Our mission at ACE is to find and promote the most effective ways to help animals. To do this, we analyze the impact of interventions (i.e., advocacy methods) to help animals. Our general definition of an “effective intervention” is one that creates a comparatively larger positive impact (measurable reduction of suffering, improvement of wellbeing, or reduction in the number of animals suffering) for sentient beings at a low cost. By extension, we evaluate animal charities based on how well they meet the ultimate goal of effectiveness. The practical implication of our work is twofold: First, we educate individual advocates and animal charities about the most effective ways to make a difference for animals. Secondly, we recommend the highest-performing charities—based on our findings—to donors seeking to have the most impact.
We leverage research from other organizations, fund new research, and conduct our own research to gather the largest possible pool of data to inform our decisions. We also look at other social movements to learn what interventions or types of messaging might be applicable for animal advocacy.
Currently, very little reliable research exists around effective animal advocacy. We aim to help close that gap directly and encourage other organizations to produce more high-quality research to build a shared body of knowledge.
We believe there is great value in addressing global poverty and other human-centric causes. Nevertheless, given that our goal is to most efficiently reduce the largest amount of suffering, there is a very compelling case to focus on animals. Animals vastly outnumber humans. To illustrate, almost 60 billion animals are bred and killed for food each year worldwide, compared to the entire human population of 7.13 billion as of December 2013. Furthermore, as evidenced by numerous sources (undercover videos, standard agricultural practices, etc.), the suffering that animals endure—often caused by human self-interest—is enormous. By educating people about how they can best advocate for animals, we contribute to the largest possible reduction of suffering for the largest number of present and near-future living beings.
Thousands of humane societies dedicated to cats and dogs exist across the United States; indeed, intervening on behalf of stray cats and dogs has often been a focal point for animal advocates. We know much about preventing suffering in these contexts—we know how to reduce the spread of disease, how to humanely implement population control measures, and how to place companion animals in loving homes—but this knowledge is counterbalanced by high costs of implementation. When you factor in medical care, vaccines, food, shelter housing, and employee costs, it seems unlikely that this is a cost-effective method for alleviating suffering. Additionally, the level of support for efforts on behalf of companion animals is very high relative to other animal causes, which means it is unlikely to have “low-hanging fruit” type opportunities for producing positive change. Because of this, ACE does not currently recommend companion animal shelters as a way to achieve the biggest return on donations.
Sanctuaries certainly have value, but direct care for animals can be very expensive, so we caution against taking in too many direct rescues when considering how to maximize your impact as an advocate or advocacy organization. We feel that sanctuaries’ biggest value stems from their educational work, and that sanctuaries can improve their impact by focusing more on this area. For further reading, please see our blog post about this topic.
ACE proudly maintains a GuideStar platinum seal of transparency and is recommended by many influencers in effective altruism, such as the Centre for Effective Altruism, GiveWell, Giving What We Can, The Life You Can Save, and Peter Singer. We are also grateful to receive financial support from Open Philanthropy and EA Funds’ Animal Welfare Fund.
At this time, we do not suggest restricting donations to our Top Charities (though if strongly desired by a donor, a few relatively stand-alone and scalable interventions exist where a restricted donation could work easily, such as sponsoring online pay-per-click advertisements). We have chosen our current Top Charities because we believe they effectively use their funding to drive results for animals; therefore we feel they are in the best position to determine distribution of donor funds. Furthermore, while we continue researching and measuring interventions, at this time we don’t have absolute evidence of any single specific intervention being so superior as to warrant the extreme measure of a restricted donation.
Additionally, there is often a potential issue with fungibility, where donations that are restricted to one area may result in money that would otherwise have gone to that area being reallocated to other parts of the organization. While some charities are able to use restricted donations exclusively to increase the resources flowing to a designated intervention, these are infrequent exceptions. In the future, when we have a better understanding of each charity’s dynamics, and if we amass more evidence around clear superiority of any single interventions, we may consider recommending restricted donations to a charity after confirming that the funds will not be fungible.
In very specific situations where a large group has a smaller division that we endorse funding, we may recommend restricting donations to that specific division if we can confirm that the money will not be fungible.
Ultimately, our goal is to direct funds to where they will be used most effectively to help the most animals. We encourage people to donate to our Recommended Charity Fund, which supports our Top and Standout Charities. ACE also relies on charitable contributions to conduct our informative research and comprehensive charity evaluations. We greatly appreciate donations to ACE to continue expanding the effective animal advocacy movement and reducing animal suffering.
We don’t take the prospect of matching donation campaigns lightly. As others have noted, matching donation drives are often used by organizations that would have received the money anyway, thus compromising the authenticity of a matching situation. If a donor offers a large gift, these organizations might request to use the large gift as part of a matching campaign so as to generate additional income. This situation can be morally suspect, as the organization would have received the money anyway, and we don’t endorse matching campaigns that are created in that manner.
However, occasionally a donor comes along who understands the value of non-illusory matching campaigns, and chooses to offer their money to a charity on the condition that they use it in a matching drive. This is how ACE matching drives come to fruition, and we’re happy to report that we only offer genuine opportunities (such as influence matching or coordination matching) to double your donation in our work to help animals.
Yes. ACE is a registered 501(c)(3) charity, and all donations in the United States are tax-deductible. Additionally, non-U.S. donors can qualify for tax deductions to ACE and our recommended charities by donating through the organizations listed on our Tax Deductibility By Country page.
We acknowledge that the mining of cryptocurrency currently consumes a huge amount of electricity. The carbon footprint of cryptocurrency varies significantly based upon the specific type of digital currency, with popular Bitcoin estimated at >700 KWh per transaction compared to <1 KWh for Dogecoin (Popular cryptocurrencies: Which is the most environmentally friendly?). As new cryptocurrencies emerge, developers are turning their attention to sustainability. The Crypto Climate Accord, a private sector initiative, aims to make the cryptocurrency industry’s energy consumption 100% renewable by 2030. We realize there is no guarantee that this sustainability goal will be achieved and that reducing energy consumption is preferable to even green energy production (which also has some potentially negative impacts on wildlife).
While ACE does not take a position as to whether or not people should start getting involved with cryptocurrency, we are willingly providing a charitable giving option for those who already have it and wish to donate a portion to reduce animal suffering. We are not defending cryptocurrency’s carbon footprint, and we may decide to stop accepting such donations in the future based on newly available research. For now, ACE plans to continue to accept donations of cryptocurrency to support our mission of finding and promoting the most effective ways to help animals.
ACE engages in cause prioritization because it allows us to more efficiently sort through charities and interventions to find those that are likely to have high levels of cost-effectiveness. There are thousands of animal charities in the world, and we seek to identify some of the best giving opportunities for donors. We can’t conduct in-depth reviews on thousands of individual charities, so we need to use broad, easily recognizable criteria to narrow the field. The cause a charity focuses on is one of the easiest characteristics to identify: it’s often obvious from their name or their mission statement. Together with what interventions the charity implements, it provides a strong signal about the charity’s probable cost-effectiveness, because charities working in the same area using a similar approach tend to have similar expenditures and results.
No, ACE does not receive any funds related to conducting an evaluation on any one group. We are funded almost entirely by private donations made by individuals who support our overall mission to find and promote the most effective ways to help animals. In addition, we have a donation policy to ensure that we do not face conflicts of interest between our donors and our recommendations.
ACE considers suffering in general; if there is a large amount of suffering and we can take action to prevent it, then we believe that taking such action deserves consideration regardless of the origin. For example, people should certainly help human victims of natural disasters like earthquakes, even though this suffering is not anthropogenic. However, there are some instances of mass suffering of animals (e.g., wild animals) for which we don’t currently know of any particularly impactful remedies. If future research suggests a cost-effective way to alleviate suffering on a wider scale than the current viable approaches, we will revise our recommendations based on that knowledge.
Basic consideration is the first step of our evaluation process where our research team compiles a list of animal charities along with their focus areas. This list is compiled from many sources, including charities themselves—they too are encouraged to submit their info for consideration. In the consideration phase we search for and visit each organization’s website to determine their general focus area and methods, and we record basic information about the organization for future use. You can read a much more in-depth explainer about the evaluation process here. Additionally, this blog post (Process Leading to Our 2021 Charity Recommendations) details specifics about our process for the most recent round of recommendations.
We initially screen for interventions which have demonstrated the potential to affect large numbers of animals at low cost—particularly those that either have direct evidence of effectiveness or that allow for relatively easily-performed studies to provide initial evidence for or against their effectiveness. Then, we primarily investigate charities which perform promising interventions or which we have some other reason to believe have high cost-effectiveness.
For interventions and charities that pass the initial screening process, we use our methodically designed intervention template and organization evaluation template to guide more thorough investigations. We use existing data (including data provided by the charities) in addition to performing our own research to estimate effectiveness where necessary. Although we use quantitative and empirical data from authoritative sources wherever possible, our charity recommendations ultimately involve some subjective factors, including how to weigh competing criteria. We publish in-depth discussions of our research so that donors can understand our reasoning and substitute their own judgments if their values differ from ours.
Note that we continuously refine and perfect this overall process, learning from our successes and mistakes as well as from newly available external findings. Each year, we take time to consider the latest developments in relevant fields, and update our criteria accordingly. As this process is not an exact science, we are extremely transparent about our reasoning and we always disclose our methodology, especially the subjective factors.
In order to maximize cooperation from the organizations we evaluate, we give them the option to decline to be reviewed or to deny the publication of our review (and supporting materials) at any time. Out of respect for the confidentiality of groups’ private communications with us, we generally don’t discuss the specific reasons that individual charities declined to be reviewed/published. Some information about the specific reason(s) reported by individual charities for why they declined to reviewed/published can be found by following the relevant link on their “View Page” button on our list of animal charities. See our post on why charities declined to be reviewed/published for further discussion.
The reasons for declining to be reviewed/published vary from charity to charity, but often seem to stem from a disagreement with the way ACE views effectiveness. Most groups think that what they’re doing is effective—when their view doesn’t align with ours, they are reluctant to let us publish a review. Additionally, we typically include some criticisms in each review—whether specifically about a group’s impact or more generally about other concerns. Some groups are reluctant to let us publish a review which includes such criticism, despite the fact that we may agree they are doing good work overall. Finally, some groups tell us they don’t approve of our recommendation system in general, or don’t think the effectiveness of different groups can be compared.
In some cases, we never find out why a particular group has declined to be reviewed/published. Since we require groups to actively approve any review before it is published, a group can stop publication of the review by dropping out of contact with us at any stage. Sometimes this occurs late in the process, when we’ve been discussing specific issues in the review and can guess which ones they might find intractable. Other times it occurs earlier in the process, following our first email that asks for the charity’s feedback on our drafted review. In these cases, we have relatively little information about the groups’ motives for declining to be published. Other groups might just decline to respond for reasons similar to those given above—such as fundamental disagreements with our methods, or the expectation that our review wouldn’t be sufficiently favorable.
It is worth noting that charities’ reported reasons for declining to be reviewed/published could be influenced by bias—perhaps significantly so. Much animal advocacy research (and social science research in general, for that matter) is susceptible to the influence of various forms of response bias. One key type of response bias that seems likely to be in play in this context is social desirability bias. This bias influences respondents to answer in a way that will be viewed favorably by others, as opposed to answering truthfully. Charities’ responses regarding why they declined to be review/published may be particularly susceptible to social desirability bias given that they might be motivated to report answers that prospective donors would find favorable. It is also worth noting that of course ACE may be similarly susceptible to social desirability bias and/or other forms of response bias in our discussion of this or any other topic related to our work.
Because groups have varied reasons for declining to be reviewed/published, the safest conclusion about these groups is simply that, at the time of the review, they weren’t enthusiastic about having a review published on our site. Again, further details about the reasons a specific group declined to be reviewed/published may be available by following the relevant links from our list of animal charities. We encourage interested parties to reach out to specific groups for further information if desired.
We have a methodical process to identify and evaluate candidate charities. There could be two main reasons why we did not consider a charity. One, the charity did not meet our initial screening criteria in regards to charity’s main mission/intervention focus compared to the most effective interventions based on our research. Two, the charity did pass our initial screening, but through the evaluation process we encountered other reasons to ultimately not consider the charity (perhaps they did not have room for more funding, or were contacted but chose not to participate in our process). For a more detailed explanation, view our general recommendation process. We do our best to consider as many of the charities working within effective cause areas as possible; if you feel we have missed a potential candidate for our top recommendations, please contact us.
For our first round of recommendations using our new criteria in May 2014, we did not consider any international charities. We began considering select international groups with our December 2014 review process, and we intend to continue considering international groups moving forward. However, there are several issues that prevent us from examining some of them. Evaluating non-U.S. charities can be difficult due to language constraints; many groups that we looked at simply don’t have materials available in a language spoken by ACE staff members. Also, while we utilize WorldAnimal.net to help us locate international animal charities, it can be difficult to locate groups that are working on effective advocacy in foreign countries. We are happy to consider international charities that are recommended to us, so long as we can effectively communicate with their organization. If you feel we have missed a good candidate for our top recommendations, please contact us.
ACE offers a unique perspective in the animal advocacy movement by analyzing available data to identify the social efficacy of animal welfare tactics and charities. We hold no stake in any one group or intervention, and our sole interest in promoting the best ways to help animals ensures that we do not hold a bias toward any specific area. We are transparent about every step of our process.
We update our charity recommendations by December 1st of each year. Outside of this cycle, we occasionally update our recommendations if warranted by significant new research or other major changes in reliable information.
Since animal advocacy is a small field (especially when primarily considering those charities focused on effectiveness), ACE does have some prior existing relationships with individuals and charities. However, we have a conflict of interest policy that ensures that we don’t evaluate any organizations where we have serious conflicts of interest. Additionally, we note all existing relationships in two separate pages—one for staff disclosures, and one for organizational disclosures.
We strive to track the amount of donations ACE influences to our recommended charities in several ways. These methods vary depending on the capacity of our Top Charities and Standout Charities, but include the following:
- ACE accepting donations on behalf of our Top Charities and non-U.S. Standout Charities
- ACE recommended charities including a check box on their donation forms asking if ACE influenced the donation
- Adding tracking codes on outbound links from ACE’s website to our recommended charities’ websites to track whether ACE influenced a donation made on their website
- Donors reporting their donations to ACE that they made directly to our Top and Standout Charities because of our recommendation
We then cross-reference names (if available), donation amounts, and dates between the various methods above to avoid duplication. Using these methods, we estimate that ACE has influenced over $34 million in funding to our recommended charities from 2014–2020. More details can be found in our annual Giving Metrics Report.
Animal Advocacy Research Fund
We’ve addressed frequently asked questions about the Animal Advocacy Research Fund (AARF) in this blog post.