David Coman-Hidy is the president and Andrea Gunn is the executive vice president of The Humane League (THL). They spoke with ACE Research Associate Aaron Call on July 17, 2018. This is a summary of their conversation.
What do you consider to be the Humane League’s three biggest accomplishments in the last year?
As far as program accomplishments go, the first in the U.S. is definitely the progress of the broiler campaign. A bit over a year ago now, we launched the campaign to reform how chickens raised and killed for meat are treated. Since then, we’ve got nearly 100 companies to sign on to a policy created by a coalition of animal groups. In 2017, THL was involved in 45 of the commitments—and we’ve gotten many more this year, though we are currently focused on getting McDonald’s to join that coalition. It’s been a surprising amount of progress so far, and the fact that Purdue came out and said that they would be willing to switch over all of their farms to meet supply was something that we hadn’t expected to happen so quickly. That’s the biggest thing in the broiler fight.
We would say the progress in the U.K. is probably the most surprisingly positive. And then the Open Wing Alliance has been a success in terms of the number of global commitments that all the major manufacturers have made to be cage free. These are probably the three things that stick out in my mind as the biggest for accomplishments in the last year.
For what it’s worth, we also think it’s hard for our work in growing the movement, getting more activists involved, and training more young people to stand out as the biggest thing we did this year because it’s a less attention-grabbing policy, but we would feel remiss if we didn’t mention that we’ve gotten a lot of activists on board and trained them. That’s part of the problem with grassroots work; it’s the most essential thing to build raw materials, but how do you measure it other than number of people?
How do you measure outcomes for your most important programs at present?
For each program, we have strategic aims—a number of different metrics that we look at. For the welfare policies it’s pretty straightforward: we either get a public commitment or we don’t. You can also roughly estimate the number of animals those policies impact. That’s one way we look at it, but we try to look at the welfare campaigns holistically from beginning to end. We ask “what are the companies and sectors that we need to knock out?” and “in what order makes the most sense?” It doesn’t always just equate to “what is the next biggest company to get the most animals?” It’s much more about picking what fits as the next step in the overarching strategy. That’s basically the most important outcome we are looking at on the campaigns: whether we have won the most important next strategic target to make the rest of the dominoes fall quickly.
As far as movement building goes, we have our online ads and our outreach, and that’s also easy to measure how many people we are reaching. We try to reduce the cost of getting conversions and getting people to see videos. We also look at the number of volunteers in each city, but we are actually trying to become a lot more sophisticated than this; we started using EveryAction, which is like a database platform that can add what are called “action points,” based on what volunteers do. So if they come to a protest, if they go leafleting, if they do something online with us, it measures a certain number of points that we assigned to the value of each of those actions—kind of like the difficulty of each of those actions. We are gauging their commitment and their level of activity with THL. Previously, we would have “tiers” of volunteers, but this was much more qualitative. For example, we’d ask our grassroots director in Boston to keep a spreadsheet of how many people are “tier one” volunteers (volunteers you can count on to do anything), how many people are “tier two” volunteers (volunteers who consistently show up), and how many people are “tier three” volunteers (volunteers who are active once per month). Now we’re systematizing it so that we can actually say that a certain person has x number of action points in our database.
We think EveryAction will be really helpful moving forward, and it also just gives us a lot more data in the database so that we know if we can start targeting asks. Let’s say there’s a bad bill coming up in a region and we need some people to go to the State House. We will be able to identify someone with the national volunteer program who is doing an insane amount of action in that area and we could call them and see if they’d be up for taking on a big responsibility.
We also have the Open Wing Alliance, which has a whole separate kind of rubric that we’re using to measure our grantees by. With that, we’re looking at the involvement of all the groups in the global campaigns, as well as their regional campaigns using a mix of qualitative and quantitative assessment of how things are going.
What do you consider to be The Humane League’s major strengths?
First, a big strength is our strategic approach to things. I think we have a history of identifying spaces in the movement where we could fill a niche or add the most value, and we’ve been pretty flexible in going after that thing really aggressively. One example is our focus on the broiler campaign right now. A lot of our grassroots offices before that were really focused on smaller cage free support and were mostly doing things like outreach and social events. Eighteen months ago, they switched 50% of their time to supporting the broiler campaign. I think that’s the reason that we’ve been able to make so much progress so quickly. Before that is the example of doing Meatless Monday campaigns, with some of our cities turning on a dime there. Thinking internationally about the role that our team plays in the coalitions in the various countries, I think that we’re really good at being a team player, seeing where we can add the most value, and going after that and being flexible. I think if there’s anything responsible for our success, that’s probably the most important thing.
I think the second biggest strength is our staff and our culture. I think that we have a really strong team. We historically have a pretty high morale where people feel pretty positive about working with each other, and that’s best for the volunteers. That culture has created a pretty sustainable, positive, and inclusive network of people who want to work with THL.
The willingness to be flexible extends beyond our strategy. Flexibility is also used tactically in our campaigns. The fact that we’ve been willing to do a lot of aggressive campaign actions that most groups working on this issue wouldn’t be has been helpful. On the flip side, with the Open Wing Alliance, we’re often playing good cop and filling roles that we wouldn’t normally fill in the U.S. That’s a kind of thinking that spread through all of our staff. Another strength is our generosity with other organizations. I think the Open Wing Alliance this year is the area where we are doing the most good and that’s because we’ve focused on taking everything we’ve learned in the U.S. and giving guidebooks and even free training put on by our staff for other groups. We’ve seen huge progress in other countries and are seeing groups really grow, expand, and become more professional. Providing that support free of charge to other organizations is another big strength.
What do you consider to be some of The Humane League’s biggest weaknesses?
One weakness is just bandwidth, which is probably something we mentioned in last year’s interview. Many of the groups that we’ve been talking to have received a lot of grant funding, especially from Open Phil, in the last few years—and that’s meant a really big expansion of programs and catching up in terms of number of support staff and making sure that there’s the right balance between the programs and the support staff in all of the various countries. It’s very hard to plan for when you’re a smaller group and you keep growing very quickly. I think we are in a much better place now than we were last year. We went from two development staff last year to six now. We’ve added a bunch of administrative staff, we have a financial manager, and we now have a lawyer, so it’s definitely a lot better. Despite that growth, we are still hiring for more support staff and need to keep doing that, so that’s definitely an area where we have not fully caught up. With that comes how we communicate across teams, and we are still figuring out the most efficient way for everyone to communicate, especially being remote. We’re currently working with a volunteer consultant from Bain who specializes in change management. We’re looking at our organizational chart to see if there’s a better way to structure some of the departments so that projects are managed more efficiently.
Being a fully remote organization, there are a lot of strengths to that in terms of having a big network, saving a lot of money, being able to hire anyone around the country, and so forth. But that also comes with a lot of challenges. Maintaining that high level of staff cohesion and culture in a remote organization is definitely a challenge, and that’s something we need to set aside time for. For example, we focus on having long retreats and those kinds of things. It makes it hard to roll out a change and train people quickly when everyone’s remote, so we bring them together—but that could also slow us down. Another example is when we incorporate a new software. We don’t necessarily want to fly all of our staff out together to get trained on using software, so it takes a little longer than it would for other organizations.
A final weakness is that we still haven’t figured out the best way to address diversity issues, especially in our hiring pool. That’s a big challenge. We are definitely still a very white organization and I have not figured out the best way to expand the hiring pool, but we’re meeting with Encompass soon to help address this.
How often do you get together for retreats and other staff events?
We have an annual all-staff retreat that everyone comes to and then we try to have every department meet separately once per year. It depends on what we need. For example, we just expanded our communications team. They then had a retreat so that they could all work together and set goals together. On the other hand, last year we saw a need to bring together everyone who was campaigning, so we had our grassroots staff, our campaign staff, and our corporate relations people all come together for a retreat so that they can get more aligned. It’s not necessarily just departmental.
As an organization, what are your goals for the coming year? Have your long-term goals changed since our last review?
We spent a lot of time this year doing more of a formal strategic planning process and really putting time and effort into doing the process the way a for-profit company would. The same concepts are still there, but we’ve reworded them and it’s much more formalized at this point. We’re in the process now of setting goals with all the employees that feed into the larger goals. The first strategic game for THL is winning progress on the welfare commitments or welfare reforms, and that unites all of our countries on different levels. In Mexico, we’re still at the beginning of the cage free fight. In the U.S. or perhaps in the U.K., we’ve just wrapped up cage free and are moving on to broilers. Globally, through the Open Wing Alliance, everyone is at totally different levels. That includes the ballot initiative we are working on in California and it also includes starting to develop a strategy for enforcing the commitments—looking at the companies who are coming up on their deadlines and seeing how we are going to tackle that. That’s all something that we are just beginning to do in the U.S.
The second priority is growing the animal rights movement, and also increasing the kind of leadership skills and general skills within the movement. Anything that we do that’s outreach-related (like the online ads program and other social events), and anything that helps build the community and draw people into the cause (like getting media coverage) would also fall under that. A lot of grassroots work falls under that priority, but also things like our campus program, which is more focused on leadership development. We do a lot of webinars with Open Alliance groups and volunteers, so we want to make sure we’re focusing on building the number of people and also building the quality of activists. This also includes expanding our reach, because we wouldn’t want to have everyone in say Philadelphia, for example. We want to find key areas where we don’t have a lot of volunteers (like the Midwest) so we can make sure that we have volunteers and students all over the country and all over the globe.
We’ve found that it’s important to expand our reach for political work—if we can play a part with a ballot measure down the line or stopping bad bills—in addition to having regional people who can show up and be in the neighborhood of companies that are headquartered all over.
Third is to collaborate with the animal rights movement in a generous, productive, and positive way. All of our staff members now have, or will have, goals that are directly tied to this. For example, the leaders of our departments are tasked with making sure they’re coordinating and communicating with the people in similar roles at other groups. This of course ties most directly into our work with the Open Wing Alliance, and also our coalitions in the U.S.—such as the ballot initiative in California and the McDonald’s campaign. We do similar coalition work in Mexico and in the U.K. now, so it’s been said very explicitly to everyone on staff that we want qualitative feedback from other groups to be sure that THL is really awesome to work with. For instance, we run the McDonald’s coalition calls each week and we’re surveying all the people who are on those calls to get feedback on how THL is doing and how it is to work with us. This is one of our four strategic goals for the organization that is really, really important to us: we want to set a really good example of being an ego-less group when we are working with others. Another part of that is actually creating training materials for our campus programs or the Open Wing Alliance and beyond—and, if we see that there’s a need for having more formal methods and training, with our national volunteer program.
The fourth and final priority is to ensure that our internal structure and culture support long-term success. This is probably similar to something a lot of organizations have as a goal, but for us, when thinking about some of the weaknesses we mentioned before (growing quickly, being international, and being remote) we think it’s really important that we focus on the long-term success of THL. This includes making sure our funding is sustainable and that we are not solely relying on a few major donors or big grants. We’ve been investing heavily in things like direct mail and building up smaller donors, getting more of our activists as donors and more of our donors as activists, so on and so forth. Additionally, we are focusing on becoming a more professional internal organization. This includes hiring more professional support staff, making sure the goal-setting process is very thorough, ensuring that we are clear about best practices, etc.
What’s your process for identifying where you’ll have the most impact?
Thinking globally, the way we see it is that we don’t want to expand into new countries as THL. We think it’s good for us to be in Mexico because we fill an important role there, and we think it’s good for us to have two people in Japan right now because there would be no one doing corporate outreach there if it wasn’t for our two staff. In the U.K., there was no one filling the role that we are now filling, and it’s a place where there are fundraising opportunities. The U.K. [branch of THL] is now an independent charity and they’ll be able to fundraise independently. Other than those exceptions, our preference is really to use the Open Wing Alliance as a way to partner with organizations in other areas. It’s very inexpensive for us to locate people in various regions, offer them training and grants, but mostly bring them into the community. We have regional summits and also a global summit for the Open Wing Alliance where we bring groups together and talk about regional strategies. Our approach is to prioritize light-touch partnering with people and regions, and it has been very successful.
In terms of THL’s resources and how we are going to split our budget between Mexico, the U.S., and the U.K., the growth in Mexico has been pretty limited—we’re at about five or six staff members right now. In the U.K., we are waiting for that branch’s independence so that they can grow themselves. It’s pretty conservative, because while we want to have the right number of people to fill the role that we want to fill there, we’re not trying to grow just to grow. In the U.S., we’re thinking more regionally of how we pick where to go. Historically we’ve opened up grassroots offices in big cities, but we’re revisiting this strategy now because we’ve had a lot of success in the last year with the national volunteer program. In this program, remote volunteers get a lot of one-on-one support virtually from our staff. I think that approach is probably something that we’ll invest in more going forwards. Similarly to with the Open Wing Alliance, this volunteer program allows us to inexpensively try to cover the whole map. For example, if we need someone in Columbus, Ohio, rather than hiring someone there, it’s quite inexpensive to have one of our people research how to find a volunteer there, through a vegan Facebook group for example, so it’s not a big deal to find volunteers once you identify where you want to be. The approach we will probably take going forward is to invest more in the rest of the map. What we choose geographically depends on whatever campaign we are going to launch. We look at headquarter cities and Chris (who runs corporate relations in the U.S.) has a whole spreadsheet of geographical locations and the percentage of companies there in addition to major metropolitan areas.
For the national volunteer program, we just want to have an even spread of people. For example, if we do a campaign with McDonald’s, McDonald’s is everywhere—so being able to have actions everywhere is really powerful. With the campus program, we have a spreadsheet of the top 1,500 schools in the country and they’re rated using a rubric based on the ranking of the school, the diversity index, and the size. Size doesn’t really influence whether or not we go, it’s actually because really small schools might be more strategic sometimes. Using that rating, we have our top 50 schools that we want to be in if we can, and that’s how we prioritize.
What does The Humane League do to create or revise your strategic plan (or set strategy, in a situation where there isn’t a formal plan)? How often do you revise your plan? How is the board involved?
This year is the first year in which we have done something really formal, where a consultant volunteered to come in and work with us in putting together a very formal plan. In previous years it was relatively informal—the leadership team would get together every few months and talk about how things are going and what we were going to do for the next four months. It was not very formal outside of just a document. Now with the strategic goals that we laid out, we have all the metrics assigned to those, all the sub-goals that fall onto the various departments, and we are going to be assessing the plan quarterly. Every quarter, the staff will give updates on how things are going and then we will have a staff meeting where it’s presented to everyone. In terms of actually revising the strategic plan, that will be done biannually—once in the summer and once in the winter. This year we are introducing a new process, so we are really only just now rolling it out—but next year will be twice a year that we really dig into it. The next step is that the board reviews it with the budget, so we basically present the strategy for the year and the budget that goes with it. We also have a three-year plan that goes with the one-year plans, so that will hopefully be revised less.
Teams are actually looking at their goals and their progress more frequently, depending on the goal. For McDonald’s, we really need to think about it almost every week to know what’s going on. For things like morale, we prefer to assess that monthly or quarterly. The leadership team will be talking about goals quarterly, and the departments will be talking monthly. This brings up a point about more granular strategy: In the U.K., for example, they just launched their first broiler campaign last week and they won it in four hours, but they’ve planned a month of campaigning—so they’ve very quickly had to move up a number of dates that they had not expected. The whole point of the strategic plan is to give people that kind of autonomy and the flexibility of knowing where we are headed, so that they as a small team can quickly make those decisions.
How do you see The Humane League’s work fitting into the overall animal advocacy movement? What can you say about the ways in which it supports or is supported by the work of other advocates?
We want to be the ultimate team players as a part of who we are as an organization. I think in the U.S., we’ve taken on a bit more of a leadership role—especially in a number of the campaigns. We provide a lot of the grassroots power behind actions, as well as a lot of the on-the-ground pressure for the campaigns. We also do corporate outreach and we have a pretty extensive corporate outreach program, so we meet with companies and apply pressure in that way as well, or we try to convince them to make a move without the campaign.
As far as our work globally, we provide a lot of training. We host summits where we try to get people on the same page strategically. We’ve seen the success that the groups have had working together in the U.S. and we’re trying to bring that ethos to other places by having regional summits where we can be a third party. Frankly, it’s kind of helpful that we are often not in the region with our own interests, so we can bring people together and be happy to give them training and show them that they can be part of these global campaign victories with us. We can also show them how, by working together in a relatively easy way in their region, they can crank out some really big wins. That’s been really productive. If there’s anything THL can do during our entire existence, if we can make the animal rights movement work together, that would be the ultimate victory for us.
What would you say is the maximum amount of funding you think The Humane League could effectively use next year?
This year our budget is about $7.4 million. We haven’t started our formal budgeting process yet, but the reality is that because of our re-granting program and the number of very qualified and good groups out there around the world who could use the support, I think it’s a very, very high ceiling because we have this high-impact escape valve to release extra money through grants. I do think that there’s quite a bit of extra investment THL could make. In the U.K. for example, we could double the money that we are spending there. Certainly The Humane League’s budget could be $10 million and we could put more money toward the Open Wing Alliance and the U.K. branch.
What would The Humane League be able to do if you did raise that maximum amount, rather than what you might more realistically expect to raise?
If we can hit all of our fundraising goals, there are a few things that we know we want to do. The first is that there are a number of new staff members that we want to add across departments, so there is somewhat incremental growth needed. There’s also some catch-up needs, such as the need for another lawyer, for example. We could use another media person, and we have needs for a few more web developers—so there’s a number of relatively high-salary and high-impact positions that we would really like to bring on that would support all of our work.
On top of that, we could invest much more heavily in the national volunteer program, and I believe we could use a few more corporate outreach people. We gave a considerable round of raises this year (about $300,000), and we’d like to do something similar to that next year. We hired a firm to do a market analysis of salaries, so it was guided by research. We provided them with all of our job descriptions and information on brackets, and they did the full market research, showing us where we’re at. We’d like to be able to offer very competitive salaries, and historically we have not been able to do this as much as we’d have liked. Now we’re in a much better place to do that, so if we had more money that would be one of the first things we would do. And there’s obviously risk there. If we’re foolish and are giving people raises, that’s something that’s not sustainable if you can continue hitting your goals. But if we were to do very well, that would be prioritized before the other hiring, frankly.
We’d also like to be able to provide more budget toward employee professional development as well. We’re implementing a learning management system this year, but we’ve talked before about having individualized budgets, and one of the issues that you run into is the seminar workshops are really expensive—so we don’t plan to be able to afford to send all of our staff. But it would be nice to have more of a budget for that too.
Have you set a fundraising goal? Did you set one last year?
Yes we did—and we did a lot better than we planned, thanks to a number of major donors. This year our goal is $8 million.
Do you expect that your funding situation in the coming year will differ significantly from the past few years? If so, how?
The main difference is that we are greatly expanding the number of small donors that we have. We’re working with a fundraising firm to do a lot of direct mail, online stuff, and also to work with our current networks to ask them for money more frequently, which is something that we have not done a lot of, historically. Because of that, we brought in lots and lots of new, smaller donors. That’s something that isn’t going to be huge in the next year or two, but over time we think we will see pretty consistent incremental growth. We are hoping to not have to rely on another grant from Open Phil, so we’re building up a more consistent base of funding from smaller donors.
If you have set funding specific goals for what you wanted to accomplish in the past, have you achieved them? What about accomplishing goals in general?
For funding, we have been very surprised by how much we’ve been able to fundraise in the last few years, which has been great.
In general, thinking about the really big picture projects that we’ve been working on, definitely yes—especially the success of the corporate campaigns and the ballot initiatives. We’ve also hit our goals historically on outreach numbers and the other kinds of smaller projects that we’ve been working on, such as Meatless Monday programs. Of course there have been big campaigns that we put on hold to focus on McDonalds that we haven’t won yet, but when we think about things in the big picture, like the cage free campaign, we’ve been very happy.
Have there been any recent decisions that you made but were unable to follow through on?
If anything, because of the strategic planning process being such a focus for us this year, we’ve really pared down on what it is that we’re doing. I’m sure that within any given department there are projects that might be a good answer for this—but when it comes to the bigger picture, there are no programs that we feel like we can’t do now.
What changes has The Humane League made recently? For example, have you taken any steps to improve programs that you deemed successful? Have you cut any unsuccessful programs to make room for more effective ones?
The strategic planning process is our biggest change in the last year—really focusing on formal goal setting. We’ve always had goals, but they’ve been more tactic-focused and a little less outcome-focused. We’re really trying to make them more outcome-focused, and we have goals that are internally-focused as well. That’s been the biggest change this year. We haven’t cut any projects or programs in the last year. We’re doing a lot of the same kinds of things, and we think this is what we should be doing.
The biggest change in our growth this year is that we didn’t grow any programs in the U.S., so we had a much larger investment in support staff. We have also been aggressively growing the Open Wing Alliance program and the work in the U.K. a fair bit as well. We spend a lot more on actual campaign materials and tactics than we have in the past, to try and do bigger things. These are all relatively marginal. We see the biggest return right now in the Open Wing Alliance in terms of new program funding. That’s not to say that’s where 100% of things would go, but we see that as an area with a really high ceiling before we get diminishing returns.
Thinking of going forward, what piece of evidence, if you had it, do you think would most change your organization’s approach to helping animals?
The success of the ballot initiative in California—as well as the court and legal fallout of the ballot initiative in Massachusetts—will show the movement a little bit about this as a strategy going forward, specifically how effective it is and/or how successful our opponents may be at challenging us in court. If the evidence is strong that these are going to be ironclad and there’s nothing industry can do about it—and that there’s appetite from the broader movement to continue—then I could see us wanting to be heavily involved in doing whatever we can to spread the ballot initiatives.
The reverse could also be true. If there’s disaster with the ballot initiatives, then that would further strengthen the argument for continuing to invest in corporate campaigns. What is the best path to enforcement of these commitments? That’s a very open strategic question in my mind at the moment. We really want to be as flexible as possible.
Frankly, the most important evidence is probably something that’s very hard for us to conceive of right now. Maybe, for example, there will be a super high-profile case of avian influenza and it’s on the front page all the time—and suddenly factory farming is a part of the discussion in a way it’s never been. That would give us the opportunity to push for new industry reforms or try to pass a law. We always have to be looking for evidence that there might be some big opportunity we don’t want to miss that comes up.
How much time does The Humane League allocate for professional development of staff?
Right now we don’t have a formal number, but that’s on our radar as something we want to implement. Unofficially, it’s about two hours per week. We have some staff who do committees, and a lot of teams do some learning for all their team meetings. We have a management meeting each week that, at least originally, was very much about training managers. Now a lot of them are more trained so it’s more of a functional meeting. We definitely want to make it more formal right now. We also have managers on an individual basis getting their staff to go to conferences, but we don’t know how many hours that totals to. That’s certainly something we would like to do more.
How do you integrate and encourage diversity practices within your recruitment and hiring process? What are you doing to try to address diversity?
We do anonymized work tests, and that’s very important. We have a new HR person who previously specialized in recruitment, so she has tried a number of methods to expand the number of people who find our programs, which has been successful so far. Previously, we would just post with the animal people we knew and on Idealist and that’s pretty much it, maybe on other job boards. She’s now posting on many, many more, but that’s not specifically focused on diversity, mostly just expanding the pool.
For us, part of it is who is in the pool in the first place. That’s part of our campus program where we are really trying to address diversity so that we can get people who even want jobs in the movement in the first place and who are diverse. If we bring on people of color, but we are a team of all white people, we want to make sure we have a culture where it doesn’t feel weird.
We have a staff diversity and inclusion committee which is training the rest of our staff how to be inclusive and how to think from a perspective beyond whiteness. This is to try to make sure that when we do bring someone on, they don’t feel uncomfortable. The committee runs workshops at our retreats, and they also do “lunch and learns,” which are video calls that all staff are invited to go to. We have a best practices document and a list of resources for all of us, so there’s that as well. We are definitely working to expand the hiring pool, but typically following most of the standards (like using LinkedIn and Idealist, etc.). Right now we are more focused on the intern program and the campus program, in order to find people while they’re in college. We are definitely open to further suggestions, though, this is not something that we feel is a slam dunk.
Can you think of an example of how The Humane League has benefited from diversity programs, or from having diverse members in your work community?
Because we are an international organization, there are a million examples that come to mind. Working on global campaigns and working with a million different kinds of groups from a million different countries, the fact that we can draw upon the knowledge and experience of our staff who are working in Mexico/London/the southern U.S./the northeast and connect them with groups in various areas that are facing challenges is what immediately comes to mind. I’m so grateful to have such a diverse array of strategic perspectives on staff from different cultures. That’s more regional than demographic diversity, but that is the most obvious answer. Just the fact that we can connect someone with a country with a roughly similar profile to another country of a similar profile is really beneficial. When we started the Open Wing Alliance, we quickly realized that even someone who’s a really experienced U.S. campaigner would just be dumbfounded by some of the questions. We made a group in a country that faces challenges that we never even conceived of. And we’d say, you who might know, Ana Ortega, who runs our Mexico office, and we put them in touch with her.
With our goal of being the ultimate team player, and being really collaborative, it’s been really helpful to have so many types of people on staff—whether it’s just introverts and extroverts or various races or anything else. It’s been really helpful to have different perspectives and to be able to relate to people. It’s really helped our message and has helped us be able to communicate with all different groups. The collaboration mindset trickles extends to our grassroots and national volunteer programs as well. I don’t think they’d be so effective if they weren’t able to see just how different human experiences are.
Does The Humane League provide employees with a workplace that has policies and serious protocols in place to address harassment and discrimination?
Yes we have a formal policy and a harassment training that everyone is required to take (and then update every couple of years). Managers have to do double the training that the rest of the employees have to do. We’ve also had a number of all-staff calls about this. It’s definitely something that we haven’t shied away from, and we’ve addressed the staff a number of times. There can be a lot of jargon when it comes to these kinds of things (for example “compliance” is a word that is not usually in your natural vocabulary), so we’ve had a number of calls to help with this—and our HR manager explains to staff how the process actually works. They know what to do if they ever have a complaint or want to talk about something.
Does The Humane League regularly interview staff or conduct surveys to learn about staff morale and work climate?
Yes, we’ve been doing that for a while. We did our first employee satisfaction survey about two and a half years ago. We also do an upward feedback survey about managers, and that has evolved. Now, every employee gets a 360 review as well, and we’re deciding to do it twice a year. We also survey for everything all the time (e.g., “how was that meeting?” or “how was the retreat?”) and then we ask qualitative questions like “did you feel included?” and “do you feel like you have a friend on staff?” We are constantly getting feedback. We are always talking to staff and really want them to feel safe adding their name. We know we aren’t going to get this 100% of the time, and we always allow anonymity for people who want it. But what’s really exciting is that our last survey had about 85% of people add their name. We’re constantly coaching the managers on how to ask for feedback in a really productive way. In addition, we of course have our performance reviews and our HR person, and if we hear something negative is happening, we’ll just call people or ask if they want to talk and then do one-on-one conversations as well.
Like any organization, it’s not like everything’s perfect all the time. But I think that any of our staff would agree that this is a priority for us and it’s something we take really seriously. It’s a formal metric in our strategic plan as well, so we’re really keeping our finger on the pulse of the culture and morale.
Anything else that you would like to communicate that we might not have touched on?
We forgot to mention that we just moved one of our most senior employees to be our culture specialist (“cultural engagement specialist”). So as of this year we now have one employee working full-time on that. We know that being a remote team, this is just It’s especially important because we don’t get to go out for drinks after work or have lunch together, etc. She’s going to be helping run the surveys and she’ll be leading all staff icebreakers once a month.
We’ve also been really heavily involved in the GEAR—the gender equity in animal rights event. That’s something that we are taking very seriously and I felt very lucky to be able to use staff time to help with that and figure out how our organization can benefit in return.