LACONIA — With a new interim director, the New Hampshire Humane Society is hoping to effect a culture change in the organization, which has seen a quarter of its staff, including key leadership positions, leave within the past year.
Stephen Shaffer, who brings experience working with mental health and social service organizations, has been named interim director of the Humane Society, which was without a director since prior director Marylee Gorham’s resignation was announced on Sept. 27. Gorham had served the organization for 20 years, and was director for nearly five.
Tony Matos, chair of the organization’s board, said he viewed the interim director’s term as lasting three to six months, during which time the board would seek to identify a long-term candidate for the position. Matos said he would prefer someone with strong development, organizational and community relations skills – not so necessary would be animal welfare experience, which could be handled by the existing staff.
The Humane Society experienced high rates of staff turnover in recent years. The 2017 annual report listed 24 employees; there are only 19 currently named on the organization’s website. Among those named in last year’s report but not currently on the website are two members of the veterinary team, the volunteer coordinator and the animal care director, who had been with the organization since 2011.
Matos said the organizational culture was lacking in terms of communication and encouragement, which he has sought to remedy since Gorham’s departure.
“I’ve been in here a lot over the last four weeks. It’s pretty apparent to me that that change is happening,” Matos said. “We needed some TLC here, we needed some leadership. I’m optimistic because of what we’ve seen.”
“We’re talking,” he added. “I don’t think that has happened the way it should have been happening prior.”
The no-kill animal shelter, which facilitated adoptions for nearly 1,000 animals last year, is already a happier place to come to work, said Karen Bald, finance director.
“I notice a huge difference in morale, I, myself, am finally happy to come to work,” Bald said, who said staff had endured “gaps in leadership.”
Gorham’s last day of employment with the Humane Society was Sept. 21, Matos said. About a month prior, he said, she and the board came to a mutual agreement that she would go on sabbatical while the board could discuss a leadership change.
Gorham declined to comment when contacted by a reporter.
Shaffer, who holds an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a master of social work from Boston University, has served as both COO and interim president at Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston, executive director at Children's Friend and Family Services in Massachusetts, and has extensive volunteer board experience.
One thing that thrived during Gorham’s tenure was the organization’s balance sheet. The NH Humane Society has a budget of about $1.3-million, and a healthy and growing endowment. The endowment was $1.3-million when it was created in 2003, and has grown – through income and subsequent gifts – to $3.3-million. That fund includes donations earmarked for the “Building Fund,” which produces enough income to pay the mortgage on the shelter’s building, which cost $2.3-million when it was built in 2005.
While income from the endowment has been used in recent years to subsidize operations, the board has taken care to return enough of that income to continue growing the fund. Neil Irvine, treasurer for the board, said, “The Humane Society has been here for 100 years, it will be here after us. We are just the guardians.”