Make the Most of Your Volunteer Time
Just as it’s extremely important to consider which charities you might support financially, it’s important to consider where to devote volunteer hours. In general, we recommend volunteering for farmed animal charities, as this area provides an opportunity to make the biggest difference for animals. More specifically, we recommend volunteering with our Top Charities—or, of course, with us.
If you’d like to compare the difference that you can make by volunteering for different animal causes, we have created a comparison that looks at the number of animals that you can help by volunteering for 1 hour/week over the course of a year in different areas.
Where to Volunteer
We don’t have a great deal of reliable evidence about the effectiveness of individual volunteer efforts—that’s why we are investing time and resources in evaluating interventions such as leafleting, online ads, and undercover investigations. We do however provide some general advice on increasing your impact as a volunteer.
Of the interventions we’ve evaluated thus far, we feel that corporate outreach and undercover investigations are relatively effective ways to help farmed animals. We discuss ways to get involved in corporate outreach campaigns and other options for volunteering below. Though we’re not aware of volunteer opportunities to help with undercover investigations, you can have a large impact in this area by donating to fund investigations1 or by working as an undercover investigator.
Different Ways to Help Farmed Animals
Corporate outreach is an intervention we recommend because it aims to influence the behavior of a corporation by encouraging them to implement policies that improve animal welfare. Corporate outreach campaigns can involve the use of petitions, media exposure, and other forms of public pressure. In recent years many cage-free egg campaigns have been quite successful.
Two of our three Top Charities have corporate outreach programs for which you can volunteer right from home—this includes activities such as signing petitions, posting on social media, and sending emails to corporate leaders. Sign up for The Humane League’s Fast Action Network and Mercy For Animals’ Hen Heroes to get started.
You can also join The Humane League’s National Volunteer Program. Launched in January 2017, this program engages volunteers in effective animal advocacy in cities where THL doesn’t have a regional office. Volunteer activities include assisting with THL’s institutional campaigns, hosting work parties, and tabling and leafleting at local events—all managed through the National Volunteer Coordinator. Volunteers receive training in effective advocacy, and the program connects them with nearby animal advocates.
Lastly, you can help corporate outreach campaigns by joining in on protests/demonstrations organized by our recommended charities.
Pros: Supporting corporate outreach initiatives is a fairly effective way to help animals through volunteer work. There are opportunities to volunteer from home at your convenience, as well as opportunities to get out on the streets with other advocates.
Cons: Some advocates prefer methods that focus solely on promoting veganism, rather than arguing for improved welfare standards. ACE feels that a lot of good can be done for animals in the short term by improving their welfare, but if you’re uncomfortable with that you may prefer another method.
We recommend the Humane Society of the United States’ Farm Animal Protection Campaign, which combats the most extreme confinement practices and abuses in the animal agribusiness system and aims to reduce total demand for animal products. You can volunteer with HSUS through the District Leader Program. As a district leader, you would serve as an HSUS ambassador in your congressional district, and advance The HSUS’ federal and state animal protection legislative priorities. You may also have the opportunity to work on an HSUS-supported project related to farmed animals.
Pros: When successful, we think that legislative work can achieve particularly long-lasting change for animals. If you participate in the District Leader Program or something similar, you will receive training and develop skills that may serve you in other jobs and activities.
Cons: Legislative work might not be a good fit for everyone. It generally requires strong interpersonal and communication skills, and there’s no guarantee that a given campaign will be successful.
Write to Promote Discussion
Publicly promoting ACE’s research or information about our Top Charities through social media, blogs, editorials, or letters to the editor can expand our reach considerably. If this type of writing appeals to you, you can join Mercy For Animals’ writing group oINK in order to get periodic suggestions via email. These writings can be even more effective if tailored to areas where you you have expertise.
Apart from original writings, you can also simply share our content on social media and add comments to our Facebook page or our blog. Even something as quick as “This was very helpful because…” or “This was confusing because…” can be very useful. These comments inform us about responses to our materials and give us an opportunity to improve and better communicate our message about effectively helping animals. Comments and shares also help to drive the visibility of important materials on platforms like Facebook.
Pros: Writing on social media is fairly quick, easy, and can be shared with a wide audience. Any type of writing can be done at home, whenever is convenient.
Cons: Writing is usually a solo task, so if you’re looking to get involved with other advocates, this may not be for you. You can, however, get together with other advocates to make writing more fun and give each other feedback and encouragement.
Passing out booklets with information on farmed animal suffering and vegan food choices is an easy and inexpensive way to advocate for animals; it just involves ordering booklets and finding a high-trafficked area for distribution. Some advocates believe younger (high school and college-aged) audiences are be most receptive2 to the message, so leafleting on a college campus or on a public sidewalk near a high school while it’s letting out may be good options.
Several of our recommended charities engage in leafleting. Visit Mercy For Animals’ Action Center and Vegan Outreach’s Adopt a College page for more information, and watch this video by Mercy for Animals on how to leaflet effectively.
Pros: Leafleting is easy to set up, inexpensive, and provides an opportunity to meet new advocates and get them more involved.
Cons: Some volunteers find leafleting socially uncomfortable, and there is limited evidence of its effectiveness.
Tabling (optional: with food samples)
Representing one of our Top or Standout Charities at a public event (a veg fest, neighborhood festival, health expo, etc.) allows you to educate people about the cruelties of animal agriculture and available opportunities to help (volunteering with or donating to our recommended charities, eating less meat, etc.). Contact our recommended charities directly to see if they could provide supplies (literature, sign-up sheets, tablecloth, donation box, etc.). Some of them (e.g., Animal Equality) might even provide food giveaways. We recommend representing a charity rather than having a generic table so that you can sign people up for e-newsletters which will provide them future opportunities to take action. If it’s not feasible to represent a recommended charity directly, you can order literature and make or buy some food samples (Tofurky chick’n or Field Roast sausages and baked goods work great) to pass out while telling people about farmed animal suffering and ways they can help.
Pros: Tabling provides an opportunity for longer conversations with individuals, and likely has more of an impact than just handing someone a leaflet as they pass by.
Cons: More time is involved in gathering supplies and setting up/tearing down, more volunteers are required, and there is often a fee associated with having a table at an event (see VegFund below). There is limited evidence of the effectiveness of tabling or handing out food samples.
Pay-Per-View (PPV) and Virtual Reality
Videos showing the cruelty of factory farming can be shocking to people who haven’t seen such footage before, and therefore they can be a powerful tool for animal advocacy. You can set up a booth at an event or public place and offer people a dollar to watch a short video, like Mercy For Animals’ “What Cody Saw.” MFA gives further advice and instructions here.
You can also share animal cruelty scenes via virtual reality (VR) videos, for example by getting involved with Animal Equality’s iAnimal VR campaigns. It seems that the dollar incentives aren’t needed with VR, since passerby are interested in trying out the new technology, but the cost of the hardware may be prohibitive at this time for most advocates.
Pros: Showing viewers animal suffering in video format might have more of an impact than showing still photos or text descriptions.
Cons: PPV is a bit more work to set up than some other outreach methods, requiring laptops, tablets, or portable DVD players. There is often a fee associated with having a table at an event, and the dollar incentives are an additional cost (see VegFund below). There is limited evidence of the effectiveness of PPV.
According to a study by The Humane League Labs of vegetarians and vegans, the things most commonly cited as being influential in leading them to initially reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal products were documentaries and movies. Several documentaries that encourage veganism are: Vegucated, Earthlings, Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy, Speciesism, and Carnage. You could host a screening at a local library or college campus, or have a more casual screening with a bunch of friends and lead a discussion afterward. Providing delicious vegan food and recipes for attendees to take home may further increase motivation for dietary change.
Pros: A full-length documentary may have a substantial effect on viewers. A casual event is relatively easy to set up.
Cons: Screening licenses can be expensive (see VegFund below), and it’s hard to predict how many will attend a public screening. Some activists putting on screenings observe that it’s been mostly “the choir” (vegans and activists) coming out to see the films.
Protests and Demonstrations
There are different types of protests and demonstrations, and each may have a different level of impact. We recommend joining in on demonstrations organized by our recommended charities which target corporations and ask them to adopt better welfare standards. Protests will sometimes be covered by the media, increasing exposure.
Pros: Protests tend to spark discussion, the effects of which can be amplified through media attention. They can also be a good way to meet and collaborate with other activists. Some protests provide an avenue for multi-issue activism.
Cons: There is limited evidence showing the effects that protests have. Resulting media attention may create a negative stigma about animal advocates depending on the nature and execution of the protest. Protests can be physically exhausting, and some people may not be comfortable participating. Depending on the nature of the protest, activists may face risks like violent encounters or arrest.
Veg and vegan fests have been popping up all over the globe, and The Humane League sponsors a couple of them. Organizing a veg fest may be a good way to educate people about farmed animal suffering and veganism. Each fest is a bit different, but most include speakers, food demos, exhibitors sampling and selling products, tables for nonprofits, and food vendors selling whole vegan meals. Attendance varies from hundreds to thousands depending on location, publicity, and other factors. Some have a certain focus (e.g., health or spiritual).
Though the research is limited, we have a few recommendations for fests:
- Highlighting the animal protection argument for a veg lifestyle is important for longer-term considerations such as spreading the value of caring for animals. Keep this in mind for speaker and exhibitor selection.
- If any exhibitors claim that their activities or products have the healing effects of medicine, ensure that those claims are supported by evidence. The presence of a pseudo-scientific exhibitor can discredit the whole festival and turn attendees off to the factual information that is provided in other parts of the fest.
- If possible, make the event free to the public and as inclusive as possible, reducing any barriers for omnivores to attend.
If you’d like to get involved in a veg fest, consider volunteering for one in your area; or, if there isn’t one near you and you’d like to start one, check out Compassionate Action for Animals’ extensive guide on How to Plan a Veg Fest. We highly recommend reading this material if you are considering hosting a veg fest.
Pros: Well-run veg fests can be a fun, welcoming environment to educate attendees about farmed animal suffering and show them how delicious vegan foods can be. They can help build community.
Cons: A dedicated and skilled team must make a substantial time commitment to put together a well-run festival, and there is limited evidence about the outcomes of veg fests. Putting on a large event may be costly (see VegFund below).
Use your specialized skills
Farmed animal charities can use assistance in many ways, and it’s important to consider your own specialized skills (e.g., graphic design, management, event planning) and how they could uniquely positively impact an organization. To maximize your impact, you can volunteer for one of our Top Charities. If you are interested in finding and promoting the best ways to help animals, consider interning with ACE!
VegFund may provide financial support for many of the above activities. VegFund provides funding for tabling and food sampling, pay-per-view, movie screenings, and merit awards for larger events like veg fests. Check out their website for guidelines and more information.
Volunteer with a Friend
Make volunteering fun! Try out different activities to see what you enjoy, and get friends to join in with you. If what you’re doing doesn’t feel satisfying, you won’t stick with it. In addition, getting even one other person as involved as you are will double your impact. You’ll also be more likely to follow through on your individual volunteering commitments if you tell someone you’re going to do it. You and your friends can check up on each other to see if you’ve kept up with your commitments and resolve any difficulties that come up.
Practice Self Care to Maintain Effectiveness
When volunteering, it is important to consider that there may be a maximum amount of time that you can dedicate to those efforts while still maintaining your own health and happiness. If you surrender all of your free time to volunteering in animal advocacy, it is possible that you will develop compassion fatigue and become inefficient in your work. There are resources to help activists in need of support, like the Animal Activist Helpline.
Limits to volunteering effectively
In addition, many animal advocacy organizations are in need of funding more than they are in need of volunteers. This is often because they need to employ dedicated people with specific skill sets, as some jobs just aren’t well-suited for volunteers. In some cases you may have more of an impact picking up extra hours at work and donating the income than you would volunteering those hours.
Many people gain personal pleasure from volunteering occasionally with local shelters or charities with which they have a personal connection, but which aren’t necessarily focusing on an effective intervention or farmed animals. We don’t consider it “wrong” to spend some amount of time engaged in activities that could help develop your connection with animals and encourage further contributions to areas like farmed animal advocacy. We recommend being cognizant of the fact that the benefit from those activities is primarily making you feel good and ensuring your sustainability as an advocate, rather than doing the most good for animals. However, such actions can still serve a valuable role in developing your commitment as an advocate.
One of our Top Charities, Mercy For Animals, focuses a good amount of resources on their undercover investigations. You can donate to MFA here.
Cooney, Nick. 2012. Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign.