How are donations to animal charities currently distributed? Approximately 70% of all donations to animal charities go to dog and cat shelters even though dog and cat euthanasia represents less than 1% of all killed animals. Conversely, approximately 98% of all suffering and killing of animals occurs in animal agriculture. Tragically, only approximately 2% of all donations go to reduce animal agriculture, highlighting the public’s appetite for saving dogs and cats while eating other equally sentient beings. As the chart below reveals, the impact of donations varies markedly. Donating to dog and cat shelters appears to be the least effective use of donations to animal charities yet they are the largest recipient of donations. This article discusses the importance of donations to animal charities and how to determine which organizations deserve your financial support.
The Importance of Donations to Animal Charities
Before donating to animal advocacy organizations, it’s important to establish their need for financial support. Here is a short list of some of the costs they incur: design and printing of materials such as leaflets and veg starter kits, production of videos, online ads, social media, educational, and media outreach, undercover investigations, legal advocacy, volunteer coordination, legislative affairs, veterinary care and food, construction, facility repairs, farm equipment, transportation, and staffing. Groups advocating for farm animals, massively underfunded given the scope of the problem, need and deserve your help to perform these services. The next question is, Which animal charities deserve your support?
Some animal charities clearly consider executive compensation and cap leadership salaries. For example, PETA has annual revenue of approximately $43 million, runs a $5 million budget surplus, and has net assets of $16 million. Despite millions of dollar in assets, President Ingrid Newkirk, who founded PETA more than 30 years ago, accepts a salary of only $37,316. Some animal advocacy organizations operate very efficiently with low salaries or no salaries and reach massive audiences saving millions of animals’ lives. Mercy for Animals, for example, generates approximately $5 million in annual revenue, runs an annual budget surplus of $2.5 million, and has $5.3 million in assets. The President and founder, Nathan Runkle, doesn’t accept a salary.
In addition to rescuing and rehabilitating animals, many farm sanctuaries also provide humane education in schools, host summer camps, and welcome visitors. These sanctuaries provide the public a critical and inspiring opportunity to meet farm animals — to interact with turkeys, chickens, cows, and pigs, among others — and when they do, it often helps visitors understand why they should not eat them. The ripple effect of that impact is immeasurable but likely enormous. But should these organizations be held to such a high standard on salaries? Should so many of them be volunteering to work full-time jobs?
Which Organizations Deserve Your Financial Support?
If an animal rights organization has $2 million in net assets, runs an annual budget surplus, and its director earns $100,000 per year, does the organization deserve your donation? This is a complex issue. Maybe, maybe not. It would be irresponsible to dismiss an organization based on this criteria alone so let’s explore which organizations deserve your financial support with an emphasis on impact.
In the TED Talk, The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong, Dan Pallotta inverts the mainstream thought process that non-profit salaries should be significantly less than salaries in the for-profit sector. Pallotta explains that it may be ill-advised to ask the best and brightest in the talent pool to make economic sacrifices to work in the non-profit sector because it may cause them to avoid the field. In his presentation, he suggests using money to lure and retain private sector talent. Indeed, there is value in having the most effective, experienced, and visionary leadership and staff and it may come at a price. This is not to say pro-animal groups don’t already have hugely talented people in the field — of course, they do and they often win against the odds — but rather to suggest that employing the most elite and well-connected leaders, lawyers, lobbyists, fundraisers, inventors, writers, researchers, public relations firms, and food engineers might further level the playing field. It is possible the next Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, or Stephen Hawking of the animal rights movement is out there somewhere but not entering the field as a result of the salary structure. Could we make even more progress in the burgeoning plant-based food industry if we tapped into the pool of food innovators? Could we organize a march rivaling the most historic if we employed the best organizers? How much more effective could animal rights documentaries be if the next Stephen Spielberg was directing them — or Spielberg himself? In the midst of incremental progress, it’s easy to fail to see how much more the movement could achieve by enlisting the great minds of our time but given the scope and nature of the problem, isn’t it worth pulling out all of the stops?
How much should people who work in this non-profit sector be compensated? The answer to that question varies markedly. If an organization’s leader has a proven track record, although the optics may not be ideal given society’s view of what non-profit executives should earn, an above average salary may be a worthwhile investment. Relative to businesses that generate billions of dollars and the fact that “CEOs earn 331 times as much as average workers and 774 times as much as minimum wage earners,” six figure salaries in the non-profit sector pale in comparison. Should we begrudge people the right to earn a good living while doing good? Make a determination on salaries after you find out if an organization can quantify their impact on the reduction of suffering or saving of animals lives through rescue, educational outreach, change of corporate policies,use of media, or legislative achievements. Would you sooner support a CEO making $50,000 and saving 100 animals or a CEO earning $100,000 and saving millions of animals? Why do we balk at the idea of paying an undercover cruelty investigator $50,000 — someone who risks her life to expose animal agriculture and has to live with the aftermath of what she sees — and think nothing of a CEO doing no social good making $50 million. If low salaries limit a talent pool or cause high turnover due to economic hardships, an organization’s selflessness could work to the detriment of maximizing their impact. Impact should trump salary. But to pay people more money in the non-profit sector, we have to donate more money. Donations in the U.S. comprise a measly 2% of GDP, 32% of which goes to religious charities and only a meager 5% of the 2% goes to animal charities. That won’t cut it. Animal advocates’ sense of urgency to free animals must be reflected in their financial support of the people and organizations doing the most good for animals.
Ask Questions Before You Donate
Here is a list of questions to ask before donating to an animal charity:
1) What is the percentage breakdown of how the organization spends its annual budget? (Don’t focus on the percentage allocated to salaries because paying people to perform their work is part and parcel of the cause.)
2) How does the organization measure its success?
3) How many animals’ does the organization estimate it saves from suffering or dying every year?
4) What are the organization’s short and long term goals?
The sad truth about animal charity donations is that we aren’t thinking critically enough about our giving, the salary structure limits the talent pool, and we aren’t donating enough. Consider donating to non-profit farm animal advocacy and rescue organizations that demonstrate maximum impact per dollars donated. The most killing exists in animal agriculture, the least amount of money in comparison is donated to this cause, and donating to it has the potential to save the most lives. Find animal charities that can quantify their effectiveness or provide a convincing narrative and consider providing financial support.
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