ACE doesn’t usually publish thoughts about direct comparisons between specific charities. However, we’ve received a lot of requests for clarification about our decision to recommend The Good Food Institute (GFI) as a Top Charity this year, while New Harvest, a charity working in the same field with a longer track record of accomplishments, remains a Standout Charity. We think that the most satisfying way to provide this clarification is to write specifically about the differences and similarities between the two charities. Both GFI and New Harvest were offered the opportunity to review this post prior to publication.
In 2015, we reviewed New Harvest and named them a Standout Charity, primarily because we viewed the field of cultured and plant-based meats as particularly promising and important and saw New Harvest as a credible charity working in that area. At the time, New Harvest was the only charity in that field which we had reviewed. When we started the review process, GFI was still a project of Mercy For Animals (MFA), which we discussed in our 2015 review of MFA.
In 2016 we reviewed two charities for the first time that are specifically working on cultured and plant-based meats: GFI and the Modern Agriculture Foundation. We also considered updating our review of New Harvest, due to the growth we’d observed in the field in general and the possibility that New Harvest changed enough in the intervening year to lead to a substantially updated review. In an email discussion with New Harvest in summer 2016, we asked about their recent accomplishments, revenue, and spending. Based on the resulting exchange, we determined that we did not expect a new review to result in significant enough changes in our views to warrant updating our review of New Harvest ahead of schedule—and decided that we would prefer to use those resources to review another charity for the first time. We named GFI as a Top Charity in 2016, because we continue to view the field of cultured and plant-based meats as particularly promising and think that, within that field, GFI’s strategy and leadership are particularly strong. New Harvest retained Standout status, as is consistent with our practice of allowing Standout Charities to remain listed as such when not being reviewed in a given year.
We plan to review both GFI and New Harvest again in 2017—since we review Top Charities each year and Standout Charities every other year—to ensure that our reviews of recommended charities reflect a recent understanding of their work. The rest of this post focuses on the comparison between New Harvest and GFI based on our current understanding of both organizations.
Comparing Track Records
Both New Harvest and GFI have, in our opinion, very short track records relative to the scale of the programs they are trying to build. However, the length of time they have each spent engaged in their main programs are not identically short, and New Harvest clearly has the longer track record, with substantial involvement in the launch of two companies, smaller involvement in supporting several other companies, and a record of supporting various types of research that dates to at least 2008. (A major reason why we did not choose to update our review of New Harvest in 2016 is that their rate of accomplishments didn’t change very much between 2015 and 2016, in our understanding; for instance, the two companies with which New Harvest had the most substantial involvement were both launched in 2014. There may be subtler updates which we come to appreciate next year when we review New Harvest again.)
Since GFI was founded in 2015, they obviously do not have a comparably long track record to New Harvest as far as supporting research. In addition, while they told us that they expect to be involved in launching several companies within the next year, they haven’t yet been involved in the public launch of any company (though they’ve recently announced that they expect to publicize two company launches in the very near future). Like New Harvest, they do seem to have provided advice and support to both entrepreneurs and scientists involved in creating plant-based and cultured alternatives to animal products. However, this is a very soft accomplishment compared to launching a company or providing research grants and supervision, since it’s not very time- or resource-intensive and it wouldn’t in general be very clear whether advice or support provided actually made a critical difference to a project’s success.
Our reviews mention their short track records as weaknesses for both New Harvest and GFI. They are not equally short, and if our recommendations were based solely on track record, New Harvest would have at least as strong of a recommendation from ACE as GFI does.
Other Differences between New Harvest and GFI
Our recommendations are based on multiple criteria; while the strength of an organization’s track record is one indication of what they can expect to accomplish in the future, it is not the only indication. New Harvest and GFI are very similar according to some of the other criteria we use to evaluate charities. For example, since they run similar programs, there is not a substantial difference in our assessments of their mission effectiveness (the general effectiveness of their program areas). Additionally, since both focus mostly on long-term goals, we put little or no weight on our quantitative estimates of their cost-effectiveness in making relevant recommendation decisions.
In some other areas, we found substantial differences between the two organizations. One striking difference was in their plans for expansion and growth, which we discussed with each charity in connection with their room for more funding. At the time we reviewed each organization, GFI planned to grow mainly by hiring more staff to directly carry out programs, while New Harvest planned to grow mainly by making more or larger grants. While making grants without increasing the organization’s staff might be high leverage, we also see it as a potentially high-risk strategy, as it depends on outside grantees being interested in doing the work which New Harvest wants to support. Additionally, if New Harvest’s close supervision of past grantees was important to their success, increasing the number of grants without proportionally increasing New Harvest’s resources for supervising them could mean that future grantees are not as successful as past grantees. We think that hiring full-time staff is often one of the most effective ways to get particular projects to happen, and our review of New Harvest is not the only case in which we’ve been worried about a charity that planned to grow without doing so. In contrast, GFI had detailed plans for programs which they would like to expand by hiring staff with particular skills, a method of expansion that we’ve often seen charities use successfully.
Another difference between GFI and New Harvest is in their strategic approach and which areas they view as being critical for work in developing cultured and plant-based alternatives to animal products. There are multiple differences in GFI’s and New Harvest’s approaches that fall into this general area. For example, both organizations are interested in helping develop new technologies, and both have done at least some work on questions about promoting and marketing new products when they are released, but we perceive New Harvest to have a stronger focus on technology development while GFI seems to be working more on regulatory and marketing issues. We think that, while technological development and regulatory and social factors will be important in any transition from animal agriculture to cultured animal products, it’s likely that charities are most needed to support the regulatory and social change aspects, because many aspects of technology development are usually, and very effectively, handled by for-profit companies. If this is the case, it’s a point in favor of GFI’s strategy.
Another strategic difference is that New Harvest has supported companies working on the cellular agriculture of non-food products (such as one which is using the technique to make rhino horn) while GFI’s projects are exclusively focused on food production. Since we view animal agriculture as an especially important issue to address, we’re most interested in both groups’ projects when they are related to food production. We would prefer to see both charities working exclusively on projects related to food production, as GFI currently does.
Relatedly, New Harvest works fairly exclusively to promote cellular agriculture—the techniques of producing both cellular products (like meat) and non-cellular products (like milk) from cell cultures. GFI is less focused on a particular technological approach; besides work on a cellular level, they also support efforts to produce plant-based meats through more conventional means. The aspects of technological development where charitable funding seems likely to be most needed are in the earliest stages of scientific research; since marketable plant-based meats already exist, this points in favor of New Harvest’s strategy of focusing on cellular agriculture, which is in an earlier stage of development. That earlier stage of development also means New Harvest’s projects are likely to take longer to have a concrete impact than GFI’s, which could be problematic for their, or our, ability to evaluate their success or failure and for donors who want to see results sooner. Because of both charities’ short track records, the variation in when we’d expect to see concrete impact has not yet resulted in a difference we considered in recommendation decisions.
GFI seems to be more closely aligned with the goals of the animal advocacy movement in general, although both organizations mix programs that seek in part to benefit animals with messaging that also (and sometimes primarily) addresses environmental and human health concerns. We think GFI’s closer alignment with animal advocacy is another point in their favor, because it makes it more likely that their projects will be prioritized based on the number of animals who stand to benefit from them. We may already be able to see the effects of the two groups’ difference in strategy in, for example, New Harvest’s choice to support the development of cultured rhino horn, which doesn’t seem directly applicable to helping large numbers of animals (though one case is not a strong pattern).
We think GFI does slightly better than New Harvest on overall strategic considerations. This may be related to the strengths of their leadership. The people involved in any two charities will be different, and characteristics of the leadership in particular can make a big difference to a charity’s success. While this consideration is subjective and very open to differences of opinion, we are more confident in GFI’s leadership than in New Harvest’s. Bruce Friedrich, GFI’s Executive Director, also has a particularly strong reputation for strategic and practical leadership in many parts of the animal advocacy community, which we think generally supports our opinion here.
Overall, we think that the factors on which GFI and New Harvest differ tend to favor GFI as a stronger candidate for recommendation at this point in time, and that both groups have substantial strengths as well as weaknesses when assessed with our criteria. The major differences between the two charities are in track record, future plans, and overall strategy; we think that New Harvest has the stronger track record, but we are more optimistic about GFI’s prospects because we think their future plans are more likely to result in high impact work and are more in agreement with their overall strategic approach.
Our recommendations are based on our weighting of the relevant considerations, but ACE is so committed to transparency in part because we realize that there will be disagreement about how to weigh these considerations. We currently list GFI as a Top Charity and New Harvest as a Standout Charity due to our consideration of all available information, but we encourage people to read our full evaluations and arrive at their own conclusions.
We do note that GFI has an exceptionally short track record, not just among our recommended charities, but for any charity. For potential donors who are uncomfortable donating to an organization which is so young, we recommend donating to one of our other Top Charities, or, if they specifically want to support work on cellular agriculture, to New Harvest. We think that New Harvest, like our other Standout Charities, is a strong charity with significant factors working in its favor. If you donate to New Harvest because of our recommendation, we encourage you to let them, and us, know.
Jacob Funnell says
I really enjoyed reading this. I found it useful, honest and extremely clear.
One very speculative (and possibly very silly) question: if New Harvest are working on a cultured alternative to rhino horn, couldn’t they could come up with a way of becoming self-funding (through coming up with something commercially viable) more quickly than GFI?
Allison Smith says
As far as we know, neither New Harvest nor the Good Food Institute intends to become self-funding. Both are donation- and grant-supported non-profits, and will probably remain so. It’s possible that some of the projects New Harvest has supported will themselves become self-supporting earlier than the projects GFI has supported (maybe only because New Harvest started operations earlier). But we expect that plant-based products will mostly be technically easier to create than cultured products (and therefore easier to make commercially viable), so we think some of the projects and companies GFI is currently helping to launch are at least as likely to become self-supporting as projects New Harvest has worked on.