Rachel Black is the national volunteer coordinator of The Humane League (THL). She spoke with ACE Research Associate Kieran Greig on August 7, 2017. This is a summary of their conversation.
Leafleting at Colleges
Exactly what happens at a college leafleting event, and how many leaflets are given out, depends on the college. When Black was leafleting for Vegan Outreach, she would access Adopt A College to learn about past experiences leafleting there. If a school has already been leafleted, there will most likely be a goal or an average number of leaflets to hand out that depends on the size of the school. Usually it would be around 10% of the total number of full time students at the school. It’s best to get as many leaflets out as fast as possible, but usually the time between class changes is the best time to hand out leaflets. If it’s a smaller school, there may not be any traffic in between class times, and just a small 5–10 minute window a few times in the morning. Generally, after around 1:00 or 2:00 PM, it gets slow enough that it’s no longer worth staying at the school. The ideal times to leaflet are Monday and Wednesday in the morning, starting around 8:00 AM. Tuesdays and Thursdays tend to have fewer class changes.
Usually Black would choose where to go on campus based on notes on Adopt A College, especially for schools that had been leafleted in the past. That way, she would know where to go after arriving. If a school hadn’t been leafleted before, she would usually go to the student center or equivalent, or somewhere in the center of campus, looking for a heavily trafficked area where she was allowed to be. Some schools have designated places to go.
The Humane League (THL) only records leafleting endeavors on college campuses on Adopt A College if they use Vegan Outreach literature; it isn’t recorded if they use Mercy For Animals (MFA) literature or someone else’s. To be clear, THL records all leafleting numbers internally, just not necessarily on Adopt A College. Most of their leafleting on campuses does use Vegan Outreach literature.
People usually leaflet with a single type of leaflet, like “Compassionate Choices” from Vegan Outreach. Black has also leafleted with “Compassionate Athlete” leaflets combined with Compassionate Choices leaflets, and handed them out to people who obviously looked like they were dressed for athletics or were on their way to or from the gym.
Usually, there are at least two people leafleting together, because more ground can be covered and it boosts morale. Usually leafleters stand in different spots on campus, but may try to position themselves so they can still see each other.
Conversations with the Public
If someone approaches Black to tell her that they’d taken a leaflet in the past and then gone vegetarian, she’ll say she’s happy to hear that and ask if they want to get more involved. She might take down their phone number or email address and invite them to help leaflet next time THL’s at that school. Depending on what they express interest in, she offers them different types of support and encouragement, for example to start a student group or just to leaflet on their own.
Black finds that at progressive schools in a big city, she has many more extended interactions, compared to a smaller school or schools with a math and science focus. Maybe one in ten people interact with her after taking the leaflet at the more outgoing schools, but that could be a high estimate.
Black’s go-to line when leafleting is “Info on helping animals.” She doesn’t think any particular prompt has a significant effect on acceptance rates, and sometimes she’ll change it at an agricultural school to say “Info on healthy eating.” For the Warped Tour, their leaflets use quotes from band members, so they will include captions like “message from the band.” During very busy times she’ll just smile or say “hey.”
The percentage of people who take a leaflet varies by school. At some schools, perhaps 99% of people take a leaflet, and it’s easy to remember the handful of people who don’t. At other schools, for instance Princeton, most people don’t take it. On average, about three quarters of people do take the leaflet.
It’s hard to say how many people actually read the leaflets after taking them, because if they get chucked into a backpack, it’s uncertain whether they’ll be read or thrown away.
Brigham Young University had an incredibly high take rate, maybe because Mormons are known for doing similar activities with their own religious literature. Larger, public schools that are not in a city also tend to have high take rates. In the beginning of the semester or the school year, people take more leaflets. Nicer weather also leads to higher take rates. Schools focused heavily on the arts also seem to have higher take rates.
Having a high confidence level, being positive, smiling, and being energetic are key characteristics of a good leafleter. Even if you aren’t outgoing, you would want to be able to fake that for the hour that you’re leafleting, because it makes a big difference.
Volunteers who leaflet with THL watch the MFA “how to leaflet” video on YouTube. Black also explains why leafleting is effective, and how leafleting changes people’s minds. She sends them leaflets, helps them figure out where to go, and encourages them to bring a friend or family member. Black asks that they take photos for THL’s social media and tell her how many leaflets they hand out.
Black says that new leafleters can become more skilled as they become more comfortable and experienced with the reactions that people have to receiving leaflets. An experienced leafleter might change their approach at different times of day or for a different crowd. However, after a year of full-time leafleting, there’s not much more to learn. Experience will make a given person better at leafleting, but doesn’t necessarily have more effect than personality; for example, someone who’s very confident and leafleting for the first time might do better than someone who’s insecure and leafleting for the tenth time.
Verifying Leaflets Handed Out
Black hasn’t encountered cases in which she hears of leaflets being handed out by a volunteer and then learns they haven’t been, and she doesn’t systematically check for this. Volunteers in THL’s program have a variety of things they can do, so they aren’t assigned to leaflet unless they want to. In fact, Black usually prefers that they do campaign actions. There is no pressure on volunteers to hand out leaflets or to say they’ve handed out a lot of leaflets. Black usually sends volunteers off with 200–300 leaflets to start, so there is no pressure to hand out a lot.
When Black had interns as a Philadelphia grassroots director, they were under more pressure because they had goals to hit and were getting credits for the hours they put in. She wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of them had inflated their numbers because of this.
For people using the Adopt A College site, Black thinks the environment at the time she was working for Vegan Outreach was understanding and compassionate enough that, in general, people would not have wanted to over-report their numbers. Especially if they were getting paid, she imagines that they would have felt horribly guilt-ridden if they had over-reported, and thinks her co-workers are honest people who wouldn’t have done that.
THL Volunteer Program
THL doesn’t really have any volunteers who are just leafleting volunteers, at least in the national program. People engage in a variety of actions, and everyone’s involvement is different. Black would encourage people to do a variety of things, in part because it would become boring to do just one, and in part to train them in different areas so they get more experience. She would also try to guide them to become more responsible and to assume more of a leadership role.
Leafleting is an easy, entry-level way to get new volunteers involved. However, Black likes to see volunteers work their way up and take on more responsibility. Black thinks most people do try at least one more activity in addition to leafleting. Most volunteers do not work their way up to the point where they are taking on significantly more responsibility, and that core group of “A-lister” volunteers is the minority. These volunteers who take on the most responsibility are mostly women between 18 and 40, but otherwise are a wide variety of people.
Changes in Leafleting
Black is not aware of people leafleting in very new settings recently. There’s still a lot of interest in leafleting among volunteers, and there still seems to be a high take rate where Black leaflets.
Black herself has been doing much less leafleting recently, so it’s hard to know what’s changed with the audience. However, she thinks that people receiving leaflets nowadays tend to know more about what the leaflets are about; many have already heard about factory farming and reducing meat consumption.
The leaflets themselves have gotten less text-heavy and look more modern than they used to. In general, they’ve become less graphic and have a more positive “vibe” than they used to.
Leafleting Compared to Other Interventions
THL has stopped making leafleting a priority because they are focusing much more on campaigns. This is due to the numbers of animals involved; winning campaigns affects millions of animal. Without further research, they aren’t sure leafleting can have a similar effect. Grassroots actions help win campaigns, so they’ve focused much of their grassroots actions on campaign work, rather than spending time handing out leaflets. There is also a veg advocacy component to grassroots campaign actions, because they also raise public awareness of farmed animal welfare issues.
If Black had to choose one or the other, she would choose to direct more resources to corporate campaigns rather than to leafleting. However, she thinks it’s necessary to use a multifaceted approach and leafleting is still important for a variety of reasons.
Among methods of public outreach, Black thinks online ads are likely better than leafleting, just because they directly link to a video, which is probably a more impactful way of conveying information than a still picture in a leaflet. Additionally, it’s usually cheaper to reach people with online outreach than with leafleting. Pay-per-view video reaches many fewer people than leafleting does, but Black does think those people are more likely to have their lives changed. She doesn’t know how leafleting and pay-per-view videos compare in efficiency.
If Vegan Outreach didn’t exist, or was another organization like THL or MFA that is involved in a variety of actions, Black would probably think that the movement needs more leafleting. But given that there is a whole organization that’s primarily focused on leafleting, it’s less of a concern. Ideally, if it didn’t take away from other programs, Black would like to see more leafleting; in fact, the more, the better. In a more realistic situation in which we must make tradeoffs, Black would probably want to divert some resources from leafleting to online ads or corporate campaigns.
Black believes leafleting would rank near the bottom on a list of interventions organized by efficiency. Humane education efforts by groups like THL or the Ethical Choices Program would rank above it, as would corporate campaigns and vegan mentorship programs (which Black thinks the movement should do much more of).