The following is a call summary of a conversation that took place on October 4, 2016 as part of our evaluation of the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM). Michael spoke to Jacy Reese, ACE Researcher.
The strengths outlined in ACE’s last review still apply to FARM. They continue to measure and make decisions based on success metrics, are willing to reimagine themselves, deeply believe in doing things that others aren’t, and don’t shy away from attempting to answer the difficult questions that animal activists are confronted with.
In 2015-16 FARM has pioneered a novel form of online outreach that seeks to recreate the pay-per-view experience of in-person video outreach on online mediums. FARM’s evaluation of this new form of online advertising leads Michael to think it’s more cost-effective than in person pay-per-view videos because of the much lower average cost per view, which more than compensates for the moderately lower impact per view.
The Animal Rights National Conference has performed very well in recent years and has had both increasing attendance and sponsorship support. The quality of the conference has also improved, as demonstrated by reports of the conference and surveys of attendees being more positive. In particular, the conference has greater overall production value and looks much more professional. Michael believes the conference is causing the movement to simultaneously be more professional and more accessible. He also thinks it’s really important to accommodate a vast range of activists from Humane Society of the United States lobbyists to Direct Action Everywhere grassroots protestors.
FARM is a relatively small organization that does a relatively large amount of work. This means new programs are often rolled out when they are still in a beta phase, and the slow decision-making process means that sometimes outreach methods are becoming obsolete by the time they roll them out completely.
FARM’s primary decision making committee consists of Michael, Alex Hershaft, and Jen Riley (note that shortly after our conversation with Michael, he moved on from his role as Executive Director and is no longer on this committee), as well as the board’s input on the largest decisions. The way in which this committee makes decisions can be very time-consuming and cause FARM to stagnate or occasionally miss opportunities, although it also means the programs they do roll out are usually very good.
FARM’s Methods for Measuring Outcomes
FARM hasn’t made any radical changes to their methods for outcome measurements in 2015-16. They still rely mostly on self-reports paired with pledges, and the main measure of success is how many people pledge to change their diet.
Michael considers a completed pledged view to be the best measure of FARM’s success and a completed pledge viewer to be just as effective as it was in ACE’s previous review. FARM’s pledge asks people to go pledge go vegan in one of five different categories. These categories are pledging to go vegan are 0, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, or 7 days per week.
FARM’s Goals for the Coming Year
FARM is currently undergoing significant leadership changes. In mid-October Michael will no longer be in the Executive Director role at FARM, and Alex Felsinger will no longer be Program Director. FARM is still looking for a new Executive Director, and, for the first time, FARM will soon hire a Director of Marketing (note that later in October, FARM made this hire and the new staff member started working).
Michael’s understanding is that there will be more efforts towards online advertising and vegan retention, and that FARM will be a move away from a youth-heavy focus and towards spreading its online marketing and vegan retention programs to other demographics, such as families and people in their mid 30’s to early 50’s. However, those new directions would have to be confirmed by the new Executive Director and leadership team.
FARM has also been toying with completing more work that promotes vegan options at an institutional level. In 2015, they had a very successful Ben & Jerry’s campaign, but Michael believes it’s hard to know to what degree that campaign was a meaningful success. Ben & Jerry’s seemed closer to making that decision than they were publicly acknowledging, they were closer to product development than was previously thought, and it was fortunate that Ben & Jerry’s Cause of The Year was climate change. Michael believes there was lot of luck involved in the success of that campaign and, as a result, FARM has been unsure to what degree it makes sense move further in that direction.
Michael thinks that since other organizations, which have previously devoted lots of resources to promoting vegan options at institutional levels, have really stepped back from this approach, there’s reason to think that all the low-hanging fruit has been picked. It also seems like some other organizations have really cornered the market on the hospital, cafeteria, and prison institutional meat reduction so FARM would have to find new targets if they moved into that area. Again, deciding whether or not to commit more resources to this area will be a decision made by the new leadership team.
The Fundraising Situation
In 2015 FARM expanded a little too quickly and ended up spending more money than they raised. FARM probably won’t quite balance the budget over 2015-16 to compensate for this over-extension but will come very close to doing so. FARM put too much weight on the belief that new programs would be able to attract their own funds. In 2016 FARM tied budgets to every program and planned more deliberately. This new method is working well, and in 2016 FARM has made up most of the budget shortfall from 2015.
Under the new Fair Labor Standards Act, US workers will need to be paid either at least $48,000 or receive overtime for working more than 40 hours per week. Most of FARM staff work more than 40 hours per week and currently no employees have a salary of $48,000 or more. These new standards mean FARM will probably have to spend more money in order to complete similar amounts of work to previous years. FARM is hoping to raise, approximately, an additional $100,000 to prevent a budget shortfall and adhere to these new standards.
FARM has a donor who has pledged money to online advertising. That donor usually increases their pledge if they feel that others are also donating to FARM’s programs. FARM would use additional funding to balance the budget from previous years, adhere to the new labor standards, and put more money towards their online advertising.
Details on Farm’s Discontinued Activist Support Program
At some campuses, FARM representatives were approached by vegans seeking advice on what further steps they could take to help animals. In response to this, FARM initiated a program nurturing campus clubs and grassroots activism. This program was effective in the sense that there were clubs started that weren’t there before and activists were very happy with it. Unfortunately, often after FARM left that campus the club wasn’t able to support itself and stopped being as active. FARM estimated that in order to implement this program nationwide, the program’s budget would need to be tripled. They didn’t feel that allocation of funds was justified.
What Other Changes Has Farm Made?
As previously mentioned, in 2015-16 FARM explored a new type of online outreach that’s emulates the pay-per-view experience of in-person video outreach on online mediums. They consider the new approaches they have identified during this exploration to be very cost-effective.
For their pay-per-view program, next year FARM will do two tours rather than the three legs of the 10 Billion Lives Tour they have done in the past. This new tour will be completed with kiosks that can be wheeled to campuses during the school year and with screens that can also be fitted to the side of a van to use on The Warped Tour. These changes will likely mean that there will be a 20% decrease in views, but a 40% decrease in costs that should make the program overall much more effective.
Why Doesn’t FARM Focus More on Institutional Policy Work?
From 2006-12 FARM were vocally opposed to welfare reforms. Since then FARM has softened their stance, partly because of evidence that welfare reforms raise the price of animal products and this in turn allows companies like Hampton Creek to gain market share. For these reasons FARM doesn’t intend to do any work that is actively against welfare reforms.
FARM still has two serious reservations about welfare reforms. The first is that these reforms have a substantial opportunity cost because they only help a small number of animals in a small number of ways. The second is that FARM thinks that welfare reforms don’t have very meaningful effects on movement building. These reforms don’t push the movement forward and don’t change global attitudes towards animals in a meaningful way. As a result of these reservations, FARM has no intention of doing any welfare reform work themselves.
As far as promoting plant-based options, as mentioned before, FARM is worried that the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. They’re less experienced in this type of work and don’t see themselves as the best-placed organization to innovate in this area. It would be up to the new leadership team to make a decision on whether to become more involved in this area.
Why Focus on Changing Individual Diets Rather than Directly Shifting Public Attitudes?
FARM attempts to balance pragmatism and principles and thinks that organizations that drift too far in either of those directions can be ineffective. They focus on farmed animal consumption because farming harms the vast majority of animals and inspiring veganism or even partial veganism is a foot-in-the-door for antispeciesism. They want to focus on changes that people can make, with these small changes being consistent with and conducive to future steps. FARM does clearly state their vision of no animals being abused for any purpose on their website.
Does Farm Worry That Negative Campaigning Reflects Poorly on the Animal Rights Movement?
FARM doesn’t do a lot of negative campaigning but Michael believes some negative campaigning tactics do reflect badly on the animal rights movement. For instance, evidence suggests that shaming individual people is a poor tactic and that it can cause individuals to dig in their heels. FARM hopes to avoid that effect by aiming all their negative campaigns at institutions. Michael also believes that negative campaigns can be quite effective at making vegans participate more in the animal rights movement.