The island’s SPCA, along with other local SPCA operations nationwide, faces a difficult decision of either agreeing to a major restructuring in the coming months or leaving the umbrella of the national organisation.
Currently Waiheke SPCA operates as an incorporated society, separate from the national organisation, with a committee making decisions at the local level and employing staff. Fundraising is island-based and proceeds are spent here while assets such as the freehold premises at 85 Ocean Road, Surfdale are owned by the local society.
All that is expected to change if a recently unveiled plan from the national office in New Lynn takes effect. “They have decided the current structure isn’t working and have put it to the branches that they would like to restructure,” Waiheke SPCA manager Michell Sanders said.
“The effect of that would be that all branches would sign their assets over to SPCANZ. A lot of branches currently and always have operated independently and are completely responsible for their own governance and fundraising but several have fallen by the wayside and have been picked up by the national office or larger [SPCA] centres in their region,” she said.
The expected stronger financial position of a consolidated national organisation is one of the major arguments for combining the assets of the 46 independent SPCA centres across New Zealand.
Other reasons for amalgamation include: the ability to speak with one voice when making submissions to government; standardised policies around matters such as desexing, or putting down abandoned animals; a stronger inspectorate to enforce animal welfare laws; and seeking funding and sponsorship nationwide.
But there is unease at the local level about the possible negative impacts. Donors often prefer to give to causes that spend any funds raised back in their immediate community.
When asked whether she was concerned about the impact on fundraising within Waiheke Ms Sanders replied “absolutely” and said “there is only one national bank account – so how can you legally guarantee funds raised locally will go back to that community?”
Nor does Ms Sanders see the proposal as offering an enduring lifeline to smaller and cash-strapped branches elsewhere. “National office has spoken to smaller branches and said all will be taken care of but there are no guarantees they won’t start shutting them down”.
Local representatives point out that Waiheke’s assets have been built up over time by many local volunteers’ efforts. They say once nationalised, there is the risk decisions could be made from afar to sell the Surfdale property and spend the proceeds elsewhere.
The proposed changes invite comparisons with other organisational restructuring in the local government and not-for-profit sectors that has seen local decision-making taken off-island. Concerns have been expressed that the ‘one size fits all’ approach of the proposed change and the new structure do not acknowledge the unique nature of life on the island and the local branch’s role here. Its op shop is “hugely successful” according to Ms Sanders.
The branch employs one person full-time and two people part-time. Between 40 and 50 volunteers on the island currently give their time to the charity. It is unclear whether centralisation of assets and funds raised would diminish their motivation to help.
It is also not clear who would set budgets or provide management and direction for local activity under the new model.
Waiheke SPCA representatives consider the branch is well run and has a solid financial position, while meeting the needs of a small community through initiatives such as its recent pet desexing work and co-operation with Forest and Bird to produce responsible pet ownership guidelines.
They point out that the local organisation is neither a struggling outlier nor is it operating on the scale and with the resources of its counterparts in the main population centres.
The consolidation process involves consideration by the regional SPCA organisations, including Waiheke, of a recently released new constitution for the national entity and associated branch rules. A national AGM is scheduled for June when delegates will vote to accept or reject the new constitution.
More than two-thirds of the delegates need to adopt the replacement charter, which it is understood will do away with autonomous regional entities and combine them all into one national organisation, and Ms Sanders understands there is already likely to be that level of delegate support for the change.
If the new constitution is approved at the AGM, the Waiheke SPCA and other independent SPCA centres face a stark choice: either be subsumed within the expanded national organisation, or decouple from an organisation with a long and proud history to chart an independent course as a non-SPCA animal welfare centre.
The necessary conversation between the Waiheke committee and membership has not yet started. It is thought to be too early to do that while there are still many questions to be answered by head office and all the impacts of the new constitution are not yet fully understood.