David Coman-Hidy is the executive director of The Humane League (THL). He spoke with ACE Researcher Jacy Reese on September 16, 2016.
The Humane League’s Strengths
THL fosters an ethos of effectiveness and adaptability. One of their greatest strengths is their highly efficient corporate relations and campaigns team. They are able to take on many campaigns at once, managing dozens of relationships. THL also has a large network of grassroots organizers in major metro areas and on college campuses across North America (and one in Mexico). The people in this network are adaptable; they can do outreach and education, fundraising, institutional campaigning, and effective advocacy trainings.
THL conducted a mandatory, anonymous internal survey and found that their employees have high morale and high job satisfaction. Even though they have expanded rapidly, they have increased their support staff and they have high team spirit and low turnover.
THL works to collaborate with and assist other organizations, e.g. hosting skill-sharing events in Europe and the United States. They also formed the Open Wing Alliance, a global cage-free campaign network (described in more detail below). THL’s media presence has grown over the past year and the coverage of THL’s corporate outreach campaigns has been legitimizing and positive.
The Board of Directors at THL is both independent and involved, which is useful for safeguarding their mission.
The Humane League’s Weaknesses
Considering their impact, THL still has limited name recognition. Their social media presence is growing quickly, but they still have a relatively small mailing list. They are actively working to improve in both these areas and have already made significant strides.
A large portion of THL’s funding comes from several major donors or foundations, which is not ideal. They hope to expand their profile to gain more smaller donors.
Highlights from the Past Year
One of the most exciting outcomes of THL’s cage-free campaigns was the United Egg Producers’ pledge to end chick culling, which indicated the momentum started by cage-free policy changes.
THL expanded their outreach campaigns into Mexico and the UK successfully, and they plan to expand to Japan in the near future. THL has also expanded human capital in the movement by recruiting and maintaining activists, especially on college campuses.
THL considers the establishment of the OWA to be a major accomplishment that will hopefully be valuable for the international animal rights movement.
The Open Wing Alliance
Groups in the United States have worked together and been very successful at getting corporations to make cage-free commitments. THL hopes to take advantage of the cage-free momentum and get all of the major global corporations to implement global cage-free policies. The alliance has already had successful meetings with companies like Sodexo and Compass Group.
THL is hoping to create a strong bond among the groups in the OWA. Working together and sharing ideas has helped groups in the United States, but we haven’t seen that as much in Europe and other places yet. THL supports some of the smaller European groups with training and skill-sharing events. They also plan to administer $200,000 in grants to these groups before the end of 2017.
Di Lamont has just moved into a position as manager of the alliance. She will be starting a newsletter and working on securing media. THL hopes that the alliance will take on other issues besides cages.
The Humane League’s Goals
THL’s primary medium-term goal is to continue to build their global campaign network.
THL hopes to build on their grassroots work and get their networks more involved in campaigns. They started using their grassroots networks in demonstrations and hope to continue to leverage their power in the fight for broiler chickens. THL hopes to build a network of trained activists. They may start hosting mini training conferences for student activists.
Humane League Labs (HLL) has been producing sophisticated studies and they hope to continue to make progress in research.
Internally, THL is currently focused on strategic planning for the next five years. They hope to build even more cohesion between their campaigns and outreach departments. They also plan to continue expanding and professionalizing their staff.
Room for Additional Funding
Last year’s fundraising goal was $1.3 million and THL brought in $1.7 million. Next year, they hope to diversify and invest in hiring development professionals. They are working on building their monthly donors and medium-sized donors. They hope to continue to expand, bringing in about $3.5 million in 2016 and $5 million in 2017.
THL hasn’t yet finished its budget for next year, but they will likely use additional funding to further the goals mentioned above. They will expand youth training and outreach and their international work. The latter will require hiring a corporate relations person in France, where many companies are headquartered, and THL will likely expand quite a bit in the UK.
In major cities that don’t have a local group but where THL wants to build more campaign presence, they are considering hiring more local grassroots organizers. They are currently testing the impact of hiring a local grassroots organizer in Mexico City.
THL also hopes to hire a full-time video and staff writer, and more administrative support. They expect their healthcare costs to increase next year, as well.
THL had a tough time finding a researcher to work with Harish Sethu at HLL, but they found someone for an interim position and will be looking for more staff at HLL in 2017.
THL always needs good generalists to do grassroots and campaign work. It can be difficult to find people with truly expert communications skills, e.g. for a Director of Communications position.
The Open Philanthropy Project and The Benefits of Grassroots Activism
Grants from The Open Philanthropy Project (OPP) have rapidly expanded THL’s work. There is less money available to support grassroots work, although there is still room for more funding in campaigns work. Increased campaigns support also increases the opportunities available for grassroots efforts because those efforts can support the campaigns through public pressure on companies.
Foundations might have a bias against grassroots work because its effects are difficult to measure. One benefit of THL’s grassroots work is that some former THL activists go on to work at other groups. The importance of youth outreach and development is evidenced by investments made by other movements and in politics. Coman-Hidy plans to fundraise for these projects in addition to seeking more funding for the campaigns work.
One major change is that THL has been able to channel more resources towards local grassroots efforts that support their institutional campaigns. They will continue moving in that direction.
They’ve moved some resources to the campaign for Massachusetts’ anti-confinement ballot initiative.
They’ve also put more emphasis into leadership development, creating more intern and volunteer positions. They are considering changing their campus program from a semester-long program to a year-long program, to better develop student leaders who can go on to work full-time in the animal movement.
As THL expands, they are focusing more on staff wellbeing and morale. They’ve increased pay and are working on increasing benefits. They also solicit more feedback from their employees.
Humane League Labs produces studies that likely wouldn’t meet standards for peer-reviewed academic work. Why do they conduct and publicize studies with these flaws?
HLL has been doing the best they can with the resources they’ve had. They plan to commit considerably more resources towards research in the future. Harish Sethu has recently taken over HLL and put together a new website. This is especially promising given the new funding available for effective animal advocacy research.
Why does a significant portion of THL’s outreach focus on dietary change, e.g. reducing meat consumption, rather than directly shifting public attitudes?
Broadly speaking, THL’s activities are designed to shift public attitudes in favor of animals. THL thinks that antispeciesism is best addressed through addressing people’s behavior. We need to fight for incremental changes piece by piece, and over time people’s attitudes will shift. It is difficult to imagine a world free of speciesism that does not include activists working to achieve specific incremental changes for animals.
Some would argue that the development of animal-free foods will be the key turning point for ending animal farming. Why does THL focus on promoting veg eating instead of facilitating these technologies?
There is already a lot of funding available for businesses that will make money selling food. There is less funding available for animal activism.
A lot of THL’s work facilitates the sale of animal-free foods. They’ve gotten companies to switch their mayonnaise and cookies to Hampton Creek. Many companies they’ve worked with have agreed to adopt Meatless Mondays. HLL hopes to work hand-in-hand with companies like The Good Food Institute to promote their products when they become available.