Leader Dogs for the Blind

Rochester Hills, MI   |


Empowering people who are blind or visually impaired with lifelong skills for safe and independent daily travel.

Notes from the nonprofit

Founded by three Detroit-area Lions clubs members in 1939, Leader Dogs for the Blind empowers people who are blind, visually impaired or Deaf-Blind with skills for a lifetime of independent travel, opening doors that may seem to have closed with the loss of sight.

Thanks to the generosity of our dedicated supporters, all programs are provided free to clients, including meals and housing during training, travel and equipment.

Leader Dog programs are crafted to address individual situations and adapt to our clients' changing needs at any point in their lives. From youth camp to orientation and mobility cane training through guide dog training and GPS technology integration, Leader Dog's programs give clients the confidence and skills they need to live independent lives.

Leader Dog is recognized as a “Best In America" Charity by the Independent Charities of America (ICA).

Ruling year info


President & CEO

Melissa Weisse

Main address

1039 S. Rochester Rd

Rochester Hills, MI 48307 USA

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NTEE code info

Blind/Visually Impaired Centers, Services (P86)

Human Service Organizations (P20)

Other Services (D60)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

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Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Accelerated Orientation and Mobility Training

This seven-day residential program addresses both the theoretical and practical application of orientation and mobility (O&M) techniques for cane travel and maintaining orientation when traveling with a cane or a Leader Dog. Taught by certified O&M instructors, this intense course is designed to speed up the learning process with one-on-one instruction helping clients to obtain the basic O&M skills needed to receive a Leader Dog.

Population(s) Served
People with vision impairments

Leader Dogs for the Blind offers highly personalized guide dog training to clients from across the United States and around the world.  Clients complete a 26-day residential training program learning to work with a guide dog in a variety of real-life situations. The training includes country, city and nighttime travel, how to incorporate a Leader Dog into a daily routine and dog care knowledge.  Travel, meals, accommodations, and training of the Leader Dog are provided free of charge to all clients.  Each Leader Dog undergoes a rigorous training program prior to being issued to the client. Instruction for clients who are both deaf and blind is provided via American Sign Language, either tactile or visual, based on a client's range of vision.

Population(s) Served
People with hearing impairments
People with vision impairments

The Leader Dog volunteer program provides an opportunity for volunteers to make a difference in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired.  Volunteers are integral to daily operations and support Leader Dog, both locally and across the country, in providing life-enhancing services to our clients.  Volunteers contribute their time, energy and a variety of skills and talents in many areas of the organization including dog care, client assistance, public presentations and administrative support.  The community outreach portion of the program allows Leader Dog to utilize volunteers to reach out to the community providing educational information about guide dogs, Leader Dog operations, and a sense about what it is like to be blind or visually impaired.  Community outreach is conducted across the country by volunteers who attend, speak or give presentations before various groups in school, corporate, or community club settings.

Population(s) Served

This revolutionary training teaches the use of a personal GPS (Global Positioning System) device that supplies the user with important information including where they are, what direction they are traveling, what street they are approaching and what businesses are in the immediate vicinity.  Prior to having a GPS device to provide this information our clients had to rely on other people, often total strangers, to help them navigate.  Clients from the U.S. and Canada participating in our Guide Dog Training receive GPS technology training and a free HumanWare Trekker GPS unit.

Population(s) Served
People with vision impairments
People with hearing impairments

A unique summer camp for boys and girls ages 16 and 17 that combines summer fun with an introduction to guide dogs and the opportunity to spend time with peers who are facing similar challenges. Campers kayak, rock wall climb and tandem bike; receive a free HumanWare Trekker GPS device with instruction and spend time with dogs and Leader Dog instructors to learn more about living and working with a guide dog.

Population(s) Served
People with vision impairments

Participants ages 18‒24 years old in the U.S. and Canada can expect an awesome line up of free virtual activities designed specifically for this unique age group. Our focus will be on the next steps for independent travel, professional readiness and networking. To accommodate busy schedules, this program is partially self-guided and partially live throughout the course of two weeks. Pre-recorded and live content will be 60‒90 minutes in length. Zoom will be used as our conference platform for approximately six live sessions.

Population(s) Served
Young adults
People with vision impairments

Where we work


Community Partnership Award 2013

Mutual of America Community Partnership Award

Our results

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

How does this organization measure their results? It's a hard question but an important one.

Percent of clients satisfied with their overall experience.

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

People with vision impairments

Type of Metric

Outcome - describing the effects on people or issues

Direction of Success


Context Notes

These surveys are administered by Leader Dog volunteers.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

The mission of Leader Dogs for the Blind is to empower people who are blind or visually impaired with lifelong skills for safe and independent daily travel.

By the year 2025, we at Leader Dogs for the Blind envision:
• A national reputation for high quality
• Growth in the number of clients served in all areas
• A diversified revenue base
• The ability to serve Central and South America through partnerships with local providers
• A culture that attracts and retains high quality team members (both paid and volunteer)
• Continuing to pioneer advancements in technology through collaborations and client instruction

Financial Sustainability: Develop strategies to grow major gift fundraising, marketing, direct mail and digital acquisition in major markets outside Southeast Michigan. Create strategies to increase alternative revenue sources.

Growth: Research and identify additional geographic areas for potential growth. Explore and establish a relationship with partner(s) in Mexico, Central America, and/or South America to provide regional support services.

Expanded Services: Expand service provision to Deaf-Blind clients by adding canine skills sets included alert behaviors. Expand Guide Dog Training services to include on campus training, in-home training and a combination training. Further expand the in-home follow up component to Orientation and Mobility Training and Guide Dog Training.

Marketing and Outreach: Expand efforts in attracting new clients and community engagement through the establishment of a speakers' bureau. Expand digital strategies to support our branding and messaging to increase reach to potential clients. Develop systems to increase referrals from professionals in the fields of blindness, vision restoration and rehabilitation.

Technology: Establish and implement a strategic plan for technology that leverages technology to increase efficiency and effectiveness in all operations. Increase team member acceptance of and skills in technology usage. Review and/or test emerging or new travel related technologies to ensure curriculum and hardware are current and relevant to our client's needs.

Leader Dogs for the Blind has a team comprised of people with a strong passion for the work with many team members having 10 or more years of service. Our team includes strong volunteer support, with over 570 on-campus volunteers, 500 puppy raisers and 100 breeding hosts. Our committed Board of Trustees and senior management team combine deep industry experience with strong business and fundraising acumen. Leader Dog has a loyal donor base and has received significant support over its history from Lions clubs, on both a local and international level. The organization has demonstrated its flexibility and innovation in developing programs for serving individuals who are both hearing and visually impaired and in championing pedestrian audible GPS and other emerging technologies.

What we have accomplished:
Leader Dogs for the Blind has been empowering people who are blind or visually impaired with the skills needed to greatly improve their independent daily travel skills since 1939. From the first graduating class of four clients, Leader Dog has grown to become one of the largest guide dog organizations in the world, having graduated over 15,400 person/dog teams, with clients coming from 39 countries. In 1991 Leader Dog began the groundbreaking service of training guide dogs for people who are both hearing and visually impaired. In addition, Leader Dog has provided over 950 people with orientation & mobility training and pioneered the integration of audible GPS into guide dog training by providing GPS units to increase the users' ability to travel independently. Leader Dog has also served over 260 teenagers through their Summer Experience Camp program. All Leader Dogs for the Blind programs are offered free-of-charge to the recipients.

What we haven't accomplished:
According to the provisional report for the 2010 National Health Interview Survey, 21.5 million American adults age 18 and older reported experiencing vision loss. Per the National Center for Policy Research for Women & Families published in 2004, approximately 1 million U.S. adults are legally blind. As the baby boomer generation ages and longevity increases, the size of the legally blind population increases. Regardless of age, sex, education and income, few blind adults receive the kinds of services (such as vocational rehabilitation, occupational therapy or visual equipment) that could help them to succeed in the work force and remain independent and productive. Only one in four (28 percent) use visual “equipment." The most common choices are white canes (12 percent), telescopic lenses (9 percent), and Braille (5 percent). Less than 1 percent use a guide dog.

Too many visually impaired individuals do not receive the services and equipment they need in order to maintain their independence and mobility. Leader Dogs for the Blind simply does not have the resources to meet this unmet need. We need your support.

Leader Dogs for the Blind operates entirely on donations from individuals, community service groups such as Lions Clubs, corporations and foundations to fund our programs. We receive no United Way, state or federal funding.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To identify bright spots and enhance positive service experiences, To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve, To understand people's needs and how we can help them achieve their goals

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

    We collect feedback from the people we serve at least annually, We look for patterns in feedback based on people’s interactions with us (e.g., site, frequency of service, etc.), We engage the people who provide feedback in looking for ways we can improve in response, We act on the feedback we receive

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    We don't have any major challenges to collecting feedback


Leader Dogs for the Blind

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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.


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Connect with nonprofit leaders


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  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

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Leader Dogs for the Blind

Board of directors
as of 01/18/2024
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Kathryn Davis

No Affiliation

Term: 2021 -

Steve Guarini

Kim Gorman

Steve Guarini

Anne Arvia

Mark Guthrie

Arun Anand

Jackie Buchanan

Franklin Carmona

Stephanie Dawkins Davis

Margaret Dimond

Paul Edwards

Jill Garvey

Jill Gaus

Diane Henderson

Brian Hock

Michele Honomichl

Marilyn Kelly

Thomas O'Masta

John Reed

Avril Rinn

Mary Smith

Daniel Spriet

Kurt Terrien

Marc Wisniewski

Douglas Wright

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? Yes