Archived Version: November, 2016
|Primary Work Area||Industrial Agriculture|
|Review Published||November, 2016|
What does Veganuary do?
Founded in 2013, Veganuary encourages people to go vegan for the month of January each year, hoping to both directly reduce animal product consumption and inspire long-term changes in diet and lifestyle that will reduce animal suffering, improve human health and nutrition, and help the environment. Veganuary’s website provides resources for aspiring vegans, including recipes, dining guides, and product recommendations to help make the transition to and permanent adoption of a vegan diet easier.
What are their strengths?
Veganuary’s pledge program seems likely to be a promising way to influence individuals to make long-term dietary changes that benefit animals. They frame veganism as a fun challenge using a bright and attractive website, a catchy name, and celebrity endorsements. It seems plausible to us that individuals are more likely to make a month-long commitment to veganism than an indefinite one. It also seems plausible that individuals who have tried veganism for a month are more likely to commit to the diet than individuals who have never tried it. By providing resources for vegans and communicating them in a non-judgemental tone, Veganuary may increase the chances that their participants will stick with a vegan diet.
What are their weaknesses?
Veganuary is a relatively young charity, which makes it difficult to assess some aspects of their programs, such as their capacity for growth (both organizationally and in terms of the level of public interest they can eventually attract) and the role their pledge program will ultimately have in the animal advocacy landscape, outside of its direct impacts.
While Veganuary has conducted surveys to evaluate the direct impacts of their pledge program, it is difficult to interpret their findings for at least two reasons. First, survey respondents may not be representative of all Veganuary participants. Second, we do not know how respondents would have changed their diets had they not participated in Veganuary. Plausibly, many Veganuary participants were already considering going vegan before making the Veganuary pledge.1 Therefore, we cannot determine how much responsibility Veganuary bears for the number of animals spared by their participants.
Why didn’t Veganuary receive our top recommendation?
Veganuary spends 95% of their budget on their pledge program. Focusing on a single intervention without more information about its effectiveness is risky, in that an organization could potentially spend substantial amounts of money on relatively ineffective interventions. It is possible that in the future we will know more about the effectiveness of month-long pledges relative to other interventions and be able to recommend Veganuary despite our current reservations about recommending organizations which devote such a large proportion of their resources to a single program.
Veganuary asked 2016 survey participants about their expected diet change without Veganuary. While this is useful data, we are skeptical of participant self-report. “Non-vegan follow-up survey respondents were also asked the likelihood that they would have tried veganism on their own sometime in 2016 without participating in Veganuary. About half (51%) said they would have been ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ likely to do so, while 28% said ‘somewhat’ likely and 20% said ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ likely.”—Veganuary 2016 Research Results (Faunalytics).
Table of Contents
- How Veganuary Performs on Our Criteria
- Criterion #1: The Charity Has Concrete Room For More Funding and Plans For Growth
- Criterion #2: A Back-of-the-Envelope Calculation Finds the Charity is Cost-Effective
- Criterion #3: The Charity is Working on Things That Seem to Have High Mission Effectiveness
- Criterion #4: The Charity Possesses a Robust and Agile Understanding of Success and Failure
- Criterion #5: The Charity Possesses a Strong Track Record of Success
- Criterion #6: The Charity has Strong Leadership and Long-Term Strategy
- Criterion #7: The Charity has a Healthy Culture and Sustainable Structure
- Supplementary Materials
How Veganuary Performs on Our Criteria
Criterion #1: The Charity Has Concrete Room for More Funding and Plans for Growth
Veganuary is a relatively young organization, so we have limited information about how much growth they can support based on past trends. However, they do have detailed plans for expansion, including hiring someone to focus specifically on working with companies to provide more vegan options and someone to increase the time they spend on PR. They are also considering launching an app that would allow people to take a month-long vegan pledge at any time of year, which would require development costs, but might provide an additional income stream after launch.
We think they’re in a good position for growth, with a stable existing team and clear plans for how they would expand if funding were available. Aside from the app, their plans for expansion involve growing existing programs and are relatively straightforward. In particular, it would probably be fairly easy for them to increase their corporate outreach and PR work; it might be possible for them to increase their corporate outreach by more than they’ve planned, such as by hiring one person to extend that work within the U.K. and one person to extend it to another market.
We think they could use at least an additional $100,000 to $150,000 in the next year to roughly double in size and possibly begin work on the app. Since we can’t predict exactly how any organization will respond upon receiving more funds than they have planned for, this estimate is speculative, not definitive. We could imagine a group running out of room for funding more quickly than we expect, or coming up with good ways to use funding beyond what we have suggested. Our estimates are indicators of the point at which we would want to check in with a group to ensure that they have used the funds they’ve received and are still able to absorb additional funding.
Criterion #2: A Back-of-the-Envelope Calculation Finds the Charity is Cost-Effective
Veganuary runs one main program, their pledge program, and maintains a social media presence. We estimate cost-effectiveness separately for each program and then give a composite estimate of their overall impact. Note that all estimates factor in associated supporting costs including administrative and fundraising costs. Where we give estimates as ranges, they represent our 90% subjective confidence intervals; that is, we expect the true value to be within the range given in 90% of cases.1 We think this quantitative perspective is a useful component of our overall evaluation, but the estimates of equivalent animals spared per dollar should not be taken as our overall opinion of the charity’s effectiveness, especially given that we choose not to account for some less easily quantified forms of impact in this section, leaving them for our qualitative evaluation.
Veganuary Pledge Program
We estimate that in May 2015–April 2016, Veganuary spent 95% of their budget, or around $100,000 (£71,000), on the Veganuary pledge program, including general staff costs, preparation for the event, and support of participants during and after the month of January. During January 2016, 22,951 people registered to participate in the pledge program. This is a cost of $4 to $4.80 per participant.
We estimate that in May 2015–April 2016, Veganuary spent 5% of their budget, or around $4,800 (£3,400), on social media. We estimate that during the last year the videos they shared got between 120,000 and 160,000 unique views to 95% of the video length. This gives us a cost of between $0.03 and $0.04 per video view to 95%. However, we note that users also engaged with Veganuary’s content in other ways, such as watching parts of videos and reading text posts, so the cost per engagement is lower.
All Activities Combined
To combine these estimates into one overall cost-effectiveness estimate, we need to translate them into comparable units. This will introduce several sources for errors and imprecision, so the resulting estimate should not be taken literally. However, it will provide information about whether Veganuary’s efforts are comparable in efficiency to other charities’.
Veganuary provides estimates of the number of animals spared by their pledge program based on surveys they had designed and analyzed with assistance from Faunalytics. We make some adjustments to their methodology, resulting in the conclusion that Veganuary spares between 5 and 18 animals from life on a farm per dollar spent on their pledge program. We use an impact calculator for social media to find that Veganuary spares between 0.5 and 10 animals per dollar spent on social media programs.
We weight our estimates by the proportion of funding Veganuary spends on each activity to estimate that in the short-term, Veganuary spares between 5 and 20 animals per dollar spent. We have also run parallel calculations to estimate that this means Veganuary spares animals between 2 and 5 years of suffering on farms per dollar spent. Because of extreme uncertainty even about the strongest parts of our calculations, there is currently limited value in further elaborating these estimates. Instead, we give weight to our other criteria. We also exclude more indirect or long-term impacts from this estimate, which could result in it being an underestimate of overall impact. Because charities have varying proportions of different types of impact, this makes our quantitative estimates particularly difficult to use to compare charities.
Criterion #3: The Charity is Working on Things That Seem to Have High Mission Effectiveness
Veganuary’s primary goal is to change public attitudes by convincing individuals to try (and then maintain) a vegan diet.2 The effectiveness of outreach targeted to individuals may be relatively limited compared to some other interventions. Even if Veganuary’s participants make individual dietary changes, they may not influence many others to do the same.3 By comparison, a change in corporate policy or the law can influence many people’s behavior and might have a greater indirect impact on social norms and the growth of the animal protection movement.
Still, increasing the number of vegans and vegetarians could lead to greater support for new animal-friendly policies, such as the institutional adoption of plant-based products. We think that outreach targeted to individual consumers might even be a necessary precursor to more institutional change.
It seems plausible that people are more willing to make a month-long commitment to veganism than an indefinite one, though it’s not clear whether people who have made a month-long commitment are more or less likely than others to make further commitments.4 If they are more likely to make further commitments, Veganuary’s strategy seems to be a promising one relative to other outreach programs targeted to individuals.
Veganuary engages in online outreach through its website and social media pages. These pages serve, in part, to provide information and support to individuals who are trying to maintain vegan diets. Given the high rate of vegetarian recidivism, supporting aspiring vegetarians and vegans may enhance the impact of other outreach strategies. In general, we believe that supporting current vegetarians, vegans, and meat reducers is unlikely to be as cost-effective as creating new ones. However, much of Veganuary’s audience belongs to a group at a particularly high risk of recidivism: recent diet-changers. Supportive programs that target at-risk groups of vegans are likely to be more cost-effective than supportive programs that target a more general audience of meat-reducers.
Criterion #4: The Charity Possesses a Robust and Agile Understanding of Success and Failure
Because Veganuary is a relatively young organization, they might not have had reason to make many significant changes yet even if they have a good understanding of and responsiveness to success and failure. Still, they have shown interest in expanding programs that seem to be successful. For instance, after working successfully with a chain restaurant to provide an incentive offer for Veganuary participants, Veganuary began working with five more restaurants.5
Veganuary has demonstrated an interest in self-evaluation. They surveyed their 2015 participants and published the results on their website. In our previous review, we noted a strength of their survey: they accounted for several important factors, e.g. that some pledgers began as pescetarian or vegetarian and therefore did not reduce their meat consumption as much as omnivorous pledgers. We also noted two areas of concern regarding their survey findings. First, Veganuary did not make it clear what percentage of participants responded to the survey, but those who did are probably not a representative sample of all participants. Second, it’s unclear how participants would have changed their diets if they had not been aware of Veganuary.
In 2016, Veganuary worked with Faunalytics on a more rigorous survey, and they seem eager to implement changes based on the results. For example, since they discovered that 87% of their participants are women, they have been considering ways to better recruit men. Note that while this survey was more rigorous, using it to evaluate impact is still limited by the concerns above about representativeness and counterfactual diet changes.
Criterion #5: The Charity Possesses a Strong Track Record of Success
Have programs been well executed?
Launched in 2014, Veganuary is still a relatively young organization. Their track record is not as long as the records of some more established groups. When an organization has a short history, we have little information from which to extrapolate about their future. In Veganuary’s case, one point of encouragement is that the campaign seems to be growing each year. In January 2016, they had 23,000 official participants, roughly twice the number they had in 2015.
In addition to increasing their number of participants, Veganuary has received increasing media attention. They’ve been covered in both British and American papers and were featured on the front page of The Guardian’s website. This year, they were covered on ITV News. The press interest in Veganuary may be due, in part, to their catchy name, bright and attractive website, and celebrity endorsements.
Have programs led to change for animals?
Veganuary leads to change for animals in a fairly straightforward way. By encouraging participants to change their diets, Veganuary reduces the demand for animal products and, ultimately, the number of animals raised for meat. We estimate that, on average, participants will spare between 0.4 and 1.2 animals by adhering to the pledge—or trying to—for the month of January.
In 2016, Veganuary worked with Faunalytics to investigate participants’ dietary change. They found that 51% of respondents adhered to a vegan diet for the month of the pledge. 13% of respondents were omnivores who adhered to a vegan diet for the month of the pledge. Veganuary has sought to increase its impact by encouraging long-term dietary change. In fact, Faunalytics found that, at the time of the survey in the first week of February, most participants had maintained their diet change and 81% said they planned to continue.
We recommend caution in interpreting these findings for at least three reasons, also noted by Faunalytics in their write-up and addendum. First, participants who responded to the survey are probably not a representative sample of all participants. Second, respondents may have overreported their diet change because of social desirability bias. Third, it’s not clear that Veganuary caused participants to adopt a vegan diet; some participants already were vegan and many might have been planning to go vegan.6
Criterion #6: The Charity Has Strong Leadership and Long-Term Strategy
Matthew Glover and Jane Land founded Veganuary in 2013 after considering how they could most effectively help animals. Our impression is that both remain committed to that goal, especially because of Veganuary’s focus on innovation and self-evaluation. Glover and Land both seem respected by their peers and other Veganuary staff, indicating strong leadership.
Veganuary just became a registered charity and is creating their board of trustees, composed of Glover, Land, and Martin Ashby, a vegan doctor based in Brighton. While we are usually concerned with a charity having a small board and overlap with the executive staff, this seems like a reasonable decision for Veganuary as they are so small and new as a charity. For example, having Board Members less well-acquainted with the charity could lead to drift from their mission and strategic goals.
Veganuary focuses on “inspiring and educating people to make a significant lifestyle change” and also seeks to “provide the support they need to help maintain it.” We support Veganuary’s choice to focus on promoting plant-based diets because we consider farmed animal protection to be the most promising area for doing the most good for animals, other things being equal. Veganuary values being “non-judgemental, approachable, realistic and fresh.” While there is a role in the animal movement for both approachable and confrontational charities, we don’t have strong views on which of these approaches is most useful for the movement currently and think Veganuary’s decision to foster an approachable image is reasonable.
Veganuary maintains a strategic plan that they update annually, which describes their broad goals and values as well as specific, concrete goals for the near future, such as having 50,000 participants in its January 2017 campaign.
Veganuary’s role in the animal movement is moving individuals and institutions towards plant-based diets and towards a more favorable view of veganism, such as with positive media attention. Inspiring individual consumers to make changes has a direct impact on animals by reducing production, but can also help create support for more institutional change. In particular, having a large number of vegans and vegetarians could mean more support for new animal-friendly policies, such as the institutional adoption of plant-based products. Because Veganuary takes both an individual and institutional approach, they likely can be particularly effective at using consumer demand to drive institutional policy change with less of a need for other charities to do so. Because of Veganuary’s focus on supporting people to go vegan for January, they could have a key role in encouraging people to become involved with helping animals through their diet and activism.
Criterion #7: The Charity Has a Healthy Culture and Sustainable Structure
Veganuary onboards staff with employee contracts, job descriptions, brand and style guidelines, and their charitable constitution. While they do not yet have employee manuals or other lengthy training materials, this is understandable for a young and small organization like Veganuary. We also have a limited track record for their fundraising ability. They have consistently raised funds to maintain their small staff, even though they would like to expand and are having difficulty finding sufficient funding.
Veganuary releases the results from their participant survey each year to the public. They also share financial information, their strategic plan, and other materials with the public. They were cooperative and prompt in responding to our requests for information, which required more detailed and more sensitive information than is available online.
Veganuary works with other animal charities so they and the other charities can reach a broader audience. For example, Veganuary collaborated heavily with Vegan Outreach in Fall 2015, serving as the hub of their U.K. leafleting campaign. Faunalytics has assisted them greatly in their annual participant survey.
The method we use does calculations using Monte Carlo sampling. This means that results can vary slightly based on the sample drawn. Unless otherwise noted, we have run the calculations five times and rounded to the point needed to provide consistent results. For instance, if sometimes a value appears as 28 and sometimes it appears as 29, our review gives it as 30.
See the About section of Veganuary’s website.
Veganuary asked 2016 survey participants about their impact on others in their six-month follow-up survey. While this is useful data, we are skeptical of participant self-report. “Underscoring the potential “ripple effects” of a campaign like Veganuary, nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) say they have inspired others to take steps toward a vegan diet. Another 27% say they are unsure and 9% say they have not inspired anyone.”—Veganuary 2016 Results–Six-Month Follow-Up.
They might be more likely to make further commitments if, e.g., they find that they feel healthier on a vegan diet. They might be less likely to make further commitments if, e.g. they feel they have already gotten the health benefits they were hoping for.
“Last year, Veganuary worked with a chain restaurant, Handmade Burger Company, to give participants an offer which was redeemed 20,000 times. […] Veganuary can use this success story as an example to other restaurants. This year Veganuary is working with five restaurants to provide offers, and they have already gotten offers with four of them.”—Conversation with Jane Land and Matthew Glover (September 15, 2016).
Faunalytics reports that 1 in 5 survey respondents was already vegan before making the pledge in 2016. We find it plausible that most Veganuary participants were already considering going vegan, and may have done so without making the pledge.
The following materials are supplementary research documents associated with our charity review process and are referenced in the Comprehensive Review.