Like so many other organizations, the Catskill Animal Sanctuary took a major hit during the pandemic. Its more than 250 fluffy, furry, and feathery residents needed as much care as ever, but donations to the Ulster County nonprofit fell by a third. “Covid took away much of our capacity to raise funds and to run our very robust education program,” says founder and executive director Kathy Stevens. “Our tours were shut down and we had to cancel all our events.” Two other income streams dried up as well: A bed and breakfast on the property was shuttered, and Stevens no longer had paid speaking engagements.
As 2020 remote work became the norm, Stevens, along with the sanctuary’s 25 employees, decided to launch a virtual fundraiser that August. “It was the year of the Olympic games, and so my nephew came up with the name ‘Goat Games’ for our event,” she remembers. (The sanctuary does indeed have goats, plus turkeys, sheep, and other animals, including a glamorous cow named Zsa Zsa.)
Our motto is ‘Love spoken here.’
Unlike a typical walkathon or charity race, Goat Games participants, solicited via social media and the sanctuary’s newsletter, asked friends and family to sponsor them as they pursued any activity of their choice. No undertaking was out of bounds, including quarantine-friendly pastimes such as knitting and napping. The results of the weeklong initiative were an eye-opener—$42,000 came rolling in.
In the two years that followed, the sanctuary contacted similar organizations and encouraged them to join in. “We wanted national representation, so in 2021 we reached out to 10 sanctuaries across the United States,” says Stevens. Animal havens from Maine to California joined the herd. In 2022, 14 sanctuaries signed on; this year, the goal is to wrangle 16.
The concept of the Goat Games is expanding, too. During this year’s event, which takes place August 7–13, sanctuaries will compete against one another to see who can raise the most money. And while individual participants will still be welcome to garner funds by pursuing an activity they enjoy, the overall model has been simplified. Now, the emphasis will be on soliciting direct donations from each sanctuary’s fan base, an easier ask for facilities with less capacity. For the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, that means appealing to historic donors, plus former tour guests and people on the email list that have never, well, ponied up. “We’ll also be reaching out for corporate sponsors, mostly local and in some cases vegan-aligned businesses,” adds Stevens.
On the final day of the Goat Games, the sanctuary will host a community celebration. (For more info head to casanctuary.org.) Visitors can expect music, food, games and more, including tours of the 150-acre property and its animal residents. Along the walk, guests will hear touching stories of animal rescues. It’s a reminder that donations do so much more than fund the sanctuary’s expenses, such as its annual veterinarian and hay bills, each at least $100,000. They also make something more priceless feasible: giving each animal a safe home. “Our motto is ‘Love spoken here,’” says Stevens.