner. And the partners do things that are administrative. They do data-based entry work thing, go out to schools and events. They train the other keepers and partners.

OWEN: You said they also do tours and gets interactions too?

CAROLE: Yes. The partner. And both sides have to be able to deal with the public, but the admin side does not have to be able to know how to take care of a bobcat.

OWEN: Yeah.

CAROLE: And it’s a very lopsided program because obviously most of the people who come here want to work around the cats. But it’s really benefited us to have that option available to the people who can’t be keepers.

OWEN: And that’s like basically creating distinct roles inside of the program as to what they can and what they cannot do. But at the same time maybe they might be intersection of what they both do. Maybe they might be able to know how to handle some of the other stuff on the other side. But their core focus is based on their role, I get that. And so you also mentioned that inside of your site you have a to-do section that literally list out what each of the person is supposed to do. Talk about that.

CAROLE: Yeah. One of the things that I find amazing is that in a place with a hundred big cats I would hear people say, “Well, I didn’t stay today because there wasn’t anything to do.” And I’m like, “Wasn’t anything to do? Are you kidding me?” So there’s some things that always need doing. Like we always need to move the grass, we always need to paint cages, we always need to do landscaping issues or tacking up the barricade or whatever. So what I did was I took a whole section of the site and it is called Things to do. And it’s a list based on what your color level is. So let’s say if you’re a red shirt you could take care of these kinds of tasks, or if you’re a yellow shirt you can take care of these kind of tasks. And it weighs out with those task are and then people can say I participated in it. They can put their name and there so they feel like they’re part of having gotten it done and get credit for having that done. And that’s things that are, even though they’re also in the site our operations manager will go and pull those items and they show me that list for everybody when they come in the morning. So after they sign in she’ll have list and say, “These new projects that I really like to get done today pulled from that to-do list.”

OWEN: Awesome. And so beside the website and the Google application that you guys have, and also for logistics, I’m wondering, are there any other tools that you guys use as part of the everyday workflow besides this? I’m just curious.

CAROLE: You know I think the– it’s not really a tool but we all use iPhones products, so we’re all on iPhones. All of the staff are. And we provide that in Big Cat Rescue for them. But one of the things that, that has helped us with automation is that if there’s a cat limping and somebody goes out to view the cat limping they can take a video of it and send it to a group called vet@bigcatrescue and that sends it to like a dozen of us that are involved in that areas of the animals. So that we all get access to it immediately. So it’s kind of tied in because @bigcatrescue groups is set-up at the Google education apps. But being able to communicate through the phones has been very helpful. And then I just recently got Google Glass which I am finding to be very helpful.

OWEN: Oh Google glass, wow. You are a non-profit that’s heavily tech, heavily systematized. That’s awesome. Other non-profits can learn from you. Wow, and just so that the listeners know, she’s wearing that Google Glasses right now. I know you’re–

CAROLE: Oh, that’s right, this is a video.

OWEN: This is not a video, it’s awesome, that’s awesome. I don’t even have that myself. I wonder, does it work with contacts?

CAROLE: Yes, because I wear contacts.

OWEN: Awesome.

CAROLE: And I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to see because of that being kind of projected out here. But turns out with my contacts or without them I can see just as well. So I don’t know how they did that but I think they’re revolutionizing glasses.

OWEN: So how does the Google Glasses work with you taking care with lions, I’m just curious.

CAROLE: It allows me to be hands-free. So, anything that my phone can do, I can do through verbal commands to my Glass. And that means if I’m in there netting a cat and I’ve got the net over the cat, I can’t reach in my pocket and go, “Here’s a video of how you should net a cat and not hurt them.” I can just tell this to record a video while I’m doing it.

OWEN: Wow.

CAROLE: And I think one of the best things so far for me has just been the notifications. As I’m walking around, if it’s an email from anybody at, it chimes in my ear and all I have to do is look up and it’ll show me the email or that text, and then I can respond or not. That I need to check my email all the time.

OWEN: That is also– now I’m thinking that I need to go buy the Google Glasses. But back to the question. How do you track and verify the results being delivered by the employees as well as the volunteers?

CAROLE: I’m not sure I understand the question.

OWEN: Oh, this is one of the questions that I asked during the pre-interview I ask basically how do you track and verify results being delivered by the employees, and you said one of them was having to do by how long the cats actually live longer and healthier, that also–

CAROLE: Oh, okay.

OWEN: Yeah.

CAROLE: Because I’m thinking, well, everything that they do is recorded in the Big Cat documents and so I can see what they did. But yes, the ultimate result is that our cats do live about twice as long as they do, in even the best accredited zoos. And I think that is definitely because of the kind of care that we give here. We catch things so much earlier because of the fact that we have 100 pairs of eyes all looking at these cats and all sharing that information in real-time.

OWEN: And tracking the data too. And you also mentioned the man-hours you guys actually put in. Literally, you’re talking about 32,000 or so man-hours. Is that a year?

CAROLE: Yes. And that’s in addition to the paid staff. So, when you look at most organizations and the $2.5 to $3 million range animal organizations, most of them have about 30 paid staff. And we’re able to do with that on only a third of that number being paid because of the fact that we’re able to make sure that we’re giving the coverage necessary through volunteers tracking their hours. So we can establish that we are providing that level of care, we’re just not having to spend donor dollars on it. And our donors love that. They’d love that we run so leadly.

OWEN: That’s awesome. And one of the things I like to– well, just checking out your site is that you guys give the data behind and the resource. I think the listener, if you want to go check it out you can go to report. You can see details behind, the resource they’re actually delivering. And so, since you have all the systems in place in the business and allows you to literally be more predictable and more freer. I’m curious, what was the longest time you’ve been away from the business?

CAROLE: I don’t get away from the business very long because I just can’t stand to be away. But I can be away. And as far as the longest.

OWEN: And I get that. It’s kind of like a passion. At this point now if you have volunteers volunteering their time. This is really more of a passion thing at this point.

CAROLE: Yes, it is. It’s not a job.

OWEN: Yeah.

CAROLE: I’m here every day because I want to. But I can be away for a week at a time easily because everything that happens is going straight to my phone. So as long as I have an internet connection, I can know everything that’s going on. But maybe what’s more important is the fact that even though I might want to know that, I don’t have to know that. Because I know the people who are here taking care of things, they know what they’re doing, they can take care of it, they’ve got the training, they’ve got the experience, they’ve got everything going for them to do the very best that they possibly can. And that gives me great peace of mind, especially knowing I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, and I know that this place would operate just as well without me because of all of the systems that we’ve put in place.

OWEN: Awesome. And so, how is the non-profit or the company now, how will you say it’s been transformed as a result of systematizing it?

CAROLE: It’s become not only a much more stable entity itself, it’s become a model. The global federation of animal sanctuaries typically holds us out and it’s the model sanctuary. And it’s largely because of all of these systems that we have in place, and because of our social presence. But again, all of those things are systematized. So there’s 11 of us who deal with our Facebook page and we know who’s going to be posting when, and we know who’s going to be taking care of comments. And so we make sure that those things happen because we’ve decided this is the way it’s going to happen. And so, what we’ve tried to do is to make it possible for any sanctuary out there to go to Google Sites, choose the sanctuary template, and immediately have everything that we use at their fingertips. All they have to do is go in and substitute Big Cat Rescue for whatever their name is, and they have all of the same training.

OWEN: That’s awesome. And so, how will you see your personal life has been transformed as a result of systematizing the business?

CAROLE: It gives you the peace of mind to know that I can die, to know that I don’t have to be here that these animals will be taken care of long past my involvement with them.

OWEN: Totally understand, yeah.

CAROLE: Totally want to be here until I die, but you never know when that day’s coming.

OWEN: And so, now that you have all these free time and the business can literally run without you. Where do you find yourself when you’re working in the business? Where do you find yourself focusing more on and why?

CAROLE: I’m always looking for whatever that cutting edge technology is that will make it a little bit better, just a little bit more–

OWEN: Always improving kind of thing.


OWEN: That’s good. And you know, the listener listening to this now, they might not have non-profit but they’re listening to basically to see behind the scenes of how you were able to systematize the non-profit, the business as well. So I’m curious, what will say is the very next step for the listener now listening all the way to this point in order to get started, being able to create a business that can run without them successfully. What do you think is the first– next step they should take?

CAROLE: I think the next step is to start right now. It’s really easy to say, “Well, I don’t have all those documents yet, or I don’t have all of the information yet, or I don’t have all of the stuff that I need to make this.” “No, take whatever you have right this minute, go do something with that. And just keep adding to it and adding to it because it’s kind of flesh out differently the way you thought anyway.” I just gone through a number of different revampings. Just recently a huge one that made me had to do 100 [Unknown word 00:50:56].  But it was one of those like there’s never a better time than right now.

OWEN: Yeah, I definitely understand. And I’m curious, what books will you say that you’ve read that really influences way of thinking and why?

CAROLE: I have read so many– I really like Jim Collins’ books, I think has been an excellent–

OWEN: Is that the Good to Great?

CAROLE: Yes, and a number of other books as well that are– if you go to my Facebook page I list all of those books there. But I don’t have time to actually read books, so what I do is I listen to audio books.

OWEN: Me too.

CAROLE: Oh, I am always listening to either an audio book about how to improve my business, or to podcast. And that’s how.

OWEN: So let me ask that question again. So what will you say is the audio book now, recently that’s had the most influence in you? Or maybe even the podcast that’s besides ours that you also feel have a good impact that the listeners can check-out too?

CAROLE: Well, that’s a good question, because I’ve got so many podcast that I listen to. I mean, look here on my phone. Some of them–

OWEN: The top 2 is enough.

CAROLE: Top 2. Internet Business Mastery.

OWEN: Okay, I heard of them, yeah, go ahead.

CAROLE: You know, one of my other favorite ones is Word Press Engineer, and it’s because our website is built in Word Press. I’ve been trying to really learn better ways of using Word Press because it’s such a powerful tool.

OWEN: That’s awesome. And so, is there a question that you’re wishing that I ask you in the interview that for some reason I got carried, I didn’t ask. If so, post the question and answer.

CAROLE: I think the most important thing to me is to put myself out of business which is a strange thing for a business owner to [Unintelligible 00:53:02] that I do. But I will have achieved my mission when there are no more big cats that need to be rescued. And the better I can do my job of creating systems that enable those who are rescuing cats to take care of them and enabling them to get the laws changed so that these animals don’t need to be rescued, then the sooner I can be on that beach in Tahiti.

OWEN: I like that. So basically you have done your job if you put yourself out of business. Wow, that’s a whole different way to think about things. I wish all business [Unintelligible 00:53:39] that mindset. And so, I’m speaking to you the listener who’s been listening all to this point right now. So, if you ever enjoy this interview I want you to leave us a positive interview, hopefully a 5-star review on iTunes. And to do that you go to And the reason you want to leave a review, especially a good one is because the more reviews we have, the more entrepreneurs can get to hear about our podcast, and come and check it out, and learn from it. And the more people coming out, checking out or podcast, the more we are inspired to go out there and look for guest like Carole to come on here and literally break down their business and talk about how they’ve gotten the business to successfully run without them. And so, if you know any other entrepreneur that might find this useful, please share the interview with them. And one last thing, if you’re in the point of your business where you’re tired of being the bottleneck and you want to get things out of your head, document procedures for what you do, and on top of that be able to assign tasks to your employees and track all the way that they get the task done, sign-up for a free 14-day trial of SweetProcess. Carole, thanks for doing the interview.

CAROLE: Oh, thank you so much. I’m so glad you said that about the bottleneck because that’s the one word I use all the time. How can I not be the bottleneck here?.

OWEN: That’s awesome. And we’re done.


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