In combining the world of breeding, behavioral training, veterinary care and fundraising, managing the largest guide dog operation in North America is no easy task. But for Guide Dogs for the Blind, the payoff is palpable.

To commemorate the National Guide Dog Month last September, NetSuite took a look at one of its innovative nonprofit customers.

Founded in 1942 as way to help wounded veterans returning from WWII, Guide Dogs for the Blind has since evolved into an operation that trains roughly 300 guide dog teams per year and now counts 2,200 active teams across the U.S. and Canada.

Getting to that point, however, requires a wide range of disciplines. First of all, Guide Dogs for the Blind, provides all its services for free, without government funding. Karen Woon, Guide Dogs for the Blind’s vice president of marketing noted “providing those services for free can make a huge difference in the lives of the blind, ”Having a guide dog enhances mobility, independence, and social inclusion. Dogs are quite the ice breakers!”

Jason Mitschele, a graduate of the program, has been a guide dog handler for over 25 years.

“My guide dogs have provided me with confidence, speed, and perhaps more importantly a world of difference in how I see myself and relate to others,” he said. “Being blind can be isolating at times, but with a beautiful dog on your arm, there’s a social aspect to it. It’s a bit like being a celebrity.”

In fact, Mitschele credits one of his guide dogs for meeting his wife Amy. “We met at a fundraiser and when my beautiful black Lab popped his head up from under the table it was game on,” he said.

The services Guide Dogs for the Blind offers encompass; breeding of the dogs, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Lab/Golden crosses which are chosen for specific health and temperament characteristics; travel expenses to the training campus in San Rafael, Calif. or Boring, Ore.; the two-week training; the guide dog itself; ongoing client support, and veterinary assistance if required. Not only that, but someone coming to one of Guide Dogs for the Blind’s campuses at age 30 is still going to need assistance at 40, 50 and 60 as well. That’s a lot of time in dog years and means a lengthy relationship between the nonprofit and the people it serves.

Ioana Gandrabur was born prematurely with retrolental fibroplasia (RFP) and has been using a guide dog for the past 10 years, helping her navigate the world of international travel as she journeys to concerts and competitions as a trained classical guitarist.

“One of the highlights in my travels with my current guide, Loyal, was returning to Germany where I had spent so much time walking with a cane while dreaming about doing it with a guide dog,” Gandrabur said. “It really felt like a dream come true and sharing my new life style with old time friends was so enriching.”

The training also involves more than just putting any dog and any person together, Woon noted. An international business traveler has very different needs from his or her dog than a college student or a retired person whose days are filled going to the library or shopping.

For example, as a Federal Crown Prosecutor in Toronto prosecuting drug-related crimes and other complex cases, Mitschele takes his guide dog with him on investigations and into the courtroom, often resting near the jury box.

The process of creating a guide dog teams is not an easy one, either. Along with finding the right combination of temperaments and paces, Guide Dogs for the Blind also employs instructors and field representatives who travel to the homes of prospective clients to better understand their lifestyle and needs.

Relying on the Army of Awesome

Like many nonprofits, Guide Dogs for the Blind depends on volunteers, notably its “Army of Awesome’” its 2,000 puppy raising families that take in the dogs for circa 15 months and over 750 campus volunteers. There are, of course, also fundraising demands, with assistance coming from corporate sponsors, alumni and other donors, star athletes like NBA All Star Klay Thompson and Major League Baseball’s Brandon Crawford, as well as a capital campaign for GDB’s forthcoming puppy center.

But, like many nonprofits, Guide Dogs for the Blind relied on manual processes, Excel spreadsheets and an antiquated accounting system to manage the organization. That left it with little visibility into operations and an inability to correct course as the need arose.

Guide Dogs for the Blind implemented NetSuite in June of 2016, with significant input and guidance from Cathy Martin, Treasurer and CFO. With NetSuite the organization can create reports with the push of a button. In fact, with the help of NetSuite’s Pro Bono volunteers, Guide Dogs for the Blind issues its financial statement largely out of a NetSuite script. The organization can also conduct what-if analysis for course corrections based on funding and accounting staff have been freed up from manual work and can now offer more strategic advice.

“With NetSuite, we found that our workplace giving revenue had grown significantly over the past few years without much marketing to support this program,” said Tom Horton, VP of Philanthropy, Guide Dogs for the Blind. “We therefore put more money toward marketing this particular program and pulled some marketing funds from less productive fundraising areas. The software has allowed us to use our dollars more productively.”

Learn more about how NetSuite is helping nonprofits manage their organization.