The Sad Truth About Animal Charity Donations

You’re passionate about helping animals but you’re not sure which nonprofits are the most effective. You want to donate but your confidence level in the impact organizations make is low so you wind up not giving or giving less than you can. Does this scenario sound familiar? You can easily solve this dilemma and make a big difference with your dollars.

Where Do Animal Advocates Donate?
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 approximately 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.

Dec2014ShelterComparison1200

The Importance of Donations to Animal Charities
Before donating to nonprofit animal advocacy organizations, it’s important to establish if they deserve financial support. Groups advocating for farm animals, massively underfunded given the scope of the problems they seek to resolve, need funding to perform. But which animal charities should you choose?

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? It would be shortsighted to dismiss an organization based on a budget or employee compensation alone. The focus should be on impact, not dollars in the bank or salaries.

In the TED Talk, The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong, Dan Pallotta inverts the mainstream thought process that nonprofit 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 animal advocacy organizations 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 may 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, a competitive 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. When you assess an organization’s effectiveness, look for transparency, the tracking and communication of measurable performance outcomes, a list of accomplishments, a demonstrated need for funding, spending plans, and cost-effectiveness.

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 undercover cruelty investigators $50,000 — people who risk their life to expose animal agriculture and live with the aftermath of what they see — and think nothing of a CEO doing little 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 its impact. Impact should trump salary. But to pay people more money in the nonprofit 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 save animals must be reflected in their financial support of the 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 in these areas? What has it accomplished? What are its goals? Ask to read the organization’s strategic plan.
3) How many animals does the organization estimate it saves from suffering or dying every year? Or how many does it project it may save? (This article is the best estimate I’ve read on how many farm animals a vegetarian saves per year.)
4) Is the organization transparent?
5) Does the organization show evidence that it strategizes, critically evaluates, reflects on its actions, and adapts as needed to maximize its impact?
6) What do the Glassdoor reviews state about its culture? Has a reputable third-party evaluated its performance?

Conclusion
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 nonprofit 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.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy:
This Disparity Will Shock You

$5 Fridays

24 thoughts on “The Sad Truth About Animal Charity Donations

    1. Thank you Sharon. I appreciate your feedback.

      It was a very thought-provoking exercise to study this topic. I began the exploration of it thinking it’s best to donate to organizations that need money the most. My views evolved into believing that we should donate to the organizations that are doing the most good for animals with the money we donate. Simply because an organization is small or doesn’t have a lot of money doesn’t mean it’s the best place to donate. They may be doing fantastic work, but if we’re aiming to save the most lives possible, it may not always be the best decision.

      Donating is often an emotional issue driven by seeing an animal suffering. People will rally to donate $2,000 to save one dog in a shelter not realizing that same amount of money can save approximately 9,500 farm animals if donated to a farm animal advocacy organization. The latter is more abstract because we’re saving animals from being born into a life of abuse, confinement, suffering, and killing so it’s less likely to gain support but no less significant.

      I hope my findings help readers to think critically about how to maximize their donations.

      1. Hi so which agriculture animal sanctuary should I invest in ? Please can u tell me ? I’ve always donated to all kinds of animal causes over 32 years and want to put my money where it counts the most ! Thank you

    1. Hi Marco,

      Thank you for your question and for your interest in donating to support animal charities. My recommendations come via my $5 Friday picks. If you subscribe to my blog, you can receive them via e-mail every Friday.

  1. Comment from Facebook:
    “If you plug all of us “mom and pop” sanctuaries (sometimes referred to as “grassroots” sanctuaries) into the equation, you would find out that we are saving a whole hell of a lot more farmed animals than many of the bigger, well known and very well funded sanctuaries…and we are doing it at a much lower cost per animal per year. In addition, because we are “grassroots” we live and work in our communities and our programs get the word out to millions who will never make the trip to the few big name sanctuaries around the country. But we have forever gotten short shrift and even bad mouthed over the years. We’re not loud and we’re not well known…but we are out here doing it every day for the animals and none of us…that I know of….have ever taken a penny’ in salary.”

    My Reply:
    I’ve spoken with several farm sanctuary directors the past two weeks as part of my research for the article. I concluded one area where they can improve (and told them so and they agreed) is in quantifying their impact. It is an inexact science but not impossible.

    This is complex but bare with me as I go into the weeds a bit.

    As I mentioned in the article, a farm sanctuary should (1) allow visitors, (2) provide humane education in schools, (3) host summer camps, OR (4) use social media to raise awareness about the importance of not eating animals. Most do. Taking in $500,000 per year in donations ONLY to take care of 100 animals isn’t the most efficient use of donations because the impact is limited to those animals. Again, that is based on rescue and rehab without doing any of #1-4 above.

    Next, the sanctuary must at the very least track the total number of people reached (i.e. # of visitors, # of students in schools, # of view on videos, etc.).

    Finally, the sanctuary should enlist researchers to conduct a study that tracks the impact of sanctuaries on the general population. For example, in a survey of 1,500 people who visited sanctuaries who ate animals, or 1,500 students who received humane education who ate animals…X% reported a reduction in eating animals, X% reported the elimination of eating animals, etc.

    With that information, the sanctuaries could then take the total number of people they reach per year and apply the research #’s and be able to say, for example, “Our sanctuary reached X# of people which resulted in approximately X# reducing their consumption of animals, X# no longer eating animals, which resulted in approximately X# of animals saved per year.

    Again, it is not an exact science but many of the major animal advocacy organizations can quantify their work (i.e. # of animals saved per leaflet passed out, per video watched, etc.) and it would behoove animal sanctuaries to be able to do the same.

    As I mentioned in the article, farm sanctuaries play a critical role. I’ve said for many years that once someone interacts with a turkey, for example, they will never eat a turkey again. The question is, How many people are interacting with a turkey? And how do sanctuaries quantify that impact so rather than relying on a narrative alone, they have reliable data to support their work? As I also mentioned in the article, I’m less concerned about salaries and more concerned about impact.

    I’m sure it’s nobody’s intention but let’s be careful not to pit some sanctuaries against others. I realize it’s frustrating if a sanctuary is all-volunteer, rescues more animals than a big sanctuary, and receives a lot less money in donations but let’s also remember there can be more to the role of a sanctuary than just rescue and rehabilitation. For example, how much is it worth if a sanctuary director is reaching millions of people through media appearances? Talking to thousands of students in schools? Hosting a summer camp with hundreds of children? I would not measure the impact of sanctuaries based on total number of animals rescued alone.

    I hope you find this feedback useful.

  2. Nice article. Has always been a frustrating aspect. In enviro circles, the CEO’s of groups like WWF or National Wildlife Fund make big huge bucks. Yet when you peel the layers back, their effectiveness or actually being part of the problem(umm, WWF & Palm oil, big game hunting) are mind boggling. Same critique can exist for health fund raising, like Susan G Komen foundation, etc. “Earth For Sale” by Brian Tokar illustrated this fairly well on big ten enviro groups not solving problems to keep a seat at the political table. Thing I like about this article, the critical analysis and posing questions.

    1. Thank you Steve. You raise very important points. We agree it’s counterproductive to pay someone a lot of money if their impact doesn’t justify it.

      One of the reasons I wrote the article is to inspire people to question the status quo. Do we have it right? I don’t know. Should we adopt a different salary structure? Perhaps. I try to make the case for why it may help us achieve more progress.

      I appreciate that you look at these issues through a critical lens. Thank you for sharing your insightful thoughts.

    2. I no longer support WWF for another reason – they support companies that use fur items & so support the heinous fur industry. As for Susan G. Komen, I have nothing against finding a cure, just don’t fund animal testing to do it. There are a ton of health charities that do their work with compassion and respect for animals; & who have received the PCRM Humane Seal of Approval. Check out my blog, Charity Watch for more info. If they can do it, so can others.

    1. Hi Rosa,

      Thank you for your feedback.

      Yes, I hyperlinked ACE in the article and the chart graphic in the article is from the ACE website. They provide valuable insight.

      In fairness to organizations not featured by ACE, however, it’s important to recognize that no evaluation metrics are perfect and results can vary widely from one independent assessment to another. It is not an exact science.

  3. Although I do sign petitions for other causes, I hesitate to join, or contribute to those who do not consider Animal Agriculture as the biggest source of Animal suffering and exploitation. My mailbox is flooded with requests to contribute monetarily, but always examine where most of these causes stand regarding Animals as a whole and not only in a selective manner.

    1. Hi Patricia,

      Thank you for your question. All 100% of your donation goes to the sanctuary. If you click on the donate button, you will see that it takes you directly to the sanctuary website. I am a volunteer and do not make any money off of any of my advocacy work.

      Thank you for your support!

      1. Wow! You are a very special, kind hearted person. You’re amazing! Thank you for this awesome fund raiser!!!

  4. I am not here to advocate for PETA, just to explain that I have been a donating member to them for many years. Why? Because PETA “found” me through their media presence and visibility at public events — and drew me further and further into animal rights via the news, education, and commentary from (and about) them. PETA also has organized demonstrations in my city, of which I have taken part.

    I reason that, if PETA accelerated my immersion into animal welfare/rights (as well as related environmental and health issues), then it must be effective in doing this on a broad scale. And that’s something I want to support.

    Little of this would matter if PETA weren’t applying a high percentage of contributions toward their programs (they do), or if their programs didn’t directly help animals (they do), or if they were successful in only a limited geography (they’re global).

    My loyalty to PETA doesn’t preclude donations to other organizations. It’s just that it will be incumbent on me to reach out to them, research them, and determine if they are worthy.

    I am open to (and welcome) criticism of my thinking on this matter.

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