Name: Sheri Soltes
Title: Founder and President, Service Dogs, Inc.
Location: Dripping Springs, Texas
Number of years as a fundraiser: 26
Number of years at current organization: 26
What inspired you to do this work?
I felt stressed out practicing trial law in Houston. I was good at it, but my career was just not fulfilling. I wanted to shape a career from something I was passionate about; and, I am very passionate about animals. Even though I am a cat person, I’m dedicated to helping animals of all kinds. That is why I founded Service Dogs, Inc. to adopt all of the dogs that we train from animal shelters. There’s a saying that I think applies to me, “Some jobs you get paid to do; this is the job I was made to do!”
What has happened recently that pumped you up?
After several years of dealing with the negative economic impact of the recession and the wars, our goal was to break even in 2013. I was excited to see that we made a respectable net profit. All of the building blocks we put into place and all of the little decisions we made to keep moving forward paid off! It was just a huge “Dah-Yum, we are in the black!”
Tell us of a recent challenge that you’ve faced?
My greatest challenge is more personal in nature. It is so easy to be hard on yourself as the person in charge of an organization or of an event, or feeling burnt out after many years. The key thing is to have balance in your life. As my favorite yoga teacher says, “Do less.” Taking the time for a fitness routine…running, swimming, yoga… or seeking some life coaching will help you avoid falling into a trap where work becomes your entire life. Without time for friends, family and interests, you just feel like a hollowed out person whose entire life is an endless To Do list. Plus, I’ve found that when work and life are balanced, I am much more productive at work.
What is next for you as a P2P fundraiser?
I am looking to diversify some of our fundraising. Charities are not really in the business of producing special events, but events are a “must do.” A major event takes a lot of energy and a year-long preparation cycle. Also, it is tough, and risky, depending on one big event for your revenue stream. I am looking to supplement our major event with other things such as workshops to train Service Dog trainers and collaborating with businesses in the pet supply industry.
What advice would you give to someone just starting a career in athletic event fundraising?
Find smart people and hang out with them. As a trial lawyer, I used expert witnesses. They were each specialists in their field. All I had to do was find them and listen to them. I do the same thing here. IN the beginning, I found experts on taxes, corporate law and health and asked for their guidance. I also think it is important to find one or more people who are great at doing what you want to do and get them to mentor you. And when you put together both your board of directors and your staff, find people who not only have the smarts and key skills, but who also have good personalities. You spend a lot of time with these people. If they are high maintenance, moody, negative or volatile in any way, they can make your and everyone’s life miserable. It is much better to surround yourself with positive, nice, pleasant people who fuel you with good energy.
Editor’s Note: Not long ago, the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum conducted a series of interviews with leaders in the field to gain insights that would be helpful to their fellow fundraisers. As we prepare for a New Year, we wanted to share some of the best interviews here. Look for more P2P Spotlights in the coming days.