Later this year we will update our three-year strategic plan, which currently covers 2015–2017. In this post, we briefly discuss our goals for 2017. Our approach to this task was to list everything that we would like to do at this point in time. There are two main factors that will play a key role in determining how many of these goals we are able to achieve: (1) the amount of available funding, and (2) the level of success we have in attracting the appropriate applicants for available positions. Because the goals mentioned here are numerous, we have, in general, listed the higher priority goals closer to the top of each respective section.
Create a standardized protocol for reviewing research prior to implementation and publication. We feel that we ultimately set too many goals in 2016 given the limited staff and resources that were available to us. Due to time constraints resulting from these limitations, we did not invest as much time as we should have in reviewing research materials prior to implementation and publication. To prevent this from happening in the future, we have developed a protocol for reviewing materials that involves at least one primary critic, which means that we will have multiple critiques before we move forward on research projects. Critics will include both internal and external stakeholders. We will detail this system in a future blog post.
Compose a written outline of ACE’s philosophical positions. As we investigate ways to help animals more deeply, including through our charity evaluations, we have become aware of the need to outline our position on philosophical issues. This document will enable people to see whether and to what degree they align with our values and positions, so that they can decide the manner in which they want to use our recommendations.
Conduct at least 12 comprehensive reviews of charities considered for our recommendations. Due to our policy of reviewing Top Charities every year and Standout Charities every other year, we already had plans to conduct nine comprehensive reviews this year before it even began. We will continue to search for other strong organizations to evaluate in more detail. It is possible we will conduct more than 12 comprehensive reviews, but we commit to at least that many.
Evaluate our method of conducting charity reviews—including our criteria, our selection of charities for review, and the format of our final reviews. After our 2016 charity evaluation process finished, we identified a number of potential changes we wanted to consider implementing for our 2017 evaluations. Prior to beginning our 2017 evaluations, we will consider implementing several of these changes. As we did in 2016, we will publish a blog post discussing the changes that we have decided are both feasible and advisable.
Give small grants to charities we evaluate. We plan to give small grants to charities that participate in our evaluation process. This will serve several purposes. Firstly, it will help encourage participation in the process. We view this as particularly important because participation will organically motivate groups to pay attention to good practices for charities, such as prioritizing self-assessment and transparency. Secondly, we feel that this practice will help give support to some smaller groups that we evaluate. Although such groups may have a more difficult time meeting the criteria for a top recommendation, they will likely still be ones that are doing important work, since we choose charities for review that we think could reasonably be selected for a recommendation. Finally, we ask charities for their time during evaluations, and we want to offer compensation for their efforts.
Evaluate our social movements project: define clear objectives and goals, and, if we continue with it, complete at least four case studies. We were not happy with our progress on this project in 2016. Not only did we struggle with producing case studies from our research interns, but we became more aware of the incredible scope of this project. We will thus reevaluate our efforts in this area, and if we decide to continue, we will develop a framework to allow for synthesization of the findings from our reports.
Provide at least two rounds of funding through the AARF. This year we launched the privately-funded Animal Advocacy Research Fund. We completed our first round of funding in late 2016, and we have at least 2 rounds of grants planned for this year. We plan to increase promotion of this opportunity so that individual advocates/academics as well as charities are aware of the chance to apply for grants which will fund research projects with the potential to further effective animal advocacy.
Plan an academic institute to occur within the next 18 months. Last year we held our research symposium at Princeton University, and we feel it was successful in accomplishing the goal of bringing advocates and academics together to discuss current research being done to benefit animals. We think that it makes most sense for us to hold the symposium every alternate year to allow for additional research to be completed. In the off years, we are considering hosting an academic institute where we gather a small number of academics—in conjunction with an even smaller number of advocates—to brainstorm research in specific areas. This would involve much deeper exploration into research topics, with the goal of producing actionable research. We are currently exploring the feasibility and benefits of holding this event.
Evaluate the current template for intervention reports, streamlining where possible. While we are happy with our intervention reports overall, they are lengthy and take a large amount of time to complete. This year we will review our intervention evaluation template to make improvements, just as we do for our charity evaluation criteria each year. We will focus on areas of opportunity with regard to efficiency, with the hope of being able to produce intervention reports in the future that are as useful as our current reports but require a reduced time commitment.
Create at least three new intervention reports—including leafleting, legal work, and protests. We completed most of our report on legal work in 2016, and will spend time finalizing that in 2017. We will also revise our leafleting report, which was originally written in 2014 and is now outdated. In addition to those reports, we will be conducting a new investigation into protests.
Develop a map showing the interconnectedness of important research pages, to enable us to identify any needs for update. In late 2016, we realized that some of the pages on our website had become outdated. This can be difficult for us to monitor, as we have over 600 pages on our site. We will be working on a project designed to enable us to more easily identify pages that are especially in need of updates. We have also added tags to the top of many of our research pages that note the date of the latest update for each respective material.
Revise cost-effectiveness (and other numerical models we use) for improved consistency. Over time, we’ve used many different systems to create estimates that we use in understanding animal advocacy and specific charities’ programs. Systematically updating these estimates and transferring them to a single platform (most likely Guesstimate, which we used for our 2016 charity evaluation cost-effectiveness estimates) would ensure that they are all up-to-date and would make it easier to maintain consistency throughout our site.
Continue to encourage additions to our Data Repository. The Animal Advocacy Data Repository was launched in October 2016. Although it is relatively new, we have already received positive feedback from the community. We will continue to promote the repository in 2017 and hope that it will bring much needed access to data in our movement, increasing overall effectiveness.
Release an updated interface for the Advocacy Research Library. A group of volunteers helped revise our interface for the Research Library last year, but we encountered a number of significant bugs in the testing phase of the project near the end of the year. We will work out the issues and release an updated version in 2017.
Update our survey guidelines project. In 2016, we updated our survey guidelines project—a resource for advocates that includes important core considerations for conducting surveys. We added a few sections and updated others, and will continue to add additional resources as well as refine what we currently have available.
Publish experimental output from 2016. In 2016 we conducted three studies using Mechanical Turk that we chose not to publish due to concerns about their design as well as delays in completing their analysis. In 2017 we are committed to publishing the datasets and basic information about these studies on the Animal Advocacy Data Repository so that they will be available to other researchers. We will also consider publishing more information about them in other formats, if we decide they will be useful to a more general audience as well.
Education and Advocacy
Invest significant efforts on advertising and promoting our findings. We will use promotional videos that we create to develop advertising campaigns to promote effective altruism for animals and farmed animal advocacy. We will do this by creating landing pages for targeted campaigns that we conduct on Facebook and through the use of remarketing. We will analyze data from our previous social media and remarketing advertising efforts so that we can invest our resources in the most productive way. We think there remains a large pool of people who care about animals but aren’t aware of the principles of effective altruism, so we believe there are substantial gains to be made in the advertising arena.
Begin work on a white paper project which will provide advice and resources for specific departments within animal charities. Publish at least two white papers. Last year, we began work on an advocacy advice booklet. We stopped work on that project after we realized the scope of the work involved, and after we considered the value of having materials online so that they could be regularly updated. Thus, our new plan is to compile these resources in online white paper reports, and create a small postcard or tri-fold advertising the online resources for distribution to advocates. That way we can compile all the materials in an online environment and update as needed without having to replace printed materials on a regular basis. We will complete at least two of these white papers this year.
Engage in efforts to increase diversity. Promoting diversity and inclusiveness is not just a crucial step towards expanding the animal advocacy movement; it is also a crucial part of supporting other movements. We hope that by publicly taking measures to improve in this area, we will be able to influence other animal charities to do the same. Some of our goals include increasing the diversity of our staff and board, developing more material about how animal advocates can help other social justice movements, and promoting the discussion of inclusiveness to a greater extent through our charity reviews. We are considering hiring consultants to assist us with our plans in this area.
Create a live action professional video. This initiative will target conventional animal advocates with the intention of illustrating the importance and neglect of farmed animal advocacy. Once completed, we will plan and implement an advertising campaign (video, landing page, social media), alongside our other introductory explainer video.
Develop printed materials to promote our findings. We intend to produce an Annual Review, a Guide to Giving, a two-sheet printout on optimizing advocacy, and a tri-fold or reference postcard for our white paper communications project. These will be distributed through our presence at conferences, in relevant mailings to donors, and upon request.
Create an incentive program for first-time donors. We will create a privately-funded program where we will match donations to ACE-recommended farmed animal charities when those donations are made by a first-time donor to animal advocacy. We hope that this will create a pattern of giving and encourage more people to invest in effective animal charities. We will provide more details on this program in the coming months.
Pitch projects to the media on a regular basis, and develop relationships with key journalists. We were covered in a few major outlets last year, such as Slate and Huffington Post, but we want to increase our presence in the media. We will continue our efforts to build relationships with various media presences. We will also hire a part-time Media Relations Specialist to work on increasing our success in this area.
Attend and represent ACE at conferences throughout the year. We currently plan to attend at least seven conferences through the course of 2017, including multiple Effective Altruism Global Conferences, the Animal Rights Conference, and an American Philosophy Association Conference. We will have at least one ACE representative at each of these events, and attempt to speak or table as opportunities become available.
Focus on high performing platforms such as Facebook and Reddit while still maintaining Twitter and LinkedIn engagement. We intend to increase our following on Facebook and Twitter, and spend more time engaging on Reddit and LinkedIn. Aside from advertising, our efforts in this area will involve posting quality content and encouraging engagement. We will focus on quality over quantity as much as possible in order to maintain a higher standard of discussion. Specifically, we want to increase the average pages per session for visitors from Facebook by 10%, and increase organic Facebook traffic to our site by 12%.
Finalize a formal marketing plan to guide our outreach and promotional efforts. As we intend to increase our advertising efforts this year, we will make time to compose a formal marketing plan once we hire the aforementioned Media Relations Specialist.
Publish six new interviews with advocacy leaders, academics, and industry professionals. We continue to believe that these interviews produce valuable insights for ACE to consider in our evaluations, as well as helpful advice for advocates who follow our work. We will continue to interview relevant professionals.
Offer opportunities for continuing education to staff. We will investigate ways to provide staff with the means to pursue further education relevant to their position at ACE. This may involve specific programs, or it may simply be a monetary offering restricted to educational programs or classes. Given the modest salaries that we pay our staff, this will give them the opportunity to spend resources on self-improvement.
Create email drip campaigns to better introduce newcomers and donors to our findings. Our strong growth over the last few years has resulted in regular newsletter signups. We intend to develop campaigns to standardize communications with these new followers by providing a series of emails tailored to commonly asked questions about ACE. This will ultimately reduce our workflow while providing maximally useful information to our followers. Relatedly, we will work to increase the number of subscribers to our newsletter by 50% while maintaining the same strong open rate that we currently experience.
Examine the effectiveness of the new framework from our redesigned website through Usertesting sessions. We intend to conduct several Usertesting sessions to provide feedback that we can then use to improve the site further. We have found these tests to be useful in our understanding of user behavior, and since we will continue to use our current site design for several years, now is an ideal time to test our new framework and optimize for usability.
Evaluate Google Analytics data to conduct A/B testing, so as to optimize quality of interactions. We intend to hire someone to assist with analysis of the data we already receive from visitors via Google Analytics, as well as to work with our web developer to conduct A/B tests to make sure that we optimize our most valued conversions.
Optimize AdWords campaigns to improve quality and quantity of traffic. While we found that we were unable to improve significantly in this area last year, we did notice some small improvements, so we will continue to occasionally optimize our AdWords campaigns. However, we will spend less time in this area than we did in 2016.
Development and Operations
Set up effective Gift Funds. We always search for ways to improve the experience of people who wish to support our recommended charities. To this end, we intend to set up two restricted Gift Funds that will facilitate effective giving. These will enable donors to select one of two options: The Recommended Charity Fund will be for donations that donors request we distribute between our Top and Standout Charities as we see fit, and the Effective Animal Advocacy Fund will be for donations that donors request we distribute entirely as we see fit. For the Effective Animal Advocacy Fund, this may include smaller groups that didn’t achieve a recommendation, but that we feel are still doing important and valuable work. These Gift Funds will work in conjunction with our bequest options, as they will provide an easy method for donated funds to be used for the aforementioned purposes. We will still retain a bequest option for those who wish to leave money to ACE.
Influence $5 million in donations to our recommended charities. We were very pleased with our substantial improvement in this area from 2015 to 2016. In 2015, we influenced $1.19 million in donations to our recommended charities; in 2016, we influenced over $3.5 million. We are setting a goal at $5 million for 2017. We chose this amount because a substantial percentage of last year’s influenced donations came from a very small number of donors, and we don’t have assurance that those donors will continue to support ACE recommended charities based on our evaluations. Additionally, the amount of giving we influenced last year for some of our Top Charities was close to the amount that we felt they could efficiently spend. We intend to monitor the amount we influence throughout the year to ensure that we don’t drastically exceed any one charity’s room for more funding.
Survey donors to ACE and our recommended charities. Each year, we survey donors to try and understand the motivations behind their behavior. We are particularly interested in the counterfactuals of their funds if they did not donate to ACE or ACE recommended charities, as this will enable us to prioritize our efforts in a way that results in the greatest possible gains.
Finalize a formal development plan to guide our efforts to raise funds for both ACE and our recommended charities. We brought in a part-time Development Director midway through 2016 who was tasked with managing our Development program and creating sustainable structures for stewardship. This year, she will compose a formal plan that will enable us to influence as many donations as possible to effective animal charities.
Improve internal databases for donors to ACE and our Top Charities. As we have dramatically increased the number of ACE and Top Charity donors over the last year, we have found that we would greatly benefit from an improvement in our current database structure. Thus, we will dedicate time to improving in this area, including increasing our use of automation where appropriate.
Set up a trust specifically for UK donors. We have had a number of UK donors express their desire for their donations to include Gift Aid, which is the equivalent of a tax benefit where charities can receive an extra 25% of a donation. Some of those donors decided to donate elsewhere in order to maximize their donation potential. We will investigate setting up a trust in the UK.
Refine our internal policies and handbook. Improve efficiency with growth, including onboarding process and general communication. As we continue to grow, we become aware of new areas where specific policies would be useful in directing staff on how to handle various situations. We intend to update these as necessary. We also intend to continue improving our communication with new and existing employees through the development of policies about preferred methods of contact.