Editor’s Note: As we come to the end of the 2012 Microsoft employee giving campaign we took some time up to talk to Susan Bunch and Karen Easterbrook the founders of one of the more unique and prominent campaigns that take place every year, the “Cats of Microsoft” calendar.
So in 2007 a group of us got started. But there is no way this calendar could have happened without a team – Karen Easterbrook, Kristi Minietta, David Sullivan, and many others helped shape the calendar. To me, the calendar is a labor of love and represents the work of people who care about the cats, the shelters, and each other. We’re friends.
I want to add how important Microsoft employees are to the calendar – we are so lucky to have so many resources.
Karen Easterbrook (KE): I am a Principal Program Manager Lead in the Microsoft Research Extreme Computing Group. Our group does targeted research on security and cryptography projects. When we succeed, our ideas and technologies transfer into Microsoft products and services.
MSFT Citizenship: How did the “Cats of Microsoft” calendar get started?
KE: Susan sent out an email to the internal group for people who love cats asking who wanted to start a calendar. Subsequently, myself, and Kristi Minietta joined Susan as the founders.
We started with three goals: 1) have fun, 2) build the community at Microsoft, and 3) raise enough money for animal shelters to make it worth doing again next year. That approach hit a chord and our community and the scal of the calendar has grown every year.
MSFT Citizenship: The Cat Calendar has tremendous support across Microsoft. How do you get the word out?
KE: We rely on the community of cat people at Microsoft to take on everything from hanging posters, staffing tables at events, etc. An Army of Cats, as we call ourselves, do the work and I think that has both helped us get the word out and has kept the energy going. While raising money for the shelter is a matter of life and death to the animals we are supporting, we try not to take the calendar part of it (or ourselves) too seriously.
By far the biggest promotion that we have had is the badge posters across campus. Last year, we had 1,157 photos submitted, which turned into 588 unique posters for this campaign – every cat submitted was on at least one, sometimes multiple. That makes it fun for everyone: there’s lots of chatter about who is in your building.
SB: We do have some great event volunteers who have tables at Give agency fairs and occasionally other events when time permits. Emily Hoffman leads this group and is amazing with her enthusiasm and willingness to wear cat ears in public.
MSFT Citizenship: How much did the calendar raise in the last year and what organization(s) benefit?
KE: Last year, counting matches, we raised over $77,000. Out of that, we have to pay for printing of the calendar and the shelter has fees for PayPal, etc., but that’s pretty good.
For the first four years of the calendar, we have been working with Forget Me Not Animal Shelter. Forget Me Not is located in Republic, WA, and supports all of Ferry County. When we started with them, they were a hardworking shelter, making do with a donated single-wide trailer on land they’d purchased. Volunteers brought water every day to the shelter. Many/most animals had to be fostered at volunteer homes. But they were doing great work. We picked them in part because of where they were, and because of the difficulty of raising local funds: Republic was hit particularly hard by the economic downturn.
Now, we are working with the Forget Me Not shelter to both help fund their ongoing operations AND to start building-up other shelters. This year, funds will go to support the Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary.
MSFT Citizenship: How do the shelter(s) use the funds?
KE: Over four years, we have raised over $250,000 for Forget Me Not. This has funded:
- Construction of two “Meow Manor” cat buildings
- The septic system, water, electricity
- The office
- Fencing for the entire shelter
- Washer/dryer and other necessary infrastructure (medical & microchip, etc.)
- Sponsorship of their cat adoption program, funding the spay/neuter, care, and transport for 275 cats as of July 2012
- Support for their “Fear no Feral” program: 223 cats/kittens have been helped. Adoptable animals have been put into the adoption program, true feral cats have been spayed/neutered, treated for medical conditions, and returned (TNR). Thirty feral colonies have been TNR’d as of July 2012
- Support for “stop the cycle” spay & neuter
MSFT Citizenship: How many cats have benefited from the Cat Calendar?
SB: We know of the hundreds that have been rescued, hundreds more who have received free spay/neuter, and dozens who are returned when lost because the shelter can now microchip. Calendar funds also supported the control of 32 feral colonies. Forget Me Not does spay/neuter and adopt out kittens.
MSFT Citizenship: How many photos do you receive?
KE: The number of photos received has been growing every year: for the 2011 calendar, we nearly outgrew one calendar, so for 2012 we went to two versions of the calendar. We received 1,157 photos.
MSFT Citizenship: How do you pick the cover cat?
KE: We don’t. Thank goodness! This is one of the tasks that Forget Me Not does for us.
MSFT Citizenship: If someone is interested in supporting this effort, but is not a Microsoft employee, what can they do to help?
KE: We are open to all members of the Microsoft Community, which includes alumni. For a brief window in December, our calendar will be available for sale in the Microsoft Company store on the Redmond campus.
Beyond that, I’d recommend that people look for a great local shelter or animal welfare group, and make a small donation. In tough economic times, all charities take a hit, but animal charities are hit particularly hard.
SB: Volunteering is also great – shelters often lack resources with computer skills to design websites, assist directly with the animals, or even foster an animal. If you have a barn or safe outdoor area, you can adopt a barn cat.
Susan Bunch (left) and Emily Hoffman at a Microsoft giving campaign event.
Bandit, one of the stars of the Cat Calendar