Janelle Babington bears such passion for animals that she made it her business to channel money to animal welfare organizations.
When Cecil the lion was killed in 2015 in Zimbabwe by a big-game hunter, an event that drew international attention, Babington searched for a worthy organization to donate money to and came up empty, she recalls.
That sparked the idea for One Red Lion, her online directory that makes close to 30,000 animal welfare organizations easily accessible to donors. Babington, who is based in Wilmington, does the research, and the website is constantly evolving.
Recently when many animals were left helpless during hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Babington expanded her efforts to include a nonprofit, American Red Lion Disaster and Abuse Fund. She raised more than $3,000 in donations in six weeks. Her research looked at which organizations were actively rescuing and housing animals in those areas, and she wrote the checks. The action arm of her platform was born to help animal lovers donate directly to the paws on the ground.
“The goal is to make a lot of money so I can give it away again,” Babington said.
Large organizations have the means and personnel to raise most of the $11 billion that is donated to animal welfare organizations each year, Babington says. She wants to champion the other organizations that are doing great work, often on a local level.
“We keep donating to the same charities over and over because we don’t know about these others,” she said. “The idea is to go online and easily be able to donate to the other agencies.”
Animal welfare gets a tiny portion of the charity pie, Babington said. In 2016, of the $390 billion donated in the U.S. to charities, environmental and animal welfare groups shared 3 percent of that, according to the Giving USA annual report. That year, however, giving to animal welfare groups did go up.
It has not been easy setting up a tech-based business, Babington said. Coming from a background in property management, she said she had to learn about finances, websites and payment processes for the business. She has taken out loans to follow her passion and done most of the work herself. With the help of University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and taking classes, she said she has learned a great deal. Now she is learning about appealing to donors.
“It has to strike you emotionally, it has to be easy, and they need to be reminded by social media,” she said. “But when it strikes your heart, you don’t even know where the money is going.”
That’s where Babington comes in with American Red Lion Disaster and the Abuse Fund. She makes sure the organizations that receive money are doing the work.
And her research shows that online giving is trending upward. With a 9 percent increase in 2015, 79 million more online donors are expected over the next 14 years. Millennials receive part of the credit because 72 percent prefer to give online, while 66 percent of Gen Xers and 54 percent of baby boomers do, according to the Global NGO Technology Report. Even Generation Z stats show 59 percent are inspired by social media to donate.
Babington’s focus has paid off. She has 4,000 followers on Twitter, a newsletter, an increasing presence on Facebook and the American Red Lion Disaster and Abuse Fund made the Great Nonprofits list for 2017. In the future, plans include a pet memorial feature so donors can honor a special animal.
“During Irma a woman found a dog trapped in Florida. An agency from New York sent someone to take care of it. Paws and Claws [Animal Hospital] from Wilmington sent three truckloads of supplies to Texas,” Babington said. “American Red Lion was able to help those organizations. Think of it like the American Red Cross for animals.”