Early in 2015, we surveyed our own donors about their use of our recommendations and their sense of what our greatest contributions are. Unfortunately, we knew that donor survey missed many people we seek to serve, because our goal is to provide advice and assistance to a wide variety of animal advocates. We see these people as important parts of our audience if they can use the resources we provide, not only if they also choose to donate to ACE itself. One important group of these people is donors to our top charities. This summer, we sent out a survey to them in order to get a better understanding of how we influence donations, and how we can serve donors better.
We wanted to send the survey to people who had donated to our top charities and who decided to do so at least in part because of our recommendation. However, it’s hard to identify exactly who these people are. Not all donors to ACE’s top charities are influenced by our recommendations, so we’ve developed ways of tracking which donations we did influence, but all these methods miss some donations. We asked our top charities to send the survey to donors they knew were influenced by ACE, but we know this didn’t reach every donor we influenced. In particular, we think the survey was more likely to reach larger donors with a closer relationship to the organization, and donors who were very influenced by ACE, and less likely to reach small donors and those who saw our recommendation as one of many factors in their decision to donate. This is because donors likely communicate more with organizations to which they are giving more money, and because donors who are more influenced by ACE are more likely to have somehow reported being influenced by ACE.
We got a total of 34 responses to our survey. We don’t know the total number of people it was sent to, because donors’ identifying information is confidential; our top charities could not share it with us. Since most donors reported donating to more than one of our top charities, some may have received the survey more than once. The survey was set up not to accept more than one response from the same computer, and also warned donors not to take it multiple times, so we hope that we did not receive multiple responses from the same individual. However, we can’t verify this, and we don’t know the overall response rate.
With all these caveats, it’s clear we can’t treat this as a representative sampling of all donors influenced by ACE. But we can use it to give us some information about how we influence donors.
Donors following ACE’s recommendations support multiple charities
We asked donors which of our top charities they’d donated to since we began recommending them, and how much our recommendation had influenced that decision.
Most had donated to at least two of our current top charities. (The charity most commonly represented was The Humane League, which also had the strongest ability to identify ACE-directed donors, so we don’t want to draw conclusions from how often specific charities were mentioned.)
Consistent with our expectations that the survey would be most likely to reach donors who were very influenced by ACE’s recommendation, respondents said that most of their decisions to support top charities were “very strongly” influenced by ACE’s recommendations.
Without ACE’s recommendation, donors would have supported similar charities – but not as strongly
We asked what donors would have done with their donations if not for ACE’s recommendation. We think this question is crucial to understanding our impact, because our influence is greatest if most of the donations we help direct come from money that would otherwise have been donated in much less effective ways, or not donated at all. If we are simply reaching people who support farm animal advocacy and causing them to switch their donations to slightly different advocacy groups, we aren’t making as large a difference as we would like.
People were allowed to make more than one choice, and many did, indicating that their other plans for the money they donated were complicated or uncertain. A large number did indicate that their alternative plans included donating to other farm animal advocacy groups. To better understand our impact on their donations in these cases, we also checked how many respondents said that their only use of the money would have been donating to farm animal advocacy groups, even without ACE’s recommendation. This group was much smaller; while 64% of respondents included donating to farm animal advocacy groups in the responses they selected, only 16% indicated that would have been the only use for the money that they actually donated to ACE’s top charities. Others would have donated less or no money, or would have made some of their donations to charitable groups working in areas we think are generally less effective.
Donors were divided on whether additional recommendation areas would be useful
We asked, “Would you find it valuable to have recommendations across a variety of animal advocacy cause areas? For example, top “companion animal” charities, top “wild animal” charities, etc?” 55% of respondents said they would not find this valuable, but 45% said this would be useful to them. However, the comments we received on this question indicated that those who did not think recommendations in additional areas were a good idea felt much more passionately about the issue: we only got two comments from people in favor of additional recommendation areas, and both were clarifying what features of such a program would be useful to them. Over half the respondents who said additional recommendations would not be useful to them left additional comments, sometimes to the effect that such recommendations would be negative overall.
We don’t think that the group of people who took this survey is the group which would be most likely to donate more effectively if we recommended charities in additional cause areas. Donors to our top charities are clearly willing to donate to farm animal advocacy groups, and to take our current recommendations, which we think are probably better than recommendations in other animal cause areas would be. If we did provide recommendations in other areas, it would be in the hopes of influencing people who are committed to donating to a particular cause to think more about effectiveness within that cause area, potentially leading them to be open to other areas with better giving opportunities in the future. But we don’t know how well this would work, and we don’t want to take the risk of developing such recommendations if they will negatively affect our ability to direct donations to the charities we think are helping the most animals overall. Asking current donors to our top charities what they would think of recommendations in other cause areas is one way we’ve tried to explore this possibility. At this stage we don’t intend on pursuing evaluations in other cause areas because of concerns of lowering our overall impact as well as alienating key stakeholders.
This survey was small and not representative of all donors influenced by ACE. However, it does give us some additional information about the effects we have had on donor behavior, a major component of our impact in helping animals. In particular, donors who rely heavily on our advice would not in general have donated as much money to farm animal advocacy without our recommendation. This is good news, since we think a large part of the advantage of donating to our top charities is that farm animal advocacy offers excellent opportunities for impact compared to other areas.