The Sad Truth About Animal Charity Donations

You are passionate about helping animals, but you are 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. Do these scenarios 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 or ignoring 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 nonprofit animal advocacy organizations, it is important to establish if they deserve financial support. Groups advocating for factory-farmed 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 advocacy organization has $2 million in net assets, runs an annual budget surplus, and its director earns $100,000 yearly, does it 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 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 nonprofit 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 do not 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 effective leaders, lawyers, lobbyists, fundraisers, inventors, writers, researchers, public relations firms, and scientists may further level the playing field. It is possible the next Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, or Stephen Hawking of the animal advocacy movement is out there somewhere but not entering the field because they need to earn a higher income.

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 is easy to fail to see how much more the movement could achieve by enlisting the great minds of our time. Given the scope and nature of the problem, we should pull out all the stops and match salaries with skills.

How much should people who work in this nonprofit 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 nonprofit executives should earn, a competitive salary may be a worthwhile investment. Relative to businesses that generate billions of dollars and that “CEOs earn 331 times as much as average workers and 774 times as much as minimum wage earners,” six-figure salaries in the nonprofit sector pale in comparison.

More importantly, animal advocates in search of effective ways to deploy their time and money should focus on finding organizations that can quantify their impact on the reduction of suffering or saving of animals’ lives through scientific developments in plant-based food, educational outreach, undercover investigations, change of corporate policies, legislative achievements, rescues, public relations, and other strategies. When assessing an organization’s effectiveness, search for transparency, the tracking of measurable performance outcomes, a list of accomplishments, a demonstrated need for funding, spending plans, and cost-effectiveness. Impact should trump salary. But to increase nonprofit salaries, we have to donate more money. Donations in the U.S. comprise 2% of GDP, 32% of which goes to religious charities and only 5% of the 2% goes to animal charities. Animal advocates’ sense of urgency to save animals should 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 consider asking before donating to an animal charity:
1) What is the percentage breakdown of how the organization spends its annual budget?
2) How does the organization measure its success? 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 yearly (if they can make this projection)? Or how many does it project it may save through its work? (This article is the best estimate I have read on how many farm animals a vegetarian saves yearly.)
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? Is it agnostic on a solution, and does it follow research-based data over instincts or traditional practices?
6) What do the Glassdoor reviews state about its culture? Has a reputable third party evaluated its performance?

The sad truth about animal charity donations is that we are not thinking critically enough about our giving, the salary structure limits the talent pool, and we are not donating enough. Consider donating to nonprofit farmed animal advocacy organizations demonstrating maximum impact per dollar 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. Finding animal-oriented nonprofits that can quantify their effectiveness or provide a convincing narrative may be the best way to ensure the impact of your financial support.


27 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

    2. I’ve been saying that for years!! If we could close down factory farms ( hopefully when clean meat hits the market) that would stop probably 90% of animal suffering. Peta is up in arms about the LSU tiger in captivity when there are 54 billion factory farm animals that would give their right paw for that 11,000 square feet!

    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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