Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Chiltern's Twitter success

Publicity Volunteer Chris Ayers explains how Chiltern Branch carried out a successful Twitter campaign…

Twitter is one of the most powerful tools of our time. It has contributed to the downfall of regimes in Egypt and Libya, taken some credit for the cause of the London riots – then proceeded to be vital for the cleanup operations – and has been responsible for heavily degrading the integrity of the ‘Super Injunction’. Opinion is split, but I am fanatical about social networking and believe that it holds the key to untapped volumes of publicity. Luckily, Cats Protection at both a national and local level is making excellent use of Twitter and, at the time of writing, around 50 branches hold accounts.

On 13 August, I had the idea of holding a ‘tweetathon’ – where a Twitter user repeatedly Tweets all day about either a specific subject or range of subjects in a pre-organised fashion, generally for the purpose of gaining rapid publicity – which includes building up as many ‘followers’ as possible. This idea steadily developed, although was downsized as I didn’t want to promise something which I couldn’t deliver – the idea of tweeting every few minutes seemed excessive! Finally, I settled on a ‘flash-neutering campaign’ as a bit of a play on the terms flash mob and flash crowd which captures the sheer essence of social networking.

I settled on a neutering campaign – for Monday 15 August as it is something which needs maximum publicity to try and humanely reduce the cat population – and which is geographically applicable everywhere. Somebody could be looking at our Twitter from another branch area or abroad and this means that anybody can participate. From the morning until the evening, I had set up various scheduled tweets with Tweetdeck software highlighting key neutering points, as well as writing others ad-hoc and replying to/retweeting other people’s tweets on the subject. To break this down further I gave details on providing information about the Cats Protection ‘free neutering’ vouchers – within our branch area as well as giving the national CP email address – various ‘bullet point’ facts such as ‘One unneutered cat could be responsible for thousands of descendents in just five years’ as well as links to the Early Neutering Register and Neutering FAQ.

Ultimately this was very successful and there are various ways to measure this – we had 40-50 retweets – where one of our tweets is reposted on another’s account because they think it’s useful or interesting, meaning all of their followers can see it too. If the average Twitter user has anything between 50-500 followers and a tweet is retweeted 10 times, a minimum of 500 people will see that tweet – or maybe even thousands upon thousands if a celebrity or well-followed organisation/company retweets, as well as the 300 already following us. You can see why information travels so quickly online! It is relatively safe to assume that at least 2,500 people will have seen at least one of our neutering campaign tweets over the course of the day.

In addition, we gained 12 new followers in a day. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but surges of new followers such as this are always good news, especially to relatively light Twitter users like us. To put it into perspective, our Twitter account has been running since 2010 and, in a year or so, has gained 280 followers – an average gain of roughly one follower every two to three days. I would most certainly implore any branch to register a Twitter account, use the guides available and help from the National Cat Centre to get established. It’s ultimately free publicity with a potentially huge audience. 18 per cent of the British public use Twitter, so if you can potentially broadcast to them directly, easily and for free – why wouldn’t you?

Related links: The ultimate Twitter application. Great for scheduled tweeting and viewing Twitter in a far more user-friendly way ‘Taking the social media plunge’ – Compulsory reading for any charity/branch on Twitter! Klout: Provides social media analytics measuring the size of people's ‘networks’ and influence – giving comprehensive details as well as issuing you with a score. Chiltern branch scores 50 – as of 24/08/2011

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Monday, 22 August 2011

Why I foster for Cats Protection

Louise McCormick, a Fosterer with our North London Adoption Centre, explains why she volunteers for Cats Protection…

Louise and Nando
I’ve always considered myself a cat lover. I don’t remember not having a cat around as I was growing up, so it seemed completely natural to start visiting my local Cats Protection adoption centre in Archway as a ‘cat socialiser’, which involves popping in to play with the cats that are awaiting new homes. After hearing rave reviews of fostering from friends, the socialising soon led to the desire to foster cats and to play a more active role in rehoming. So, on 13 January 2011, I went to pick up my first foster cat, an eight-month-old beauty called Ruby and never looked back.

In the past eight months, I have fostered a total of seven cats, which have come to us in various states, needing various levels of care. The most extreme illness I’ve dealt with is hyperthyroidism, which is a problem that affects older cats. If left untreated, it can be fatal and the symptoms are very poor health and a haggard appearance.

Fortunately, the adoption centre works with some excellent local vets and, with the right treatment, cats can be cured. One of the most memorable cats I fostered was Blackie, a 12-year-old scruffy little thing who, along with her brother Ginger, stayed with us for three months. Blackie was on daily medication to reduce her production of thyroid hormones, until her levels were low enough for an operation to remove her thyroid gland. After the operation, she was quickly on the mend, ready to find a new family in an exciting new home.

Cat fostering is extremely rewarding – I feel as though I’m playing an active role in improving cats’ lives, before they are sent off to new loving families. Whether a cat is with me for a few days or a few months, they get the same level of attention and I take great pride in seeing a new cat settle into my flat and make him or herself at home for the duration of their stay.

A question I find myself regularly met with, is “do you get upset when you have to give them back?” Surprisingly, the answer is no, because I know they’ll be joining a new loving family soon enough, who can offer them the happy life that they deserve. Admittedly, I bawled my eyes out when I handed Ruby back, but it became a lot easier as time went on, and I was recently inspired to keep a blog for all of the cats that have been a guest at my flat –

I would recommend fostering to anyone who loves cats and wants to help out with the rehoming process. If you’re prepared to make vets visits, sacrifice that extra weekend away and feel happy in the knowledge you’ve made a difference to a cat’s life, speak to your local Cats Protection and see how you can help.

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Friday, 19 August 2011

Starting from scratch

Gloria Ashwell, Branch Co-ordinator of our recently relaunched Weymouth & District Branch, plans for its first event under its new guise…

Some 17 years ago, the West Dorset Branch was formed, providing service to Weymouth, Portland, Dorchester and Bridport and the neighbouring villages. Throughout that time, I was the Branch Co-ordinator and, for many years, the sole Fosterer too. My garden was filled with cat cabins and my house with Cats Protection paperwork and fundraising goods.

Cat cabins in Weymouth
In 2000,
I moved house and was relieved to share fostering with new volunteers in Weymouth, Portland and Bridport!

Time has moved on and, with increased pressures on Cats Protection – so many cats in need and so few offers to adopt them! – the opportunity to modernise and relaunch the branch was welcomed to help us to keep going with new energy and enthusiasm.

So, during the last month, West Dorset Branch has become Weymouth & District Branch. I am still the Co-ordinator and we are keen to encourage more volunteers to get involved – there is so much to do!

Although rising from the ashes of the West Dorset Branch, Weymouth & District is less like a rejuvenated phoenix, more like a newborn kitten – opening its eyes to a new world with a sense of bewilderment, for the branch is more or less ‘starting from scratch’. Expecting the first event for the branch to be on 10 September at Ferndown Homing Centre, I have gradually begun to make preparations for our fundraising stall. Here is how I spent last week:

Monday: I bought a laminator and pouches for the display of cat photos.

Tuesday: I bought an inexpensive folding table and ordered cellophane bags to wrap the small things I’d been sewing, to sell. We also set up our Facebook page.

Wednesday: The display boards we ordered some weeks previously were delivered. We also prepared our new-look website.

The stall at Avon Lea Nursing Home's Fete

Thursday: During late afternoon, friends asked if I’d like to have a stall at the Summer Fete of the Avon Lea Nursing Home in Weymouth, at which they are managers. An excellent opportunity to test out our display! We registered with Twitter and quickly tweeted the event. In the evening I unpacked the display boards, printed off some photos of cats available for adoption, laminated them and fixed them to the boards.

Friday: The cellophane bags arrived, so I packed the lavender bags etc.

Saturday: The sun shone and the stall didn’t blow away! Huge thanks to Avon Lea Nursing Home for letting us join their lovely fete.

The relaunch has identified vacancies for a number of voluntary roles, including some Committee places; we also need more volunteers for cat care, administration and fundraising.

If you would like to adopt a cat, have a skill you’d like to share or would like to develop a new skill within the branch please contact us. We’d love to hear from you!

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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Stafford's silver celebration

Cath Keitley, Co-ordinator of our Stafford & District Branch, looks back – and forward – as the branch celebrates 25 years of helping cats…

“25 years! It can’t be!” 
Cath and Margaret celebrate the branch's 25th

That’s how the conversation with Margaret Aitkin, the only founder member of Stafford & District Branch, still with us, began. Then the reminiscing began. It started as Stafford Branch back in 1986, but the title belied the actual area it covered as we went as far west as Newport, Shropshire, south to Coven, east to Uttoxeter and sometimes beyond and north to Stoke. A massive area when you consider there were just a handful of volunteers to start with.

Joint Co-ordinators at the time were Jane Horne, sadly deceased, and Linda Boden. Margaret Aitkin was on the Committee, a Fosterer, Fundraiser and did just about any other job the branch needed doing, she was joined by Di North, also sadly deceased, who helped with fundraising. I joined just a few months later and, to this day, realise what a wizard Jane was at snaring the unsuspecting volunteer. She was a straight-talking, no-nonsense lady who could weigh up a person within seconds and she wasn't often wrong. Thankfully I passed the ‘Jane test’.

I met her and Linda one Friday evening at Linda’s home where the branch had a small cattery. They were in the kitchen surrounded by mounds of sandwiches, clingfilm and sticky labels. It wasn't long before I was helping to wrap the sandwiches and label them for a fundraising event at a cat show the next day. I ended up manning the stall and, thankfully, the sandwiches all sold. The money raised provided the cats and kittens with food for a week and went a long way towards paying off a huge vet bill. As soon as I knew that I was hooked.

Gradually the membership grew. Some volunteers could just help for a few hours a week manning a stall, the occasional fĂȘte or doing the odd car boot. It didn't matter how few hours people gave, they all mounted up and gave a chance for the others to have a bit of a rest. This will all sound so familiar to those branches who can remember starting out. In the 1990s, we made the decision to officially become the Stafford & Stoke Branch. We remained that for a number of years until a group of volunteers in the Stoke area decided to start their own branch. This was a big relief to us as we had few people there and found the journeys to and from the Stoke area quite a drain.

For a number of years we have had a market stall in Stafford’s indoor market which brings in much-needed funds, cat food and generally promotes CP in Stafford. We started off with the smallest stall the market could offer us, but its success has meant a gradual expansion over the next several years. We have quiet periods but all in all it is very successful.

The other thing that grew was the number of cats needing our help, from domesticated cats who had had kittens to ferals of which there were quite a lot in our very rural area. It's a double-edged sword in that the more people that heard about us, the more people came to us for help. It did mean that numerous cats have been neutered over the years helping to reduce the number of kittens that needed to be rescued and rehomed. Despite this, we still get a lot of calls from the public whose own cats have fallen pregnant. It seems people never learn.

More of the branch's volunteers join the celebration

From our humble beginnings with just a handful of volunteers we have gone from strength to strength and now have over 40. They bake cakes, knit, visit potential homes, fundraise, foster, do paperwork. Individually some give an hour a week, others far more, but together we give a massive amount of time and effort to make our branch the success it is.

We never stop looking to the future and, to celebrate our 25th anniversary, we have just taken delivery of our first CP vehicle courtesy of a very generous legacy left by a friend and supporter. We will be forever grateful to her.

As to the future, a shop would be good, more foster homes, more volunteers, more money… the list goes on and you can be sure if we put our minds to it we usually get there no matter how long it takes. So look out for our report when we celebrate 50 years!

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Monday, 15 August 2011

Happy 25th, Worthing!

Chief Executive, Peter Hepburn, reports as our Worthing & District Branch celebrates its 25th anniversary...

“Sunny Worthing”, it’s called. Certainly when the Cats Protection Worthing & District Branch was celebrating its 25th birthday recently, you couldn’t help but think: “the sun shines upon the righteous.”

I’d guess that some 60 to 70 volunteers came and they would have been in good humour whatever the weather. My overriding impression was of the lovely atmosphere it creates when so many positive people get together. There’s a bit in the CP strategy that says: “Cats Protection wants everyone to celebrate their achievements” and there was a lot of that happening. I heard some amazing stories. I’d love to share them all, but can’t, so I’ll just repeat a cat story for you.

A few weeks ago someone came into the branch’s charity shop and said “I see you are doing cats here now.” We aren’t, of course, but outside someone had left a lovely cat in a carrier. Our volunteers took in the cat and inside the basket was a note along these lines: “My owner has just been made redundant and can no longer afford to keep me and look after me. I hope that you will find me a new home. I’ve been loved and cared for, my vaccinations are up to date and when I had kittens they were all neutered and found good homes.” There were no spaces in the branch that day but, as ever, a space had to be found and the cat was soon homed.

Shortly after the cat arrived at the shop, someone came into the shop and said that they had heard about the cat. They wanted to know if it was alright and what had happened to it. I wonder if a distressed and loving owner’s mind was put at ease. The people who heard this story all said: “If a cat is going to be dumped, there’s nowhere it will get better care than by our people”.

Lots of other stories were shared. I heard about the difficult work running the ‘rescue line’, which volunteers do in rotation for two or three weeks each before passing the load to someone else. I was told about the lovely people you meet when doing collections outside the supermarket, including those who say “I’m a dog person, but here’s a pound” and those who buy cat food and donate it – the supermarket loves that!

Over the years, the press cuttings showed that the branch had weathered some storms, but now it’s in a strong position with lots of good people helping and supporting. I met the founding
Co-ordinators, Ian and Margaret and the current Co-ordinator, Rod. Before we cut the birthday cake, Margaret read out some lines that she had written. I loved the line: “Cats who have left a paw print on my heart.”

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Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Have I got mews for you?!

Volunteer Sarah Evans takes us behind the scenes of our Wolverhampton Branch newsletter... 

I’ve been producing the Wolverhampton Branch regular newsletter, The Scratching Post, for around 18 months now and I love doing it, I get a real sense of achievement when each issue goes out. As a branch, we feel it’s essential that we communicate well to our members and volunteers, as it keeps them motivated and it’s also important to us that they know how much they are appreciated. We find the newsletter is great for this as it’s a perfect way to formally acknowledge their help and support while keeping them up to date with what we’re doing. And as not all of our members have internet or email access, the newsletter is something we can format to suit them. We like to encourage people to take a digital copy as it’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly, but we have a core of members who receive the printed version instead. And we sell them in our shop to raise some extra funds.

My day job is running an artwork studio for an ad agency, so as well as having access to professional software, I have experience with design, layout and artwork, which I put to good use for WCP. Obviously not all branches are going to have access to someone in the trade, but I’d encourage them to contact their local colleges and universities and work with graphic design students. It’s a win-win situation: the student gains experience of working for a real client on a real project – invaluable when looking for a job – and the CP branch gets a great looking, inspiring newsletter produced by upcoming talented designers.

For our quarterly newsletter, I work to a three-month cycle. The first month is my ‘month off’ when I concentrate on generating other publicity material, the second is when I collate and source articles and photography and the third is when I design and produce the edition. I’ve set out a structured format for our magazine as it helps me with content and layout if I know what’s going on each page and how much space it needs. We always have our cover – a gorgeous, eye-catching cat photo – and a page each for homing, success stories and events. The other pages have our Co-ordinator’s introduction, our features and then there’s some space left over for extras and unplanned items.

Our branch calendar has all our deadlines listed and on a regular basis I ask if contributors have anything they want to include in the next issue. I also take notes during committee meetings and branch events – eg reports of volunteers get a mention in our ‘WCP superstars’ section, or if we have a discussion about something like microchipping or homing visits, I’ll make a note to use it for an article. The Committee all contribute regularly, sending me ideas, pictures and facts for future editions, so there’s always plenty to go in. I try to make the content relevant, varied and interesting for our readers and this seems to work as I get lots of comments about how they look forward to reading the next issue!

Then I research the detail for the articles. I’m a bit of a computer addict, so I get most of my content online, but I’ll look everywhere for inspiration: websites, magazines, talking to members, books, etc. I’ll also admit to borrowing a fair amount of information from CatNav – CP’s extranet for volunteers and staff – the CP website and CP leaflets… but as far as I’m concerned that’s what it’s there for! Our imagery comes from a few places – some from the CP website and CatNav, some from volunteers who send me pictures of events, cats for homing and success stories. For everything else, I use a website called Dreamstime – it offers a huge range of royalty-free and cost-free imagery which is perfect for our use. Image copyright can be a very sticky area, so I never randomly download shots from the internet unless I know where the picture has come from, who owns the copyright, and whether or not I can use it.

Finally, once I’ve got everything together, I set a whole weekend aside to blitz through the layout and design. I prefer to get it all done it all in one go, so I set myself up at the kitchen table with my laptop, endless bits of paper, one of my two cats – Custard or Connor – on the windowsill – and sometimes on the bits of paper – and endless cups of tea – and biscuits. My husband knows he then has to leave me alone until I surface a couple of days later, triumphant, beaming and with the latest edition ready for press.