Message from Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc.

by Debra Barnes

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From the Editor: Debra Barnes is the Director of Development for Guide Dogs for the Blind. In the July issue we reprinted an article from the San Francisco Chronicle raising questions about the amount of money above budget raised each year by Guide Dogs for the Blind. The Chronicle is a reputable paper, and the article seemed to be well researched. Because this school is one of the most distinguished facilities training dogs today, we thought Braille Monitor readers would wish to know what had been said and what issues had been raised, so, as I say, we reprinted the article without comment.

Recently someone from Guide Dogs for the Blind called to ask if we would reprint the school's response. Here it is exactly as it was sent except for some punctuation changes to conform to Monitor style and the rules of grammar. Here it is:

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The July issue of the Braille Monitor included a reprint of an article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle regarding Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc. We feel the article was unfair as it tried to mislead the reader into thinking that there was something wrong with the way Guide Dogs conducts its finances. I can assure you that this is not and has never been the case.

I would also like to thank the many graduates of our school, guide dog users from other schools, contributors, and even strangers who sent us copies of their letters to the editor of the newspaper. Your efforts on our behalf were much appreciated by our staff. We were disappointed those letters were never printed in the Chronicle.

I would like to give you some facts and another view of finances at Guide Dogs. In the 1940's Guide Dogs' Board of Directors set aside some funds to create an endowment. Just as you might save money in a pension plan, the organization wanted to ensure that our mission would continue in the future despite fluctuations in the economy. This savings plan is vital to an organization which does not receive any government funding--and it is especially vital to a mission that is as complex and multi-faceted as ours. We receive annual, voluntary contributions from donors who can see the real value and importance of our mission. These donations are combined with funds from our endowment to cover our operating expenses. In the past five years Guide Dogs has substantially increased its endowment, due to an unusually strong investment market coupled with our prudent management.

In those same five years we've established an entirely new campus, thereby effectively eliminating the waiting list for those accepted to our training program. We increased our staff and services and graduated 45 percent more teams. Some examples of our new services include providing training to people with custom needs, specializing training for those with low vision, and providing continued assessment classes to give more consideration to those applicants with extenuating circumstances. We've added counseling services to assist students in class, help people with the loss or retirement of their dogs, and assist with the transition from class to the home environment. We've added escalator access and other improvements in our training. We've greatly expanded our Graduate Agency Representative program as well as other outreach efforts. We are working with the media as well as the restaurant and travel industries to promote education about access. The guidance and suggestions from our Graduate Advisory Council contribute invaluably and provide direction for changes and improvements to our program. Guide Dogs has established a strategic plan to the year 2002.

Most well-managed nonprofits who have been in existence for many years have seen fit to create endowments. The current trend in nonprofit fund-raising is to establish endowments since government and other funding sources have proven unreliable year-to-year. We currently spend on average 14 percent of our endowment's value each year. If we were to use up our endowment, we would soon need to raise another five million dollars each year or cut services.

Our endowment fully supports our three promises:

To provide quality dogs and training.

To offer quality follow-up services for the life of the dog.

To ensure that we'll be here when you come for a successor dog.

Our mission is clear and indeed relevant. It is estimated that around 1.1 million people are severely visually impaired. Approximately 10,000 people with vision loss in America currently use dogs as guides. Our main challenge is to find ways to inform people about our free services and about the benefits of using dogs as guides. Technological advances such as global positioning and talking signs will work in tandem with the use of guide dogs, not replace them, as was inferred in the article. People who are blind or visually impaired deserve choice in determining which mobility aid works best for them.

Please contact Guide Dogs for the Blind if you have any questions about the article or our program. We feel our improvements and successes should be a cause for celebration, as they will ultimately benefit the blind community.

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