At the tender age of five, California native Howard Chi embarked on his first trip to Sea World and instantly developed a lifelong love for animals. Eventually, that same sense of compassion and the desire to help others would impact his life as an adult. Howard grew up to build a successful career, leading multimillion-dollar brands and startups with a focus on fiscal policy, key performance metrics, and a continued improvement process. For more than 20 years, numerous organizations benefited from his leadership and strategy in turn-around scenarios, M&As, and growth initiatives, but it was in 2017 that he received the opportunity he’d been waiting for—a chance to make a difference in the world by helping to save millions of animals.
A recruiter from the San Francisco Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SF SPCA) called to explain that they were struggling financially, losing money every year, and offered him the position as CFO if he were willing to help. Howard accepted and remarkably turned the organization around within 12 months. In 2021, he became COO, and under his leadership, SF SPCA now holds more liquid assets than it has had in 153 years. However, because the nonprofit is not affiliated with any national organizations, it relies upon charitable giving to continue providing care and protection for animals in need. Financial planners, in particular, are the at forefront of their philanthropic community when they incorporate non-profits such as the SF SPCA into estate plans. “Whether clients choose to give to the SF SPCA throughout their lifetime or beyond, their gift ensures their passion and commitment to animals for years to come,” says Howard.
As COO, Howard oversees all areas of SF SPCA’s finance, supply chain, purchasing, facility operations, IT, and multilocation hospitals. He also sets goals for performance and growth, drives the organization’s financial planning, and designs and implements organizational strategies, plans, and procedures. Howard has been delighted to see the increase in donations each year as well as the rise in pet ownership. “We receive about $20 million annually from individual legacy plans, and the number is growing,” he says. “I believe we’re going to see an increasing number of financial advisors including SPCA as a philanthropic option when working with people on their legacy plans.” Many celebrities and other high-net-worth individuals are also jumping on board—leaving hundreds of millions of dollars to their pets and giving to animal organizations. Gail Posner, Oprah Winfrey, Mary Tyler Moore, Ted Danson, Drew Barrymore, Glenn Close, Debra Messing, and countless others are bestowing significant support to animal welfare organizations like the San Francisco SPCA.
In addition to donations, an increase in pet adoptions occurred during COVID when people found themselves at home and in need of companionship. “Statistics have proven that we benefit from human-animal bonds, so when we adopt a pet, we’re not only saving the animals’ lives; we’re saving our own,” Howard explains. Many people treat their pets like family members, including them in their legacy planning along with their children. Howard’s own family can relate, as they recently adopted a giant malamute husky mix—named Bear by his two daughters. “The name fits because she is as sweet as a berry,” he quips.
Prior to his current role, as co-founder of Pluris Financial Group, Howard spearheaded the merger with a national organization and went on to join the nonprofit sector. Howard’s guidance has helped many organizations including turning around a struggling, 65-year-old nonprofit healthcare organization—from $7 million to $40 million in 36 months. Howard in collaboration with University of California Davis recently drafted the budget entitled, California for All Dogs and Cats, in Governor Gavin Newsom’s most recent state budget. The Budget includes an increase of $50 million one-time General Fund for the University of California Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program to develop a grant program for animal shelters. Howard is also the author of a book detailing how to successfully assist and manage nonprofits called, Nonprofit Financial Health, which was published in 2020. “I’m able to lend a combination of successful startup experience and solid organization to give nonprofits a structure to carry on,” says Howard. “This allows them to pursue their missions without having to chase the dollar.”
Howard holds a bachelor’s degree in economic administration from the University of California, Riverside, an MBA from Golden Gate University and serves on the board of directors for the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital Foundation.
Chief Operating Officer
San Francisco Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
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