Cat Hospice’s Photo Contest Wins Friends Worldwide


I just found out about a nonprofit animal rescue group that held a photo contest.

Big deal, right? Things like this happen all the time, right?

Well, when I looked a little deeper, I found a couple of things that made this particular rescue group and this photo contest special.

The St. Francis Hospice for Cats in Derby, England, cares for elderly cats and cats with chronic illnesses and terminal conditions. When I viewed the shelter’s list of residents, I found that the vast majority of them are FIV-positive, and they were taken in from other organizations that couldn’t house them because of the potential threat of contagion to other cats.

Of course, I know that FIV is not in any way an instant death sentence and, unlike feline leukemia, it can’t be transmitted by casual contact. But still, I can understand why most animal rescues would be hesitant to house FIV-positive cats.

The fact that St. Francis is living my own dream — I too hope to open a sanctuary and hospice for FIV-positive cats and those with other chronic illnesses — makes this organization special to me.

But what about that photo contest?

It was actually a pretty clever idea: It made use of social media and new technology to add a cool twist. In The Cat’s Whiskers Instagram Photo Challenge, people were asked to share photos of that most adorable kitty feature that they manipulated using the free Instagram iPhone app. They asked participants to use hashtags and usernames to increase the contest’s visibility on the Statigram website, where the photos were hosted. Other fans were asked to check out the submitted photos and vote for their favorites.

As far as I can tell, there were no prizes. It was just something fun to do. And people participated.

There were hundreds of entries and apparently thousands of votes.

Many nonprofits are struggling to figure out how to use social media to raise awareness and potentially raise funds. I know because my “day job” at a nonprofit revolves around web content management and social media campaigns. I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of unknowns, fears, and concerns among nonprofits when it comes to the world of Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and photo and video sharing.

The St. Francis Hospice photo contest is a threefold winner. It features lots of cool cat pictures taken by hundreds of cat lovers, some of whom were probably thousands of miles from England; it was done by a very special cat sanctuary; and it represents a nonprofit social media success story.

I’m sure St. Francis Hospice never imagined that their tiny rescue and fun photo contest would gain the attention of a US-based handmade cat accessory creator and distributor and a blogger at the world’s largest online cat-loving community. But social media is funny that way: you never know what’s going to “go viral” and attract attention far beyond the boundaries of your own community.

The contest deadline had passed by the time I learned about it, and it seems the group is still deciding on which of the four finalists has the winning photo. But I’d encourage you to check out the gallery of entries, because some of them are truly awesome.

If you’re involved with a cat rescue group, don’t be afraid to host a contest like this yourself. It makes for a great “friend-raiser,” as we say in the unfortunately jargon-plagued nonprofit world — and getting the word out about the cool stuff you do can have far-reaching results.

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