Lanai Cat Sanctuary fights COVID-19 isolation with yoga with 650 cats.

The following story by reporter Christina O Connor was featured in Pacific Business News on May 1st, 2020.  Subscribers can read the story via this button:

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Each year, about 15,000 visitors stop by the Lanai Cat Sanctuary to spend time with the hundreds of cats that call it home.

But since closing in mid-March in response to the coronavirus, the Lanai City nonprofit is finding creative new ways to connect with its audience remotely. The sanctuary launched its first-ever Yoga with Cats session via Facebook Live last week, and plans to host the next one at 8 a.m. on May 20.

The virtual class was led by Anne Van Valkenburg, the wellness manager of the Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort, who guided viewers through yoga poses — including, of course, cat pose — as dozens of cats roamed the property. The event attracted viewers from throughout the world who followed along at home — many with their own cats alongside them.

While Executive Director Keoni Vaughn said that the activity is primarily a “way to bring everyone close and, hopefully, ease some of the stress that everyone is experiencing,” it’s also proving to be an effective fundraising tool. Through last week’s event, the organization raised a total of $7,500.

“This is the time to pull supporters as close to you as possible, to innovate and create community,” Vaughn said.

“We have to find a way to connect with both the people who visit us for an hour and then go home, as well as those who have just read about us and never visited,” he added.

Continuing to communicate with its audience even while closed also is crucial for the organization to maintain its operations. The Lanai Cat Sanctuary relies heavily on visitors, whose donations are its main source of funding for a range of programming — including sterilization, adoption and veterinary care — for hundreds of cats.

Visitor and supporter donations have also enabled the nonprofit to grow substantially in both space and scope over the years. Since establishing a permanent location in 2009, the sanctuary has grown from housing 350 cats to 650, and its outdoor space has gone from 10,000 square-feet to 45,000 square-feet in the last few years. Visitor donations have also helped the sanctuary add a senior cat center and eight treatment centers.

In addition to cat yoga, Vaughn said that the organization has been doubling down on its digital marketing efforts amid Covid-19. Throughout the years, Lanai Cat Sanctuary has worked to establish a strong social media presence and now has 70,000 followers through its different channels.

“We are ramping up [digital marketing] and have been since mid-March,” Vaughn said. “Through our digital outreach in the last 30 days, we’ve been able to raise $30,000.”

The sanctuary has been posting photos and videos of cats at the property to its Facebook and Instagram accounts, as well as running a virtual adoption program.

“People donate $30 a month and get to select a cat to virtually adopt and we send them emails with pictures and updates on how their cat is doing,” Vaughn said. “It’s a great way to support us and stay connected with our organization.”

One key in successful online outreach has been ensuring that its digital efforts provide an experience-driven activity — just like the sanctuary itself. The Yoga with Cats program, for instance, is more about community building than raising funds, Vaughn said.

“We have built our success on giving and taking with our supporters — the more joy we can give, the more that we raise,” he said. “Our success is directly tied to the way that we express what we offer. We do not present ourselves as a shelter, animal orphanage or transactional exchange … We offer an experience that creates memories.”

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