The Pitch: Sai Kung Stray Friends founder Narelle Pamuk learns how to pitch sponsors

Sai Kung Stray Friends Foundation (SKSFF), located near Tai Lam Wu village in the New Territories, houses more than 100 stray dogs, many of which have been rescued from cramped, unhygienic breeding factories Australian Narelle Pamuk founded the animal charity in 2014 after noticing the high volume of abandoned, sick and unwanted dogs in Hong Kong.

According to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), the department caught or received about 2,300 stray dogs and 1,200 cats from 2015-2016. Since then, that number has decreased by half: 1,187 stray dogs and 508 stray cats were “reclaimed, rehomed or euthanised,” between 2018 and 2019.

At SKSFF, Pamuk relies heavily on public donations to pay for the animals’ shelter, food and medical costs. Last year, she spent close to HK$1 million on veterinary bills. Pamuk also has big plans for expansion: She wants to rescue more dogs as well as build a not-for-profit clinic that covers animals’ medical needs and offers free neutering services to villages with high stray populations.

Last year, Pamuk pitched Hong Kong Round Table (HKRT), a social club and philanthropic organisation that supports local charities, in hopes of raising money to bring these goals to life but was unsuccessful. For guidance on her fundraising journey, we invited Pamuk to sit down with Jonathan Benarr, a team member of HKRT.

Narelle Pamuk: Thank you for the chance to present to your team last year. What kept you from saying yes?

Jonathan Benarr: During your pitch, we came to understand the day-to-day operations of the charity and saw obstacles that prevented us from funding SKSFF.

For instance, the animal shelter is not self-sustaining and the request was heavily weighted towards operational costs, which is not something our charity pays towards. There was also a lack of clear strategy overall, which created some uncertainty.

Will the clinic be in business for long enough to justify us funding it? For instance, would you be charging other people to use the clinic, and thereby become sustainable? In that case, we can see there’s money being generated, and it’s going to continue. We are accountable to ourselves for every dime that we donate, because we want to maintain our reputation, so we are very particular.

NP: Any advice on how to improve the initial pitch?

JB: No one is going to get a donation signed off after that first pitch. Treat that meeting as an opportunity for us to meet and learn whether our values align. For that opening dialogue, tell your story: Who are you? Why did you start it? What is your passion?

When presenting your pitch, keep it as simple as possible. The easier it is for us to digest the information, the easier it is to understand what you need. But it’s also important to get the balance between compassion and business just right. We buy into emotional engagement, and that plays an important role.

In short, communicate your story and vision for what you wish to achieve, then outline measurable goals on how you plan to get there.

NP: Which charities have you said yes to?

JB: We are sector agnostic; however, we do like to help humanitarian-focused charities. For example, ImpactHK helps the homeless, LoveXpress helps families with autistic children and Tagsibol Foundation helps women who have been victims of violence.

Recently, we gave money to a charity called Sailability. It’s a charity that teaches adults and children with learning difficulties how to sail. They needed sails, replacement dinghies and life vests – and we funded these items for them.

We overwhelmingly prefer to invest in tangible needs as we can directly see where the money goes. For example, we donated money to Tai O Village after Typhoon Hato hit in 2017, as it wiped out home appliances like refrigerators, ovens and washing machines. We don’t pay, for example, electricity and water bills, because that’s an operational expenditure, and they vary.

NP: Who should we approach for funding? Should we be going to banks, wealth management organisations or hedge funds?

JB: You have groups like the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which is a major charitable group, as well as the Rotary Club and Ladies Circle. Ladies Circle is our sister charity. Personally, I think if you go too big, you will be disappointed, as there are so many layers to go through with a big company. The chain of communication is more difficult, and many other charities will be targeting them too.

Keep the focus on small- to medium-sized enterprises because you can access the right people faster. For example, Midland Realty, a property company in Hong Kong, has 20 to 30 branches internationally – you could approach them for fundraising. Some of the food and beverage groups like Pirata Group or Black Sheep Restaurants might also be interested. These are companies that are very plugged in when it comes to social issues. Corporate social responsibility is very zeitgeist at the moment, as companies – and their consumers – do look at the impact they have on society.

NP: Would HKRT consider funding a veterinary clinic for stray dogs? If we had our own clinic, we would save so much. 

JB: That’s a much bigger concept but something we could get behind. To make something like that work, we need to see a business plan. The plan has to be viable – we don’t want to invest in a project that will be abandoned down the line, so we need to know that you have thought about the long-run.

Population Control

Currently, the AFCD and The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) both practice the often-criticised “catch and kill” method to control stray populations, if homing is not possible.

In 2015, however, the SPCA obtained approval from the government to conduct a three-year “trap-neuter-return” trial in Cheung Chau and Tai Tong.

During the trials, which ended in 2018, dogs were captured by the organisation, de-sexed, and released back into their habitat. Analysis of the trials’ effectiveness is still underway.