The decade-old fundraising effort puts employees’ cats, dogs, even iguanas on a calendar and yields tens of thousands of dollars for a couple of animal-related nonprofits.
Unlike the dog-friendly confines of Amazon.com’s Seattle campus, Microsoft’s halls in Redmond are a no-animal zone.
That doesn’t mean Microsofties don’t love their furry friends, though. Evidence of that arrived in mailboxes recently in the form of employee-produced calendars showcasing hundreds of their pets.
The Cats of Microsoft and Dogs of Microsoft calendars are long-running employee-piloted fundraisers benefiting animal causes in Washington. Anyone who wants their cat or dog — or, in rarer cases, a horse or iguana — featured in the glossy timetables has to donate.
Because the pool of donors and photo contributors is the mostly well paid, competitive, and occasionally obsessive crew of Microsoft employees, the fundraising haul is significant.
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When the cat calendar started in 2007, “I said, ‘Hopefully we do $1,000 in our first year,’ ” said Karen Easterbrook, a manager in Microsoft’s research organization who has worked on the calendar every autumn since then.
The cat calendar in its first year reeled in $44,000. In 2016, employee gifts and matching contributions from Microsoft’s philanthropy arm grew to about $80,000.
The main beneficiary is the Forget Me Not shelter in Republic, a former Eastern Washington mining town in Ferry County that is home to about 1,000 people.
Microsoft donations helped spark a threefold increase in the shelter’s annual donations, underwriting the construction of cat shelters and expansion of adoption, spaying and neutering programs.
“You can really see how your dollars work,” Easterbrook said. “Our dollars built this building.”
Microsoft’s corporate philanthropy, which recently has been contributing more than $100 million each year to nonprofits, also touches plenty of non-pet corners of the world. Major recipients include the United Way, the Red Cross and, locally, Northwest Harvest.
Newly printed Dogs of Microsoft 2017 calendars arrived in late November, the work of Mark Swatzell, a training manager in Microsoft’s legal affairs and lobbying group.
The Sammamish resident, an owner of two Labrador retrievers, wound up putting together the calendar by accident after the folks who had been compiling the Dogs of Microsoft asked him for help with PowerPoint.
As sometimes happens at Microsoft when someone expresses interest in a project, Swatzell said, “They said, ‘Thank you! Do you want to lead this?’ ”
Swatzell, a photo enthusiast who edited his college newspaper, redesigned the dog calendar after its more successful cat cousin. The feline calendar, inundated with photo submissions, started printing two editions a year a few years ago to fit them all.
“There’s crazy cat people pretty much everywhere,” says Easterbrook. “We’re very anti-social. But we have the internet, and we have this.”
After its redesign, the dog calendar took in about $40,000, and is on track for about $60,000 in 2016. Most of that goes to Summit Assistance Dogs, a Whidbey Island-based service dog trainer.
Alex Stone knows firsthand the good that organization can do.
Stone, who was born with cerebral palsy, wanted to live off-campus while attending Seattle University. That would have been a struggle to manage on his own.
Thanks to Fraser, a black lab trained by Summit, he didn’t have to. Fraser’s skill set — from picking up items to toggling light switches or door buttons, helped Stone to live on his own and even study abroad in South Africa.
“Just having the confidence, knowing that he’d be by my side, I could venture off campus,” Stone said. “I started to dream a little bigger.”
Stone, now 31, works with Summit on event planning and dealing with corporate philanthropy campaigns. Microsoft’s contribution, he said, accounts for a quarter of annual donations to Summit.