Nancy McKenney of Marin Humane Society wins Nonprofit Leadership Award

Nancy McKenney, CEO of Marin Humane Society with Brody2 (HENLEY PHOTOGRAPHY)


Nancy McKenney of Novato-based Marin Humane Society has won one of North Bay Business Journal’s Nonprofit Leadership Awards.

Describe your organization

Marin Humane is not your typical animal shelter — because we’re about people too! We bring animals and humans together, forging a bond that impacts not just our homes but makes neighborhoods happier and healthier.

For more than 100 years, we’ve been here to place animals in loving homes, advocate for their welfare, and educate the next generation. Our groundbreaking programs help kids learn to read, build confidence for people with autism, rehabilitate inmates and San Quentin, help low-income seniors care for their animals, and train people to be good pet parents.

We’re also responsible for 24/7 animal protection and rescue for the whole of Marin County. Our officers stop abuse, bring animals to safety, and reunite lost pets with their worried families. We never have to turn away an animal in need. Our devoted staff and volunteers transform the lives of more than 10,000 animals a year — and countless humans too.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I lived most of my life in the greater Seattle area, and now enjoy not having to use all the variety of rain coats or wool socks I used to have before moving to northern California.

My background in nonprofits, political organizing, and fundraising is based on my passion for causes that make our communities better — those that make us happier, healthier and yes, more humane to all living beings. I strive every day to live a more cruelty-free life (and admit. I’m not perfect) and am impressed by the options consumers now have when buying cosmetics, handbags or in simply ordering a meal.

My husband, who is allergic to animals, and I have been married since 1986. We share our home with two cats and one dog, all of whom were adopted from humane societies.

Professional background

I started my career in animal welfare 34 years ago when I was hired as the public relations coordinator for the Humane Society for Seattle/King County. After I left for a position in development at a private school, I was elected to the Humane Society’s board in 1986. I didn’t expect a few months later to be asked to be the next executive director, a position I ended up holding for 19 years.

After that time, I had the opportunity to work for an international grant making organization when I was appointed the first executive director for the Foundation in 2006. From there I went on to experience working in the public sector as I attempted to turn around an embattled animal care and control agency, the King County Animal Care and Control in Washington state.

I was recruited to Marin Humane and joined the organization in March 2011. Marin Humane serves a human population of over 263,000 residents and thousands of animals (including wildlife and livestock). For over 50 years, Marin Humane has contracted to provide animal services — 24/7 animal protection and rescue for the whole of Marin County.

I serve on the board of the State Humane Association of California and am Vice Chair for the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership. My past community service includes serving on the following boards or committees: Washington State Federation of Animal Care & Control Agencies, Society of Animal Welfare Administrators, Elder and Adult Day Care Services in Washington state, Seattle University’s College of the Arts & Sciences Leadership Council, and the CAWA Test Exam Committee.

What is your role in the organization?

As CEO, I have the honor of working with a dedicated group of employees, board members, volunteers, and supporters. I’m often the liaison between the groups and together, we’re striving to complete our strategic goals, achieve our mission, and find the resources necessary to do so. My role is to keep the organization focused on our vision, seek funding to sustain our many programs and services, advocate for animals, and to support our great staff and volunteers who carry out the work every day with compassion.

What achievement are you most proud of?

I have two: being offered the position at Marin Humane and having two former employees who are both running two major animal services organizations in Washington state.

What is your biggest challenge today?

Marin Humane has an aging campus and we’re running out of space to provide expanded or new programs and services, thus the challenge is to plan for the future campus, rally the community to support those plans, and stay operational during any major construction.

What product or service would help you do your job more effectively?: Something that manages all my emails better.

What is the next major project either underway or on the horizon?

Addressing the challenge mentioned above — determining our future campus design and needs, raising the dollars so we can build it and managing the stress — especially on our resident animals — or chaos that can come with major construction while keeping operations going.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

I believe the profession will be evolving due to three trends:

1. Most animal shelters will be caring for the harder to place animals, those with behavior and health conditions as we have no trouble finding homes for puppies or kittens.

2. Animal care and control organizations, such as Marin Humane, will be focusing on how best to support those who already have pets — especially how to expand our programs and services to help the most needy animals, and their guardians, in our communities since the costs of having an animal as a family member are steadily rising.

3. We will be monitoring and investigating more the role the Internet may have in animal sales and other inhumane activities.

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Oprah Winfrey

Current reading: Leader Business, The Accidental Connoisseur and past issues of Vanity Fair magazine.

Most want to meet: If it were even possible, Ethel Tompkins, founder of Marin Humane.

Stress-relievers: Walking my dog Brody, doing crossword puzzles, being with friends, traveling for vacation or sometimes, just doing laundry and staying.

Favorite hobbies: Crossword puzzles, reading, cooking and exploring new wineries.

Buzzword from your industry you hate the most: “No-kill” or “state-of-the-art.”

Typical day at the office: After staff gathers for our daily morning briefing, there really isn’t a typical day in an animal shelter — but they all involve meetings and emails!

Best place to work outside of the office: At home with my cats curled up on my lap.

Words that best describe you: Dedicated, calm, ethical, organized and studious or thoughtful.

Anything to add?: This recognition is a reflection of the great staff and board that work at Marin Humane. I rely on them, get inspired by them and learn from them each and every day.