Farm animal sanctuaries across the country are turning the idea of an endurance charity event on its head by recruiting supporters to raise money by completing goofy activities. Over the course of four days in August, Goat Games participants raised more than $173,610 for 14 preserves.
No strenuous training required to participate in this fundraising event. One of the supporters dressed up as a rabbit and jumped on a pogo stick. Another ran a race against his dog. (The dog won). Another was said for the cause.
“You don’t have to be an athlete. You can take a nap,” says Cathy Stevens, founder of Catskills Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, New York, who launched the games three years ago.
It’s a ridiculous solution to a serious problem.
In 2020, the coronavirus outbreak forced the Catskills Zoo to shut down three of its main sources of income: farm tours, bed and breakfasts, and the annual New York City donor’s night. “The bottom fell from fundraising,” Stevens recalls.
If you know all the different species, goats are definitely more fun. They are always in trouble.
Each of these revenue streams brought in nearly $100,000 a year. She says the shelter not only lost that money, but also lost dollars from individual donors who instead donated to social services and health groups that support people.
With up to 350 farm animals to care for on 150 acres, Stevens was desperate to make up the difference. Any fundraising event should be virtual, but Stevens wanted it to be fun — which is why she called it Goat Games.
“If you know all the different species, goats are definitely the most fun,” says Stevens. “They are always in trouble. They never grow old from the terrible duo.”
The sanctuary chose five goats for the captain of five teams. It set a fundraising goal of $25,000 and gave participants the option to run, swim, bike, hike, walk, or choose another activity to complete for the cause. By the end of the games, they had raised $46,000.
It was a drop in the bucket compared to the $300,000 lost by the Covid shutdown. Still, nothing helped.
The high cost of doing business
The Goat Games concluded their third year in August and, for the second year in a row, included a nationwide set of animal sanctuaries. “We’ve always had a vision of a partnership,” Stevens says. “We thought the first year, let’s give it a try and work out the kinks.”
Catskills Animal Sanctuary has collected the lessons it learned into a toolkit — including a timeline of when to send appeals via email and social media, draft newsletters, and tips for attracting more digital supporters — and share them with sanctuaries that have since joined Games. Stevens acknowledges that preparing this material takes a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort to help the younger and younger sanctuaries run effective fundraising campaigns during the Games.
Each reserve sets a fundraising goal—ranging from $5,000 to $100,000—and sends out emails and social media posts to recruit participants to raise money from their families, friends and colleagues. Participants choose an activity to complete and keep their supporters updated on their progress. Stevens was the most successful fundraiser, bringing in nearly $4,500 to support the 50 miles she biked with her partner.
Together, the havens participating in this year’s Games have set an ambitious fundraising goal 260 thousand dollars Combined – the highest level so far. They failed to achieve their overall goal, but many organizations said the money they raised would help them meet the new, higher costs of doing business.
While the bulk of the Covid shutdowns are over, inflation and higher fuel costs are making it more expensive to run an animal sanctuary. Moreover, outbreaks of animal diseases such as bird flu – which infects chickens, turkeys, and other birds – and another deadly disease for rabbits are straining finances.
At the Catskills Animal Sanctuary, Stevens gritted her teeth and paid what she said were very high costs for timber to build what she called “covered porches” for the reserve’s chickens. The structures allow the birds to be outdoors and protect them from any infected droppings from wild birds flying in the sky.
Karen Augustinovich, director of Safe Haven Rabbit Rescue in Clinton, New Jersey, is paying more veterinary fees to vaccinate her rabbits that save her from the deadly virus and shelling more hay because she knows they’ve been quarantined long enough to be free of the deadly germs. virus. Even worse, inflation has driven up the cost of fresh vegetables that rabbits eat through the roof.
“We were really in trouble without something like goat games,” Augustynowicz says. Sharing for the first time, Safe Haven Rabbit Rescue fell shy of its $10,000 goal, raising nearly $8,600 and finishing fifth all-time.
Defending the same reason
While the fundraising event is described as a friendly competition between animal sanctuaries – complete with a leadership board and ratings – participants stress the value of working together to highlight their cause.
“It’s not just about saving our little one,” Augustinovic says. “It’s about helping everyone in the consortium work together towards a common goal of really educating people about the amount of work that goes into running the sanctuary – whether it’s a small sanctuary, a small one, or a large group.”
Additionally, it helps that sanctuaries are located across the country, so they generally don’t interfere with their appeals to supporters.
“We’re not competing for donors, but we’re all advocating the same cause,” says Michelle Blake, vice president of Wildwood Farm Sanctuary & Preserve in Newberg, Ore. “It really is an excellent way to expand your reach and meet new people, maybe expand your mailing list and get to know some New donors.
Blake’s Sanctuary hosted a field event as part of the Goat Games, inviting participants to compete in events such as sack races, watermelon spit competitions and cow pie throwing competitions. Goat Games participants and event attendees raised more than $13,300 for the sanctuary, short of its $20,000 goal but placing it in third place. The forbidden money will help secure a new plot of land. Thanks to climate change, water shortages and the dangers of wildfires have become so acute in its current location, the reserve has decided to relocate for the welfare of the animals.
It really is an excellent way to expand your reach and meet new people.
Even in the best of conditions, running an animal sanctuary is a huge challenge, says Stevens of the Catskills Animal Sanctuary. Her charity won the games, raising more than $80,000 but missing the $100,000 fundraising goal.
“What we do is uncomfortable for people because some people feel that by saving food animals and offering vegan programs, we are condemning them,” Stevens says. “We are not judging them. We are offering them a different view of the world – a vision we all need to get into if the planet is ever going to have a chance to be here.”
Stevens and other Safe Haven leaders say they enjoy the opportunity to work with peers at similar organizations across the country — and enjoy doing so. Christopher Fan, executive director of Little Bear Sanctuary in Punta Gorda, Florida, says the zeal for goat gaming sets them apart from running a daily animal sanctuary.
His group came in second place, raising over $18,000 but well short of its $30,000 goal. Vane is still an active gaming booster. “I look forward to it every year,” he says. “Probably the most fun I’ve ever raised money – ever.”
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