Big Cat Rescue’s Carole Baskin
Meet Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, a non-profit sanctuary in Tampa, FL housing more than 100 big cats – lions, tigers, leopards, bob cats and all kinds of exotic cats. Big Cat Rescue is in its 22nd year of operation. It’s not a zoo. It’s an operating sanctuary. Visitors who tour the facility see how the cats are cared for on their 70 acreage property.
I recorded this podcast on location at Big Cat Rescue, sitting just 10 feet from a beautiful Bengal tiger.
Big Cat Rescue is a social business. You’ll learn how Carole Baskin has experimented with just about every social channel, and settled on those that drive awareness and help to raise the funds they need to operate the sanctuary. Carole admits that their goal is to put themselves out of business by advocating through legislation for no more big cats in cages.
About 3 minutes and 7 minutes into the recording the Bengal tiger behind me moaned. You might faintly hear him in the background. The cat moans, purrs and growls you hear at the 15:50 minute mark were inserted as an audio excerpt from this video.
All non-profits need revenue to run their operation. Big Cat Rescue’s annual revenue nut is $2.7M. Carole points out that one tiger alone costs $10K per year just for food and veterinary care. And, that doesn’t include sanctuary overhead. Big cats live well into their teens at Big Cat Rescue. So, rescuing and adopting a big cat is at least a $100K commitment over the life of the cat.
While some cats are rescued from a circus, most rescues are tigers because of the unfortunate thriving business of cub petting. People are willing to pay money to have their picture taken with a cute tiger cub. The problem is that once the cub reaches about 12 weeks of age, they are too big to be held. So the business operator needs to dispose of the cat. In most cases, they either sell the cat for a small fee or give them away as pets. But, the unsuspecting pet owner quickly learns that they can not care for an adult tiger. Even if the pet owner has the property, the level of care needed for a big cat is much more than most can provide. Big Cat Rescue’s goal is to pass Federal legislation that will outlaw private ownership of big cats to prevent cruelty to these beautiful animals whose only existence should be in the wild.
Running the Business
As a sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue can only handle 27,000 visitors per year. At $36 per person, per visit, that is less than half of the amount needed to fund the annual operating costs. Carole has been an enthusiastic student of all things digital since the beginning. Today, the Big Cat Rescue website gets 3 million visitors per year. Their YouTube channel has gotten 76 million views across 350 videos. Videos are intentionally entertaining to appeal to people’s funny bone and to attract other media outlets to cover their story and give them exposure. The goal with all of Big Cat Rescue’s digital assets is to make an emotional connection with the cats to inspire action. Desired actions include making a financial donation and lending support to the Federal legislation Big Cat Rescue and others like them are advocating.
Big Cat Rescue only has 12 paid staff, plus about 100 volunteers. All the cat caregivers are volunteers. There is a very structured program for volunteers. They receive a lot of training. The paid staff manages volunteers, communication relations, digital media and donor relations. In case you’re wondering, most organizations of comparable size have 30 paid staff.
A $108,000 Day
On May 6, 2014 there was a one day (first time) event named Give Day Tampa Bay. Local charities in the Tampa Bay area competed for donations through social media interaction. Big Cat Rescue won the day with 802 donations. Carol’s strategy was to build social cred with funny cat pictures and asking people to donate $25 each. Amazingly, they raised $85.8K plus $22.5K in prize money for a total of $108K in just 24 hours, 100% through their social networking engagement. Big Cat Rescue won the most donations of all the charities in the competition. That’s $108K in one day, fueled entirely by social media engagement! Wow!
Visual Social Marketing
It’s horrible to witness big cats living in people’s backyards or in basements. What makes people happy is seeing where their donations go. In the age of social media, people can see how the animals are living in a natural sanctuary just by visiting the website and the Big Cat Rescue YouTube channel. They have a secondary YouTube channel called Daily Big Cats that follows around the staff to show how the sanctuary is run by the people that make it happen everyday. Transparency is very important to Carole, and this is one way she delivers on that.
All of Big Cat Rescue’s online channels are an opportunity to reach people around the world. While you can find Big Cat Rescue on just about any social media platform, their main ones are Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Instagram.
Wait, there’s more!….You can take Big Cat Rescue with you on your mobile device through their podcast The Cat Chat show. It’s a video podcast where they interview people who are experts in the cat world, including small cat experts. It’s available weekly in iTunes and Stitcher.
I was surprised when I launched their mobile app, appropriately named Big Cat Rescue. This app serves to visually narrate the bio of each cat in the sanctuary including the origin and age of each cat, along with each cat’s picture and story. Check out the Big Cat Rescue mobile app.
Update on Legislation
In 2003 Big Cat Rescue turned away 312 big cats. They were only able to rescue about 2% of the known cats that needed rescuing. Each year the number was doubling. Some progress was made when the Captive Wildlife Safety Act passed in 2007. The bill’s purpose is to make it illegal to sell a big cat across state lines as a pet. However, there are many loopholes, so it only served to slow down, not eradicate the trade of big cats. Nonetheless, the number of big cats turned away by Big Cat Rescue dropped. Last year only 37 cats needed rescuing and Big Cat Rescue accommodated 11 of them, which is 30% of the problem. That is some progress. The current Federal bill pending in Congress will make it illegal to even own a big cat and will close all the loopholes. You can read more about these efforts on the Big Cat Rescue website. To learn the seriousness of the problem of big cats in private ownership watch this video. Warning, you might want to have a box of tissues nearby.
Carole’s answer to my “one thing” question is transparency….As a non-profit, Big Cat Rescue publishes all their financial records online. Carole believes that if all businesses were more transparent, consumers would have more trust in them and more businesses would prosper from their transparency.
If you’re as inspired by Carole Baskin’s story at Big Cat Rescue as I am, please share it with your friends. Big Cat Rescue is truly a social business worth sharing.