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Are you budgeting for charitable giving?

Article

It is reasonable to decide which areas you are particularly passionate about and plan them as part of your 2006 charity pool.

We have all been in this uncomfortable situation. A client has just spent a good deal of money with you to take care of his or her companion's needs. Then she pops the question, "Doc, you know how involved we are with Junior's soccer tournaments. This year, we are having a fundraiser for the team, to help support uniforms and the like. Could you help us out?"

Charitable giving was very apparent following a trio of hurricanes that slammed into the Gulf Coast last fall. Above, veterinarians from the National Veterinarian Response Team (NVRT) examine dogs in the Ford Arena outside Beaumont, Texas.

What happens next? You probably feel a bit flush, and stutter a response like, "Well, certainly. Let me get Sally in here, and we'll see about getting you a donation."

Like most community-minded business owners, you receive your fair share of requests for assistance. Unfortunately, the veterinary medical profession has a double, and even a triple whammy. First, there is the fair share of Good Samaritan work your hospital does each and every year. Next, a fair amount of discounting occurs through the direct provision of employee-presented animals needing help. Often, local rescue groups, assistance-dog raisers/organizations, canine patrol and mounted police divisions among others, seek your help at substantial discounts. Then, consider all the guilt you have about charging senior citizens, and it is a wonder that any veterinarian can make a living.

In this past year, veterinarians have been extraordinarily generous. With the horrendous hurricane-related disasters along the Gulf Coast, most of us dug deep into our pockets to help out. Many donated supplies, extensive time and services, and gave up income to travel to disaster areas to help out.

As always, we should celebrate the generous beneficence of the veterinary profession. Veterinarians and veterinary hospital employees of all kinds have much to be proud of in the small, quiet things they do every day to help their clients, the community and to advance animal welfare across all species.

Let's talk a bit about planning for generosity. Because each act of charity tends to present a hidden financial burden, we believe it should be completely recognized and even budgeted as part of your overall business plan.

Why not review all of the acts of kindness your hospital was responsible for in 2005? What if you were to sum the total amount given in many ways, through donated supplies, cash donations, no-charge Good Samaritan services, deep discounts to various organizations and others that your employees and you can well recount? How amazing it would be to see the total financial commitment made for the entire year!

Why not celebrate the generosity of your practice with your employees and with your clients as well? The retail chain, Target®, does it. They advertise that a certain percentage of all profits will be given to charity.

Veterinarians are renowned for their humbleness and unwillingness to promote or market themselves. We suggest you tally the things you have given throughout the year. You might be surprised at what this means to your employees and other stakeholders in your practice. If you have an employee who is particularly adept at the written word and language, consider giving him/her the information and deciding on some appropriate wording that might even be included on a plaque in the reception area. "ABC Animal Hospital is proud to have committed X number of dollars to various animal-related endeavors and animals in need in 2005."

From a budgeting standpoint, we believe you should plan for the amount of charity work you will complete each year. We all know veterinarians will be asked to provide various gratis services from time to time. It is reasonable to decide which areas you are particularly passionate about and plan them as part of your 2006 charity pool.

Once you've decided which organizations deserve your time, talent and, yes, profit, you can reasonably respond to new requests: "We have allocated all of our budgeted charity resources for the coming year. However, we would be delighted to include your group for consideration next year if you would like to provide us with a proposal. We prefer to budget our charity dollars for animal welfare-related purposes. Please be aware that we can't necessarily guarantee your group will be added to our budget, but we will include you in our list of worthy causes."

With that said, please understand that some of the charitable causes you take on might be very beneficial from a marketing and overall community support perspective. For example, you might be asked to provide veterinary care for the local police dogs. If you decide to take on this project, decide which services will be subject to discount. We suggest restricting services to routine wellness care at no charge, and cost plus 10 percent on any supplies and medications used or dispensed.

You should think about how you would like to handle orthopedic issues, such as broken legs, growth plate problems or severe injuries like gunshot wounds or emergency surgery for bloat. An option is still to provide the nursing care and doctor charge at no charge, but carefully tally and charge for any and all supplies used, including X-ray films, suture material, catheters, etc.

In a catastrophic event, the practice often will enjoy excellent publicity for the care provided. Asking for public donations to help subsidize the care of an injured police dog can help even more. The same holds true for assistance dogs that are having problems with torn cruciate ligaments and similar problems as they age.

If approached by an organization, you may want to negotiate an exclusivity provision. You might say, "We absolutely want to be the sponsor and caregiver for the department's police dogs. But we want to be the exclusive caregiver, the only veterinary practice providing services to you."

We hope these comments help you think more deeply about all of the wonderful things the veterinary profession does for local, regional and even the world community. Don't be bashful about celebrating the good deeds you do.

We are all called upon to help out in charitable was, and enjoy doing so. However, the veterinary profession always will be hampered by more demands than other professions. As such, it is imperative you recognize the positive publicity you can achieve for your practice. Additionally, by proactively budgeting for your giving, you can help protect your profit margin, which certainly has financial pressures like most small businesses. Unfortunately, your vendors and service providers (like employee health insurers) might not be nearly as generous with you as you are with your own clients. At least a budget will send you to the checkbook with eyes wide open.

Dr. Heinke is owner of Marsha L. Heinke, CPA, Inc. and can be reached at (440) 926-3800 or via e-mail at MLHeinke@aol.com.

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