During our charity evaluations process this year, we made the difficult decision to discontinue our recommendation of two of our 2020 Top Charities: the Albert Schweitzer Foundation (ASF) and the Good Food Institute (GFI). This blog post aims to provide a deeper explanation of our reasoning and answer some of the questions raised by our audience. The crux of our decision for each organization was related to culture issues that we identified during our evaluation process.
How does ACE handle culture issues detected in our evaluation process?
Over the years, there have been several instances where we have been approached by current or former staff of an organization under review who are looking to provide a testimonial of their experiences with the organization. Additionally, we often uncover culture issues through our staff culture surveys, which we administer to all staff and volunteers as part of the evaluation process. We take issues we detect seriously and incorporate any relevant findings into our decision-making process for charity recommendations.
Given that culture issues can arise as a result of one bad actor, we recognize that culture issues may occur at organizations regardless of how good their wider culture is, and that they can not always be prevented. This can be especially true for larger organizations, where there are many more opportunities for issues to arise. Because of this, we do not automatically discontinue the recommendation of a charity for having any culture issues—there have been several instances in which we have continued to recommend a charity after uncovering issues. We assess each case on an individual basis, and broadly speaking, we consider the following factors:
- The severity of the complaint(s)
- The number of corroborating testimonials from different individuals
- The trustworthiness of the source(s)
- The degree to which the cases were isolated vs. likely to repeat in the future
- The degree to which senior leadership at the organization are implicated in the complaint
- The degree to which senior leadership have adequately handled the situation
As part of this process, we try to get a response from leadership to better understand how they have addressed any issues. However, we err on the side of preserving the anonymity of individuals who reach out to us with concerns, and there are some situations in which we are very restricted on what we can report back to the organization or share publicly.
Why did we not recommend ASF?
During our evaluation of ASF, we administered a staff culture survey that found about a third of respondents had witnessed harassment or discrimination during the past year. We were particularly concerned that a great majority of those who had witnessed harassment or discrimination felt that the situation was not appropriately handled. In such cases, we try to assess whether leadership have appropriately responded to the incident.
ASF’s leadership reported that three staff members had made an informal complaint. The board looked into the complaint and concluded that it was not a discrimination issue. Based on feedback about how the informal complaint was handled, ASF decided to set up a new reporting mechanism, organize a mandatory training on German anti-discrimination law for all staff members, and hire two coaches to resolve the remainder of the conflict. We were concerned about i) the length of time it took to initially address the problem, and ii) that the steps to address the problem appeared to focus on establishing whether or not the situation was legally considered harassment or discrimination, rather than addressing the culture issues and the effects of the alleged harassment or discrimination on staff. ASF’s leadership disagrees with the latter assessment.
We’d like to note that ASF performed well on all of our other criteria and continues to exhibit strong programmatic work. We are encouraged that ASF appears to be taking steps to address our concerns, and we are planning to evaluate them again in 2022.
Why did we not recommend GFI?
During our evaluation of GFI this year, we received several reports from current and former staff that alleged both retaliation and fear of retaliation by GFI’s top leadership for voicing disagreements at the organization. We found the reports to be reliable and substantial enough in their severity to not continue recommending GFI in 2021. As the reports were shared with us in confidence, and we prioritize protecting the identity of any current or former staff members who reach out to us, we cannot disclose any more specific information about this case to GFI.
GFI’s leadership offered to hire an independent third-party investigator to whom we could provide the details of the allegations without disclosing any details to GFI. Although we greatly appreciate GFI’s interest in proactively addressing the allegations, we declined to participate in such a process for two main reasons: i) the reports were shared with us in confidence and we could not share details externally, and ii) we have a policy of not conducting additional investigations into charities that we review. We prioritize protecting the identity of individuals who contact us, and we have committed to not share the reports with GFI’s leadership or any other third parties. We do not have the capacity to conduct this type of investigation for all of the charities that we evaluate, and we are aware that further investigations of this kind may take a long time and risk impeding our charity evaluations process. Additionally, if we conduct this kind of investigation, it may bias us in favor of larger organizations that have the capacity and resources to engage in such an investigation.
In our review of GFI, we also expressed some uncertainty about the likelihood that cell-cultured meat products will reach cost-competitiveness with animal-based meat products. While we do have some uncertainties around this, they were not substantial enough to factor into our recommendation decision of GFI, and we continue to think that cell-cultured meat is a high-priority cause area based on the available evidence.
We’d also like to note that GFI performed well on all of our other criteria and continues to exhibit strong programmatic work. GFI’s average score in our culture engagement survey was 6.4 out of 7, and 96% of GFI staff generally agree that leadership guides the organization competently. We are encouraged that GFI appears to be taking steps to address our concerns, and we are planning to evaluate them again in 2022. GFI’s official response to our review is here.
How should regular donors to ASF and/or GFI proceed?
We aim to publish reviews that are as transparent as possible so that donors can make informed decisions, and we think that our current Top and Standout charities represent some of the best giving options for donors in animal advocacy right now. That said, we do not take a particular stance on whether donors should stop donating to former recommended charities. This is a personal decision for each donor to make, and it may depend on our reason for not continuing to recommend the organization. For example, some donors may not weigh the importance of each of our criteria to the same degree that we do, and thus they may disagree with some of our decisions. Additionally, donors who do want to adjust their portfolios in light of our recommendations may want to do so more gradually so as not to cause abrupt funding changes at organizations that are no longer recommended—this may be especially true for larger donors. For former Top Charities such as ASF and GFI, we continue to collect recurring donations through our platform until the end of the year to give them some time to prepare for any revenue changes.