A VERY PURRCULIAR PRACTICE 28: THE "FUN" IN FUNDRAISING
Fundraising is an ever-present concern for cat rescue organisations with groups looking for new and different ways to attract donations from Joe and Jane Public. Unfortunately charities are now competing against the "Stupidity Tax" – the National Lottery and the proliferation of scratch cards – that separates fools from their money.
"Sorry, I'd love to give you something but I only have £1 left and I need to buy a lottery ticket," apologises Mrs J Public on her way past the Cats Protection stand at the top of Chelmsford High Street.
She is unable to distinguish between "need" and "want". During that year, she will spend £1 a week on lottery tickets and win £25, a net loss of £340. Failing to detect this trend, the pattern will be repeated in the following years. She has more chance of being struck by lightning than of winning a major prize, but she still begrudges the odd £1 to charity.
"Never mind," she adds, "You can always apply to the Lottery Fund." Mrs J Public is unaware that the lottery fund discriminates against animal welfare charities. Charities must find other ways to make up the shortfall.
These days you're not allowed to actually rattle your can during street collections, so some poor volunteer all too often ends up in a cat costume. This is fine on a cool dry day, but on the day of the collection the weather will suddenly become unseasonably sunny or the rain will fall in monsoon-like fashion. The costume will either turn into a soggy, heavy, smelly mess that has to be laundered before returning it to the hire shop or the volunteer will start cooking inside the costume.
Flag days, have been superseded by sticker days, removing the risk of stabbing members of the public while pinning paper flags on them. Flags and pins were fine in the days of cloth and woollens, but the modern day Mr and Mrs Joe Public don't want puncture marks in their modern textiles or leather jackets. This put an end to watching carefully assembled flags and pins being blown hither and thither by the smallest gust, or wrestling them from lumps of card or cork where they've been safely anchored against such gusts … and against the best efforts of the collector who needs 1 hand to hold the tray, 1 to hold the collecting tin and 2 to pull the flag free without mangling it.
In this modern world, we can peel self adhesive stickers from a roll whose tail flaps gaily in the thwarted gust, wrapping itself around arms and legs if not pruned regularly.
"Would you like a sticker?"
"Oh better had, that way you other collectors will know I've donated, har-har … oh no, can't stick it there, it damages the leather … not there either, it leaves a sticky residue …. On second thoughts, I won't bother about a sticker."
Does anyone use the term "paper begging bowls" these days? They're the printed special appeal slips in newsletters, often decorated with illustrations of an empty food-bowl in one margin and a hopeful cat in the other. When charity fatigue sets in, the shelter needs a special appeal – a special fund for poor rescued Tommy's operation or to rehabilitate the 35 Persian cats rescued from appalling conditions and seriously stretching the shelter's resources. The cat(s) in question must exist because some members of the public will want to visit it. Embarrassingly, hyperthyroid Tommy had the bad grace to die before having his operation (these days thyroid ops are routine, but in Tommy's day they were uncommon). Luckily, Tommy's misfortune resulted in redoubled donations with notes saying it was so other cats didn't have to die while on the surgical waiting list. The 35 needy Persian cats resulted in homes for every longhaired cat in the shelter that looked remotely like a Persian.
"This one's half Persian … she's a three-quarter Persian, you can see it in the face shape … that one is ended up shorthaired, but it has the silver tabby pattern from its Persian ancestors," you explain, hoping your visitors aren't feline genetics experts likely to pipe up that short hair is a dominant gene and no way can silver tabby shorthair Suki be descended from longhaired cats, well not unless mother longhair was dating the local shorthaired tomcat on the sly.
The sponsor schemes are always popular, but rely on the sponsored cat being hard-to-home or a feral trusty, otherwise the poor sponsorship secretary will forever being sending sponsors lists of alternative cats to choose from and the postage fees will mount up. Photos are essential as are the stories about how Oscar, Foxtrot and Sierra the police stables cats became homeless (new housing development) and why Tyson will need to live out his days in the shelter (three legged epileptic cauliflower-eared feral found in illegal trap). It's not unknown for Oscar, Foxtrot and Sierra to suddenly acquire adopted sisters Tango and Bravo when the "police cats" achieve a fan following, or for sponsor-less black cat Toffee to be renamed Treacle after black Treacle unexpectedly dies two weeks after getting a generous overseas sponsor. Sometimes things require a little creativity to prevent inconvenience all round.
Where there are no permanent ferals or grace-and-favour old age pussycats, you are reduced to sponsoring pens. When in the throes of rebuilding or extending, shelters have sometimes asked people to sponsor bits of pens in the form of a buy-a-brick appeal. "Buy a brick" can trigger very different thought processes in some members of the public.
There you are in the village square with your poster display showing an artist's impression of the new brick-built shelter, back in the pre-computer days when "artist's impression" meant "pencil drawing by fundraiser's son who is trainee draughtsman" and a painted bedsheet inviting passers by to "buy a brick" for the cat shelter.
"Buy a brick?" asks an elderly, tweed-jacketed, ferret-faced man sporting a random selection of misaligned, nicotine-stained teeth.
"That's right – a brick for the new cat shelter," smiles the cat rescuer.
"You want some sacks too?" he enquires, "I can give you some of them for free."
"Beg pardon?" asks wide-eyed, shocked cat rescuer.
"You'll need sacks to put the bricks in when you're drowning the buggers," he states, and the cat rescue finds itself with another neutering job on hand and with donations of the feline, rather than the financial, kind.
It was once estimated that for every cat homed through a publicity drive (or combined publicity/fundraising appeal), another 3 or 4 ended up on the shelter waiting list.
Jumble sales are tried and tested fundraisers since, well probably since the dawn of fundraising and are still popular in these days of Ebay as it gives people a chance to dig through mountains of odds and ends and, because it's a good cause, impulse buy tat. Much of the tat was originally impulse-purchased by inebriated holidaymakers as mementoes or gifts, often while waiting to fly home from a foreign airport. Cunningly advertised in many guises, jumble, rummage and trash-and-treasure sales give you the opportunity to watch elderly ladies slug it out with brollies and trollies over a prize find and keep an eye out for youthful shoplifters. At the end of the day, the remaining carnage is cleared away and you discover someone has accidentally sold your jacket for 50p.
The proliferation of "Cash in the Attic" and "Bargain Hunter" TV shows has breathed new life into jumble sales with people willing to rake through heaps of stuff in the belief a rare and valuable 1930s tin toy or unknown Canaletto will be at the bottom. It's worth a try. While cat charities are generally savvy enough to spot treasures and have them valued by an auction house, there are regular tales of hitherto unknown paintings by famous artists turning up quite legitimately at car boot sales following house clearances. After all, who would have guessed that funny splodgy thing found in Great Aunt Ethel's back room was an original Jackson Pollack? Rare books turn up among donations of goods with surprising frequency.
How about engaging the public's enthusiasm with a competition and charging a small fee for each entry? Anyone who has seen the insult-hurling when Mrs X's cake is judged better than Mrs Y's cake and a village's politics get aired may be deterred ….
"Well of course Mrs Marlowe came first, her husband is a friend of the judges."
"There was no way I was going to win was there? Not with Mrs Fountain as one of the judges. She and I had a falling out at last year's village fete when I criticised her gingerbread …."
Though these days, and in many places, it's more likely to be inter-housing-estate rivalries than genteel village rivalries.
"No-one from the 'poets' estate stands a chance. The top three are all from the 'birds' estate – well they would be, two of the judges are from that estate …"
"I feel sorry for Mrs Golding though, she didn't stand a chance with Mr Patterson being a judge; not after her son was cautioned by the police for breaking into Mr Patterson's shed."
If you can't face contestants and their squabbles about unfair judging face to face, photo competitions are popular … until you have to make sure each photo gets sent back to the right person and as long as you have a way of display the results in all their glory. Thank goodness for email and websites …. until the inevitable cries of "Photoshop" come from losers who believe the winning entry is a cunning edit. Poetry competitions are no better – one person's blank verse is another person's critical nitpick over lack of rhyme, rhythm and scansion. Even where it does rhyme, does a technically excellent but not very cat-related poem score above very cat-related doggerel? Does little Sophie Smith's entry in the 8-11 years class demonstrate precocious ability or parental intervention? Are you certain "Ode To Smokey" hasn't been stitched together from several classic poems or that "Dumpling" wasn't 'borrowed' from a website? Best get an English teacher to pick the winners – if you can find one brave enough - and check all entries for plagiarism using a search engine …
And if, after all of that, you still go out there, discreetly shaking your can, applying your stickers, soliciting for sponsors, breaking up jumble sale scrimmages and braving the complaints of the runners up all in the name of raising funds for you local cat rescue …. then you are worth your weight in gold.
We were lucky not to be banned for disrupting the shop.