Tom Van Winkle Leads Hinsdale Humane Society

By Larry Atseff

From working in corporate America to leading a nonprofit organization, Tom Van Winkle, CEO/Executive Director of Hinsdale Humane Society (HHS), has followed his passion into animal welfare, and he’s not stopping until the “harder to adopt” animals have all been helped. His parents, a colleague, and his wife are the driving forces behind getting him to where he is today. “I wouldn’t have had the courage to make the decisions I made, without my upbringing and the guidance I had,” said Van Winkle. “From a professional standpoint, Lauren Malmberg was the most influential person in my career,” said Tom. “She was County Administrator for the Peoria Animal Welfare Society and she allowed me to learn from her. I volunteered for seven years and picked up so much information.” Tom wouldn’t be leading HHS today without the help of his wife. “Taking a job with a small nonprofit takes a lot of support,” said Tom.

“Laura could have pointed out that it was risky, but she didn’t. She supported my dream and assumed the role of providing the majority of income for our family.” His motivation has always been to help as many animals as possible and he is relentless in his pursuit of innovating new ways to support homeless pets. “The opportunity I saw at HHS really came from the vision of the Board of Directors.” Tom had been in jobs where he wanted to do more in order to help more animals, but the Board didn’t share his vision. HHS’ Board had already shown their desire to be more impactful by setting the purchase of a new building in motion. “I was lucky enough to come in as the purchase crossed the finish line, which allowed me to focus on a new product idea I’ve been developing. It’s a technology platform that allows animal shelters everywhere to work more collaboratively to save lives.” While COVID set the software development back a little, it has not stopped progress on that dream for Tom.

“I believe the way to make Conscious Capitalism even stronger is by opening up conversation between the for-profit business and nonprofit communities. By finding the mutual benefit to both parties, we create a long term pattern of success.”

Carrying his dreams to the finish line has been a long time coming. “I entered the working world at 22 in the banking industry in Chicago and later moved to Caterpillar in Peoria. These were, and still are, very strong companies that provide great career opportunities, so my first career hurdle was an internal one: decide if I wanted to give up a great career path to follow my dream.” Once that decision was made, he had to convince a shelter Board of Directors that someone with a business background, but no formal shelter experience, was worth a shot. Growth at HHS has been steady since Tom arrived in 2017. “Fundraising has been, and will always be a challenge,” said Tom. “We want to break out of the fundraising cycle. Engaging with supporters at all donation levels and through multiple channels will always be part of our strategy because it doesn’t just raise money, but it also creates relationships.” Conscious Capitalism has been on Tom’s radar for some time. “I believe the way to make Conscious Capitalism even stronger is by opening up conversation between the for-profit business and non-profit communities. By finding the mutual benefit to both parties, we create a long term pattern of success.”

Both sides tend to see Conscious Capitalism only on the surface where one supports the other. “Nonprofits can actually provide great value to our partners and it all starts with a conversation to understand what would help and why it is a win-win.” Under Tom’s leadership, HHS has doubled its number of adoptions, started a low-cost pet clinic to help families care for the medical needs of their animals, increased the number of HHS job opportunities and expanded its visibility and influence in the sheltering world while working alongside other agencies with a mantra of “we are all stronger together.” The next challenge for shelters is going to be helping harder to adopt animals that require special funding and resources. “There are thousands of animal welfare organizations in the US, so finding help for the “easy to adopt” animals is not difficult. What is difficult is finding agencies with the resources and desire to take on the challenging animals. Whether it is a medical or training issue, so many animals would make great pets if we could just get them the help they need.

I want HHS to lead this effort and we will with the help of our supporters.” The shelter recently received support for harder to adopt animals in the form of a fund from one of Hinsdale’s own. The Zach Leathers Emergency Medical Fund carries on the memory of Zachary Leathers, a Hinsdale Central graduate who always cared deeply for animals. The fund established in his name provides vital care for special needs animals allowing them to live full and happy lives. Another area of focus for Tom is a heightened awareness of the human-animal bond. The stronger this bond, the more pets will stay in their homes and be adopted. “We recently lost a true animal advocate hero with the passing of Hinsdale’s BJ Chimenti. Her legacy will live on with the BJ Chimenti Angel Pets for Veterans. Thanks to her, and her husband Norm Chimenti, this fund will help nurture the human animal bond and provide ongoing moral, financial and educational support to our military veterans and active duty servicemen and women. The next generation of strong, independent, caring Van Winkles, is Tom’s daughter Jessica. “I always wanted her to know that she has my support in anything she wants to do. I gave her guidance and talked through situations with her so she wasn’t in the dark when making decisions, but if after we talked, she wanted to pursue a certain road, then she has always had my support to accomplish her dreams.” With so much groundwork laid and so many more plans to facilitate, motivation is key, and for Tom it all comes back to the mission that brought him here. “What keeps me going is that every time we adopt an animal, there is a waiting list of other animals in need to take its place.”

*Photo provided by the Hinsdale Humane Society

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