Our mission at ACE is to find and advocate for highly effective opportunities to improve the lives of 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 comparatively larger positive impact (measurable reduction of suffering, improvement of well-being, or reduction in the number of animals suffering) for sentient beings at 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: One, we educate individual advocates and animal charities about the most effective ways to make a difference for animals; and two, 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. Our aim is to help close that gap directly in addition to encouraging other organizations to produce more high-quality research in order to continuously build a shared body of knowledge and improved findings.
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.
This is definitely a serious issue that deserves attention. China produces almost 7 times as many pigs and over 7 times as many egg-laying chickens as the U.S. Additionally concerning is that the population of chickens raised for meat—while not yet surpassing that of the U.S.—has been steadily climbing each year for the past several years.
There are many reasons for the continuing increase in animal product consumption in China; one such factor is surely Western influence.This, along with the logistical difficulty of operating campaigns in China, the greater availability of groups to pioneer and study methodology of outreach in the U.S., and the philanthropic power of U.S. donors on behalf of animals, leads us to believe we should primarily focus on the U.S. for the time being. We have contacts with some veg groups in China, and they have very low levels of resources (financial and personnel) with which to organize, as well as facing some social restrictions on how they can assemble. It is worth trying to provide some resources to them—and we hope to research them more in the future—but the many complications slow down the process. We feel that it’s important to investigate effectiveness before we expend significant resources unwisely.
Once we invest more in evaluating methods of outreach, we feel we will be in a better position to invest more time and capital in China and related areas. In the meantime, working in the U.S. and changing the perception of animals as food while conducting research will hopefully also impact foreign consumption patterns. Additionally, we have considered some international charities in each round of recommendations since 2014, and we plan to continue considering select international groups in the future.
We are proud to be a platinum-level Guidestar participant, ranked as Best in America by Independent Charities of America, and recommended by many effective altruist influencers such as the Centre for Effective Altruism, Raising for Effective Giving (REG), Giving What We Can, The Life You Can Save, and Peter Singer.
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, which is often to charities which directly engage in interventions that help animals. As such, we encourage people to donate to our Top Charities. In fact, in June of 2015, we implemented a custom donation process that enables donors to support our Top Charities by donating directly to ACE using forms earmarked for specific charities. In general, we will not focus on soliciting donations for ACE; however we do require financial support in order to continue providing our services. We greatly appreciate contributions to ACE.
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 impact 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, Swiss and German donors can qualify for tax deductions to ACE by donating through the Effective Altruism Foundation. In 2017, donors in the UK will also be able to donate to ACE while qualifying for Gift Aid.
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.
We have selected Top Charities that work on reducing the suffering of farmed animals because we believe that is the cause area where advocates can have the largest impact in helping animals. This conclusion stems from the scale, neglectedness, and tractability of farmed animal issues. Groups that specifically work on behalf of farmed animals receive a very small percentage of overall funding in animal advocacy, despite representing the vast majority of animals who are killed by humans.
We wouldn’t state that we specifically promote veganism, even though that is one way for an individual to help prevent suffering. Instead, we promote anti-speciesism—namely, we believe that the species to which a being belongs does not in itself matter when considering how much we should care about that individual’s well-being. Cultivating anti-speciesist attitudes in the public could lead to immense changes for animals—not just for those we eat, but also in how animals are used and exploited in all forms. We currently believe that farmed animal advocacy is a highly effective method to create these new attitudes and to substantially reduce suffering.
We would like to directly measure the change in anti-speciesist attitudes and the reduction of animal suffering that takes place as a result of charities’ efforts, but as that is difficult to quantify, we are currently using change in meat consumption as one possible metric for this change. As our knowledge evolves, our metrics will change accordingly.
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.
In the wild, there are many animals who give birth to tens, hundreds, and even thousands of offspring. Many of them die soon after birth in seemingly painful ways, including by being eaten alive or starving to death. Many of those who make it to adulthood are also faced with disease, starvation, and predation. There is a large potential to alleviate suffering on a grander scale in this context by somehow preventing the suffering that each of these individual animals endures. While we agree that this issue is important, we don’t know of any particularly impactful and cost-effective solutions to dealing with the problems of wild animal suffering.
As an organization we are open to considering both direct methods for alleviating suffering (such as leafleting) and indirect ones (such as conducting research on animal sentience). We are confident that neglecting wild animal suffering solely because we don’t currently know of any large-scale methods to combat it would be a mistake, and that researching this issue could have very high potential value. However, due to our limited staff time and resources and the fact that we have many actionable methods of alleviating suffering to consider, we focus our evaluations on charities that are in a position to conduct measurable and concrete efforts. If we learn of a charity that examines wild animal suffering in this way, we look forward to evaluating them at that time.
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.
To date, ACE has conducted two field studies, and a number of smaller studies using responses collected online. After running our first two field studies, we determined that we didn’t have the resources to focus on conducting that type of research, and we decided against conducting further research of that kind. As ACE grows we continue to evaluate our position on this matter, and we may decide to pursue experimental research in the future.
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.
Out of respect for the confidentiality of groups’ private communications with us, we don’t discuss the reasons that individual charities decline to be reviewed. However, we can discuss the general reasons that groups might decline to be reviewed.
The reasons for not having reviews published varies from charity to charity, but usually stems from a disagreement about how to view effectiveness. Most groups think that what they’re doing is effective, and when their view doesn’t align with ours, they are reluctant to let us publish our review. Another common reason is that we typically include some criticisms in each review, whether directly about a group’s impact or about other concerns we have. Some groups are reluctant to let us publish a review which includes such criticism, despite the fact that we agree they are doing some 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 know why a particular group has declined to be reviewed. Since we require groups to actively approve any review before it is published, they 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 very early in the process, following our initial contact emails seeking the individual within the organization with the authority to approve or reject a review. In these cases, we have little information about groups’ motives for not responding to contact; some of our contact attempts may never even have reached someone who could act on them. Other groups might have declined 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.
Because groups have varied reasons to decline to be reviewed, the safest conclusion about these groups is simply that they weren’t enthusiastic about having a review published on our site. If you want to know more details about the reason a specific group declined to participate, it’s best to reach out to them directly with your questions.
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 track the amount of giving to our recommended charities in several ways. These ways vary depending on what each of our Top Charities and Standout Charities allow, but include the following: 1) Taking in donations directly for our Top Charities through our donation forms. 2) Featuring a check box on the donate form of the charity that notes “I heard about X charity through Animal Charity Evaluators.” 3) Compiling information on web traffic using unique URLs to track the amount of people who proceed from our site to a recommended charity’s site and then donate to that charity. 4) Compiling anecdotal reports from individuals who have donated to our Top or Standout Charities because of our recommendation. We then cross reference names, donation amounts, and dates between the different methods to avoid duplication. Using these methods, in 2014 we influenced over $147,000 in giving to our recommended charities, over $1.19 million in 2015, and over $3.5 million in 2016.