So, About That $5M Goat Castle

Let’s say one thing up front: if, as was the original idea, a for-profit entity wants to purchase the so-called Blackberry Castle property and then invite The Belmont Goats to live out the rest of their existence on a spare three acres, that’s fine.

I mean, it’s a vaguely ridiculous location for a herd that intends to continue its mission of being publicly-accessible, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

Let’s also say another thing up front: if The Belmont Goats as a nonprofit organization wants to launch a $5M fundraiser to try to purchase the property itself, that’s also fine. It’s quite a dramatic overreach for an organization that only ever has been flying by the seat of its pants, but it can make a fundraising priority out of whatever it wants.

The problem at hand, rather, is twofold:

  1. They launched such a fundraiser by simply editing a pre-existing one that already had public representations of a very different purpose and had raised close to $3,500 since its launch in February.

  2. After getting ripped publicly on Reddit and Twitter, and after private complaints and concerns within the organization, the eventual public statement on the matter is more than a bit disingenuous as to how it all went down.

If there’s one thing I’ve been consistent on over the decades, and people who knew me in my fandom days know this, it’s that I’m not down with dodgy fundraising practices, and I’m not down with less than forthcoming nonprofit communications.

So, here’s where I do the disclaimer and disclosure thing.

From early 2013 until early 2019, I was heavily involved in The Belmont Goats as a project and then as a nonprofit organization. In fact, from 2014 until 2019 I was Secretary of the Board of Directors and de facto project manager. In 2019, I quit due to severe autistic burnout. During that time, I was responsible for the organization’s paperwork, for most of its public communications, and for setting up and maintaining most of its fundraising.

Earlier this year, I returned to help out with social media for their tenth anniversary, in a year that had begun in heartache with the February passing of one of the original two goats, the first of the herd of fourteen to go.

As I indicated elsewhere earlier this week, this past Tuesday I quit the project for the second time in ten years. This $5M fundraiser and the way in which it was conducted, as well as the difficulties encountered trying to get it closed, and also the eventual public communications about the issue—these are the reasons why.

Let’s start, then, with today’s Facebook post. Despite the picture being painted of a runaway process that got out of control because of the media, the reality is, well, different.

The first news story went up at 10:42 PM (I don’t know when the segment aired) on Monday night, reporting:

The owner of the goats tells KOIN 6 News they’re considering purchasing the six-acre, $5 million property known as Blackberry Castle

It seems mostly to have gone unnoticed.

The second news story went up at 9:26 AM on Tuesday morning. In it, they report the following:

They’re eyeing the so-called Blackberry Castle on Northwest Germantown Road as their new home. […] They’ve started what they’re calling a "Goat Fund Me” account with a goal of raising 5 million dollars to buy the property.

This is the story picked up by r/Portland at 10:58 AM. Redditors proceed mercilessly to tear into the idea.

At just before 11:30 AM, I took a screen capture of the GoFundMe page itself. This is important because later, as online attention soured and internal debate intensified, it was edited to make a few changes:

  1. Changing “brought to us to create a for-profit” to “brought to us by [a] group wanting to create a for-profit”

  2. Changing “We thought, what better way to get the word out than attempt to raise the funds ourselves!” to “We thought, what better way to get the word out than attempt to raise the funds ourselves to find land, and see where it takes us.”

  3. Changing “We think we can combine two Portland icons to create The Blackberry Goat Castle!” to “We think we can combine two Portland icons to create an an amazing place for people to visit the goats!”

In today’s Facebook post, The Belmont Goats make the following representation as to what happened on Tuesday:

The end result was that our existing GFM effort was changed and made to look like we were trying to buy the $5M property.

Notice what’s happening here:

  1. The passive voice. Somehow—we don’t really know how!—our fundraising page was changed to say this thing.

  2. That thing made it “look like we were trying to buy the $5M property.”

Here’s where that screen capture comes into play, and why I outlined those three changes above. Note what the original version of the edits to the pre-existing care-and-feeding fundraiser said:

“We thought, what better way to get the word out than attempt to raise the funds ourselves!”

There’s no ambiguity here: The Belmont Goats posted that they were going to attempt to raise the $5M themselves in order “to create The Blackberry Goat Castle”.

That’s exactly what KOIN reported at 10:42 PM on Monday, KPTV reported at 9:26 AM on Tuesday, and what KATU reported at 4:00 PM on Tuesday.

By the time we get to the KGW story at 6:46 PM, a little bit of backpedaling comes into play with the characterization that Blackberry Castle is just “one place” being considered but, regardless, that “we’re trying to raise money to buy land”—and doing so by making changes to an existing fundraiser that had made public representations of a completely different purpose.

(There is still a place in this story, however, for media failures. More than one outlet reported that the so-called “GoatFundMe” had just been started; one even reported it already had garnered $3,500 towards the $5M. In reality, the “GoatFundMe” had been there since February, and that $3,500 was been donated toward the care and feeding of the herd.)

Despite the external and internal pushback, the fundraiser was not closed until Wednesday night.

As I only noticed while finishing this post tonight, The Belmont Goats also eventually posted an update to the fundraising page itself (expand the “read more” link and scroll down). Somehow, it is even worse.

In it, they say this:

We thought it would be fun to let people know about a for-profit group that would like us to be involved with their project at a castle. This, unfortunately, was mis-perceived as the goats trying to buy a castle.

I’ve called today’s Facebook post disingenuous. Alas, this statement on the GoFundMe page is an outright, bald-faced lie.

There was no “misperception”. The fundraiser originally stated, in no uncertain terms whatsoever:

We thought, what better way to get the word out than attempt to raise the funds ourselves!

And then:

We think we can combine two Portland icons to create The Blackberry Goat Castle!

The Belmont Goats were not at the mercy of outside forces.

They can’t “blame the media” for what happened.

The fundraiser, having been edited from its original purpose, expressly stated until later being quietly revised that it was aimed at funding a $5M purchase of the Blackberry Castle property by The Belmont Goats organization itself.

Referring posts