Nonprofit Leadership Development Under Tough Conditions — The Continuing Story of the San Diego Humane Society and Integris

Integris is proud to be engaged in a purpose-driven, organizational development project that has partnered us with the San Diego Humane Society (SDHS), a nonprofit organization with a 100-year history that is undergoing a profound change.

This is our second blog post describing this incredible, ongoing, evolving partnership. It’s something that has allowed us to provide powerful team development leadership training opportunities for nonprofits, government agencies, and businesses in a way that benefits everyone involved.

Our work with the San Diego Humane Society has lead to powerful nonprofit leadership development opportunities, opportunities that help animals and people alike, like the woman and her cut hugging pictured here.

Integris and SDHS have established a creative partnership to bring the Foundations of Team Cohesion both to the San Diego Humane Society and any other organization that wants to join. (This is a program that you can get involved in — our next sessions are August 16th and September 27th in Old Town San Diego.)

This is something we’re so incredibly excited to share with you because it comes out of one of the deep principles that guides us at Integris — the idea of democratizing team development and leadership development.

San Diego Humane Society Practically Doubles Its Size

SDHS had taken on new contracts for six municipalities, which required them to nearly triple the number of animals they sheltered and double their staff. It put enormous pressure on the leadership structure and current staff, and they knew serious culture change would have to take place.

The challenge was enormous and the time frame to execute was minimal.

Almost by chance, a few members of the SDHS leadership team accepted an invitation to attend another Integris program built around The Leadership Challenge, which they found greatly beneficial despite their initial skepticism.

Katherine, the Chief of Staff and one of the SDHS employees in attendance, found the experience so eye-opening that she wrote a LinkedIn review for us:

“When I read your email, I didn’t imagine how amazing this would be. The Leadership Practices Inventory was transformative — it’s the best thing I’ve ever been to!”

(You can read the first post in full here.)

What Happened Next

Recognizing the passion and potential that existed at the San Diego Humane Society, we wanted to offer them more in the area of nonprofit leadership development.

We are profoundly inspired and humbled by their mission, we believe in what they do, and we wanted to find a way to leverage our unique team development and leadership training programs to help them with their mission to save the lives of animals.

We invited the Humane Society to have members of their organization join us for a 4-day experience built around The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team, Everything DiSC, and the Leadership Challenge.

They selected a small group of emerging leaders who were new to management — people they wanted to invest in.

The Magic That Almost Never Happened

When the program dates arrived, huge wildfires raged in Ventura County. Being in the field of animal rescue and passionate about their mission, there was a lot of critical work to be done.

Having 4 effective leaders away from the shelters during this crisis, even for an amazing opportunity for much-valued leadership training that most nonprofits can never afford, left them torn.

Katherine and Gary Weitzman, the Humane Society’s President and CEO, felt strongly about the long-term value this leadership development opportunity would create for the nonprofit organization, so they decided to send these emerging leaders and rely on the rest of the team to step into the breach to take care of the immense challenge the wildfires presented their organization and the animals they’re pledged to protect.

During the Integris program, the situation at home worsened. One night, long after regular work hours, members of the San Diego Humane Society were called in to evacuate one of their facilities threatened by the fires.

Starting after 10 PM, the call went out. Members of the organization were told, “This is not a drill!” 100 people stepped in to evacuate 500 animals.

The team attending The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team and The Leadership Challenge with Integris was seeing the incredible efforts to evacuate the animal shelter unfold on the internal Facebook page, and they seriously considered leaving to assist in the rescue operation. They’re the Humane Society after all, and that’s their mission, the very nature of their organization.

However, senior leadership directed them to stay because they understood the new skills being learned would be critical for the upcoming organizational expansion. It helped that the senior leadership team also believed in the rest of the staff and knew that others on the Humane Society team had things under control.

Preparing Leaders for the Challenging Road Ahead

The San Diego Humane Society’s expansion is no small undertaking. Some of the particularly difficult aspects include:

  • Changing internal culture
  • Gaining community acceptance
  • Restructuring partnerships with other organizations
  • Staffing changes

Not to mention, as a high-profile nonprofit organization, this all had to take place very publicly — a delicate situation.

To do our part, Integris is now facilitating leadership development opportunities for nonprofits all over San Diego, opportunities that are helping teams within the Humane Society establish core values, make decisions about how to treat each other, and learn to work as a unified group.

Receiving training that incorporated The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team, and learning about behavioral styles through Everything DiSC, teams are taking on new and more effective dynamics — teams struggling with dysfunction are moving towards more healthy behaviors, and they are increasing productivity and efficiency.

This Team and Leadership Development Opportunity Is Ongoing — Join Us

Many other opportunities for growth await the San Diego Humane Society.

The organizational expansion requires new processes and approaches to the work at hand — team development, leadership training and a focus on core values are key, which means this story will continue to evolve as time goes on.

(Integris will be there to help, and you can, too!)

As part of the Integris/SDHS partnership, we are hosting regular sessions of The Foundations of Team Cohesion. This one-day team development and leadership training session is open both to the San Diego Humane Society and to other nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and local businesses — essentially, to any organization with a desire to develop its leaders and teams.

If you are looking for either a valuable team-building experience or effective personal development training, you are welcome to attend.

Training sessions are held regularly at the beautiful San Diego Humane Society campus in Old Town San Diego — the next trainings take place August 16th and September 27th.

And in case you missed it, you can read how this adventure of bringing affordable, democratic, nonprofit leadership training to the San Diego area began.


Brett Cooper

Brett is the visionary President of Integris Performance Advisors, a professional development firm he co-founded to expand the existence of healthy organizations and great places to work. By creatively bringing together concepts from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (by Patrick Lencioni), The Leadership Challenge (by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner), and Lean Six Sigma, Brett and his team have influenced thousands of people in government, non-profits and corporate America to work together in more productive, more effective and more human ways. Outside of his role at Integris, Brett dedicates time to serving others in need. He is a volunteer coordinator for the East Bay Stand Down and Stand Down on the Delta, two non-profits serving the needs of San Francisco’s homeless Veteran population. He is also board member and financial sponsor for Partners in Sustainable Learning, whose mission is to bring early childhood education to marginalized communities in the developing world (current projects are underway in Nepal).