Here are some questions we sometimes receive from our community:
- Why does ACE review such a small number of animal charities?
- Why haven’t we reviewed certain well-known charities, like PETA or the World Wildlife Fund?
- Why do we only publish charity reviews with the charities’ permission?
- Why do we allow charities to decline to be reviewed or to decline to publish reviews that we’ve written?
- Don’t we have a responsibility to share all of our concerns about animal charities with donors?
The answers to each of these questions is related to ACE’s role in the movement. ACE is an evaluator that aims to find the few most effective charities, not a watchdog organization that aims to highlight bad actors.
Watchdog organizations view their role as providing oversight for governments, industries, or movements. Even though watchdog organizations are extremely valuable, we view ACE’s role quite differently. We do not aim to monitor the entire animal advocacy movement or call attention to bad actors. Rather, we aim to identify particularly effective animal charities and direct resources towards them. In doing so, we contribute to the movement by providing positive incentives for charities that are carrying out effectiveness-oriented programs and fostering healthy organizational cultures to sustain them.
Here is a summary of some key differences between a watchdog organization and ACE:
|A Watchdog Organization||Animal Charity Evaluators|
|Role||Provides oversight for governments, industries, or movements||Identifies and promotes the most effective animal charities|
|Scope||Aims to oversee all organizations within the relevant sector||Evaluates only the charities that seem likely to be among the most effective|
|Process||Independently investigates organizations under their scope||Invites the most promising charities to participate in the evaluation process, and only publishes reviews with their approval|
|Output||Alerts citizens, consumers, and donors to inefficient and/or corrupt activities||Recommends particularly effective animal charities to donors|
|Use of incentives||Uses negative reinforcement to compel change in the worst performers and improve the movement||Uses positive reinforcement to elevate the best performers and improve the movement|
Why We Work to Identify the Most Effective Charities
Our mission is to find and promote the most effective ways to help animals. The number of animals suffering today is huge compared to the small amount of resources being invested in reducing that suffering, so it is crucial that the movement’s resources are spent as effectively as possible. Our impact as an organization comes from influencing funding to the most effective animal charities and influencing the movement to value effectiveness.
To carry out our mission, we conduct and analyze research in order to provide information about effective interventions and charities. Our approach is consistent with our commitment to effective altruism, the project of using evidence and reason to do as much good as possible. In this respect, our closest counterparts are other effective altruism research and evaluative organizations, such as GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project. We have much less in common with organizations that monitor and report on large classes of charities, such as Guidestar and Charity Navigator.
Why We Limit our Scope
Since watchdog groups aim to identify any wrongdoing in their sector, they often conduct relatively shallow quality checks of a large number of organizations. ACE, on the other hand, aims to identify only the most effective animal charities. We could, in principle, attempt to evaluate every animal charity and then hone in on the most effective ones. However, we have limited resources, and we find that it’s more efficient to focus on a smaller group of charities that seem likely to be particularly effective.
To make our evaluation process as efficient as possible, we focus on cause areas that we believe are especially promising: those that are large in scope, highly tractable, and relatively neglected. One cause area that meets these criteria is farmed animal advocacy. We are also increasingly interested in wild animal welfare, and we are always open to considering new cause areas as they develop. In general, we do not evaluate large charities that work in many different cause areas, because their programs are likely to vary widely in effectiveness.
A number of other considerations allow us to narrow down the charities we evaluate within our cause areas. For instance, we look for charities that employ effective interventions, that have significant track records, and that have plans in place that would enable them to absorb a large amount of funding. We use these and other criteria to select the organizations that we evaluate each year.
Why We Invite Charities to Participate in our Evaluation Process
Being evaluated by ACE requires significant participation from each charity. We do not simply write our reviews based on publicly available information. We also conduct interviews with each charity’s leadership; solicit information about each charity’s budget, activities, and strategy; and distribute a culture survey to each charity’s staff. Charities therefore need to have both the availability and desire to engage in our process in order for us to evaluate them. We acknowledge that information sourced from charities directly instead of third-party, independent sources is more likely to be biased. We found that the value we gain from charity participation is greater than the issue of obtaining potentially biased information.
Why We Seek Charities’ Permission to Publish our Reviews
The process of being evaluated by a third party can be uncertain and perceived as somewhat risky for charities, particularly those that have not been reviewed by us before. Allowing charities to have the final say on publication, as well as an opportunity to provide feedback on the content of the reviews, provides them with some control in the process. We believe this added security is an important factor in charities agreeing to engage in our process.
While this means that charities can withhold their reviews from publication and thus cover up any concerns we may have discovered, this is of less importance to us since we are not a watchdog organization. As part of our mission, we aim to influence funding towards the most effective charities. If our review process indicates that a charity is not operating effectively, whether or not we can publish their review is of little importance in completing that aim. It is far more important that we don’t discourage promising charities from agreeing to be reviewed in the first place by mandating publication of the review before the charity has had a chance to engage with our evaluation process.
On the surface, the work we do at ACE can appear similar to that of a watchdog organization. However, our mission is not to identify areas of concern in the movement, and we feel that focusing more on those activities would ultimately reduce our impact. For example, we could conduct shallower reviews of a much larger number of charities each year, making it more likely to identify bad actors in the movement; however, this would give us less time to identify the very best charities through our more comprehensive reviews and would therefore weaken the value of our recommendations. Ultimately, we think that our work of finding and promoting effective animal charities—as opposed to identifying the worst actors—is the most impactful way for ACE to make the biggest difference for animals.