Sharon Núñez is the co-founder and president of Animal Equality, Jose Valle is a co-founder and the executive vice president of Animal Equality, and William Rivas-Rivas is the director of philanthropy at Animal Equality. They spoke with ACE Researcher Kieran Greig on July 27, 2018. This is a summary of their conversation.
What do you consider to be Animal Equality’s major strengths?
Sharon Núñez: The first one, and our biggest strength, is the fact that we are present in eight countries. We’re the farmed animal organization that works in the most countries around the world. And we’re not simply present in these countries, but we actually have full structures in these countries. We have executive directors, human resources staff, investigators, etc. We are building the organization to be as stable as possible and making sure that we empower the leadership in those countries to be able to make decisions that the core leadership of the organization can’t make. We can see how that really plays out in the results we’ve been able to achieve in all of the countries we’re in. This year, except for the U.S. and Brazil, we presented investigations in all the countries we’re in, we’ve won 60 policies, we’ve had successes with our legislative work in Mexico and India, and we have established incredible relationships with governments and journalists in many of the countries we’re in. That’s only possible by really having the infrastructure and building leadership in the countries.
The second strength is the fact that we consider ourselves an effective altruism organization, which means that we’re very flexible: we have the capacity to adapt our strategy to new studies that come out or based on what other organizations have tried and are doing successfully. We have the capacity to try new things like we’ve done with iAnimal quite successfully.
This year we presented a very detailed study in collaboration with Faunalytics which took over two years to carry out. The study showed that virtual reality was as impactful as using regular screens. We were investing a percentage of our budget in virtual reality and given these initial results, we took a step back, we sat down, and we decided that instead of doing the two tours per year in the United States that we were doing prior to this study, we launched our campus outreach program. With the campus outreach program, we send the headsets to students in different top universities and encourage and train them to do the virtual reality themselves. We’re also in collaboration with VegFund to fund some of the headsets that we send out to students. We’re also in constant contact with other organizations, making sure that we provide them with headsets so they can use it as part of their outreach. This way, fewer resources (in terms of travel costs with the tours) are needed from Animal Equality.
Another example of our flexibility is the fact that we decided to start doing food policy. We view Animal Equality as a very holistic organization, so not only do we want to reduce the suffering of animals who exist now, but we also want to stop animals from coming into existence. We’ve attended several food policy conferences, we’ve had meetings with other organizations, and we’ve decided to hire people in Mexico and India to work on getting supermarkets and other companies to introduce more plant-based options. This is a program that we want to extend in the future.
Another one of our strengths is that we focus on impact. We have a detailed metric where we calculate the estimated impact of all of our programs in terms of the number of animals being impacted. We estimated that in 2017 Animal Equality reduced the suffering of about 40 million animals through its corporate outreach legislation and education campaigns.
We also have very talented leadership; we’re a very core team of 15 directors, with people from the eight countries we’re in. These directors all have years of experience in the animal rights movement bring a diversity of opinions to the organization.
We also have exceptional media relationships in each of the countries we work in, and very good relationships with other organizations in all of the countries we’re in. We’re often in communication with two of the most important groups in Germany. We also work with The Humane League, which is based in the United States, since we’re part of the Open Wing Alliance and part of the McDonald’s campaign, and we really want to nurture a movement of collaboration where all of the organizations have as much collaboration as possible because that’s what makes us effective.
Jose Valle: I want to discuss the impact we’re having that refers to corporate outreach policies. So far we have obtained over 65 policies affecting over 40 million animals, based on the number of eggs used by the companies and/or the number of hens they affect. Including legislation, the number is much higher because of the policies we are working on. For example, on August 17th in the Mexican state of Jalisco there will be a vote to make cruelty to animals a crime that is punishable by up to three years in prison. That alone affects over 200 million animals. We are also working on some other initiatives, for example one in the European Parliament that will affect nearly 400 million animals if implemented, by banning the use of cages for farmed rabbits.
As Sharon mentioned, the collaboration and the strategy that we share with other organizations is a strength. For example, we discuss with other organizations which companies we should target, what to communicate to them, and collaborate to provide them with our resources, trainings, footage, etc. That is something that I and very many other people are proud of Animal Equality for—that we’re so open and willing to collaborate and help others.
We’re flexible and quick at adapting. We launched our corporate outreach department just 1.5 years ago. In the U.S., we were not doing corporate outreach, but we learned that the campaign to get McDonald’s to change their policy regarding broiler chickens was so important for all animals and for influencing the industry that we decided to invest more resources in that area. We started doing that type of work in the U.S. with the agreement and communication with other groups, and we hired one person full-time dedicated to that. Our International Director of Corporate Outreach is also working 30% of her time on that campaign and we have invested a good number of resources in that campaign. So not only are we able to adapt, but also to adapt quite quickly, and make decisions fast if needed.
Another strength of ours is our internal culture—we care about the people who work with us and their beliefs, and we make sure that the policies we have foster a good working atmosphere where our staff feel safe and respected. It is also important to us that our staff are paid a decent wage.
What do you consider to be Animal Equality’s weaknesses?
Nuñez: One of our weaknesses results from the fact that our organization is growing a lot and we’re hiring a lot of people. We’re growing very stably and we want to make sure that we continue to grow stably. That means that we’ve hired people for human resources, for operations, for general counsel, and we’re restructuring the organization internationally. At the moment, the leadership of the organization don’t have enough time to focus as much as we would want to on strategy and the big picture, but this is something that we want to correct as soon as possible. Part of our planning until the end of the year and as we look into 2019 and 2020, when we will be working on a new strategy plan, is that we really want to increase the amount of time that we’re spending focusing on strategy and big-picture thinking, because having more time for this will allow us to make the best decisions.
Another of our weaknesses is lack of funding. There was a lot of work that executive directors were doing in the organization (human resources, contacting lawyers—even Jose Valle and myself were doing a lot of human resources work), so having the funding to be able to hire more people for human resources, operations, and lawyers will allow us to increase the amount of time we spend on big-picture thinking that we think is ultimately one of our most important tasks as the core leadership of the organization. We started out as a group of activists and we want to make sure that we build the organization to be as stable as possible. This transition from a grassroots to an international nonprofit has brought some growing pains but I think they are pains we’re overcoming with good decision making and good hiring. We have hired exceptional talent for human resources and operations, general counsel, executive directors, etc.
Valle: In relation to our international work, working in eight countries provides us with great things such as a diversity of viewpoints of different cultures and different people. However, the downside is that it comes with time zone differences, different languages spoken, and different cultures, that also require some adjustment or awareness. For example, native English speakers have to be aware that when they speak with a person in Spain or Italy, their level of English might not be the same. That’s why in Spain we offer our staff a course on English (the language we use internationally) so they can communicate more effectively within teams and between teams.
From Spain to L.A. is a nine-hour time zone difference. We have to be mindful that that presents some challenges and make adjustments. We have already been working with a number of teams for so many years, so we are quite well-adjusted to that already.
Some contexts, countries, or positions are difficult to hire for and find good candidates for. For example, there is, generally speaking, a lack of good candidates for accounting in the U.S. We currently use an external firm and we want to bring that in house, but it’s still difficult to find good candidates who want to work in the nonprofit sector. In India, for example, due to cultural factors generally speaking, some candidates think that to be successful is synonymous with working in a for-profit sector and that if you work in a nonprofit sector that somehow shows a lack of ambition. That is something that is specific to India that we don’t find in some other countries. At the same time, we find very good candidates who, for some positions, particularly want to work in the nonprofit sector, because they’ve trained and developed their skills in a for-profit company but want to feel that they’re helping to change the world.
What do you think the three biggest accomplishments from the past year have been for Animal Equality?
Nuñez: Animal Equality has three strategic lines: legislation, corporate outreach, and education. Last year, we worked very heavily in Mexico to get an animal welfare bill passed that would significantly reduce the suffering of farmed animals. The law was approved by the Senate and we’re still waiting for it to be approved by the Congress. We also presented it to the state of Jalisco, Mexico. And that’s going to be voted on next week. The most probable outcome is that that law is going to pass, and that would affect 207 million animals. So even though it hasn’t come through yet, we still think it’s a big accomplishment because being able to have that kind of impact on a political level is something that reduces animal suffering significantly.
Valle: It’s going to be voted on in mid-August and the we have already secured a majority of votes in favor of it. It’s already been drafted and we have the language and all the provisions.
Nuñez: Our second largest accomplishment is our corporate outreach efforts. So we have won over 65 cage-free policies that affect over 45 million animals. We’re also an essential part of the corporate outreach conversation at the moment throughout the world. And this is something that we’ve been able to achieve in less than two years. Animal Equality is moving from an organization that mostly did education to one that dedicates most of our resources to systemic change. Being able to do this as effectively as we have been doing it—with corporate outreach and legislation—is a big accomplishment.
Valle: The third is investigations. We have been doing investigations for over a decade. Since we started we have presented a total of 96 investigations, which means over 750 facilities in total covered. Just last year (2017) we did 21 investigations that were shown in 63 presentations, meaning that one same presentation was presented in three countries at the same time. For one investigation done in Spain, because the company has connections with Germany or Italy and we have good contacts with the media in all the countries, we managed to get coverage beyond Spain as well. This year (2018) we have presented so far 11 investigations and just this month we are presenting another one and we are just mid-year. So we expect to at least double these numbers.
Why we consider this an accomplishment and an important part of our work is because investigations contribute to help animals in multiple ways. Exposing and showing the evidence of what the animals go through helps with our education department—we provide the footage to documentaries like Dominion, Cowspiracy, Vegan, and others that have included our footage. Multiple other organizations like PETA, MFA, The Humane League, and others have used our footage and we are very happy about that.
Our investigations in Mexico and Brazil were some of the first exposures of caged-hen facilities. Those images help our corporate outreach campaigns, helped to get media coverage, put pressure on the companies, and get the cage-free hen policies accepted. It also helps other organizations using the footage, the images in their posters, and to get policy improvements also. It also contributes to legal changes by enabling us to show lawmakers the problems that there are in their countries. So far, we have managed to get an exhibition in the European Parliament about factory farms. We have even had the first ever exhibition on slaughterhouses in the Mexican Senate. And this is paid for by the government—all the printing, all the materials. Having multiple senators and politicians at political conventions learn for the first time about slaughterhouses in their own country is pretty important because it contributes to many different areas. These investigations help not only our organization’s efforts, but the movement in general.
How do you measure the outcomes of Animal Equality’s programs?
Nuñez: Animal Equality has a master document that is our strategy, which outlines what the organization is going to be focused on and the goals. As part of our strategy, we identified that the organization was going to focus on corporate outreach, education, and legislation, and we have specific goals for each area. Internally, we differentiate between goals and objectives. Objectives are numeric, and goals are the overall big picture.
With that document then at the end of every year, each executive director goes to their country, they look at what they’ve achieved in that year, and they set goals for the following year. At the end of 2017, all of the executive directors and the department directors got together and worked with their teams to establish the numeric objectives based on our goals that they wanted to achieve in 2018. Those objectives are then approved by the executive director, by the International director, and by Jose Valle and myself.
We get together at the beginning of the year, and all the directors in the organization agree what the international objectives are going to be. This includes things like who are we going to hire internationally, and solutions for some of the needs that we have internationally (perhaps a Human Resources person, an operations person, or a marketing plan campaign). We identify that together and we come up with a document with international objectives. And then these objectives are usually reviewed by the executive directors in their country, usually every three months or every month—we leave it up to the department directors and executive directors to determine how often they want to review those objectives.
These objectives are numeric, for example stating how many policies we want to achieve, how much media impact we want to reach, how many animals we want to impact through our legislation initiatives, etc. It all goes in a document that we call our “monthly metrics.” In that document, we analyze everything from the amount of leaflets we’ve handed out in education, to the reach we’ve had on social media, etc.
Every executive director goes into that document monthly, and they add their numbers. So we get to see based on our yearly objectives, a monthly picture of where the organization is and how close we are to the objectives we set and if we have to correct course because the objective was too ambitious, etc. That is the most important document that we have in the organization that really reflects our key performance indicators.
And then at the beginning of the year at the directors’ meeting, we look at that document and think about the things that we’re going to be measuring the year ahead and the metrics that we collected and analyzed last year that didn’t serve. We decide together what metrics we’ll collect this year, perhaps correcting or changing past metrics. Why I think this is incredibly effective is because also at the end of the year, we look at all of those numbers and run it through Animal Charity Evaluators’ calculator where you have how many animals are impacted by different interventions and then we come up with a number that is approximately the amount of animals that were impacted.
This year we’ve carried out two very, very important studies. There was a study with Faunalytics, and after the results came out, we sat down with our iAnimal team and decided to course correct and not to invest so much time and resources on the tour, but actually send the headsets out to make sure that we’re reducing the amount of resources that we’re spending on a program that is impactful, but probably isn’t as impactful as we had initially thought. We also carried out a very important study on our welfare campaigns. We worked with a company in India that does studies and surveys, and we asked Indians their opinions on animal welfare and of the introduction to plant-based meats. Based on those results, we came up with a document that modifies our communication in India on social media and when we’re reaching out to the media, and it has also helped guide some of our food policy strategy based on how people were responding to plant-based meats.
Valle: Our objectives are comprised of over 50 different metrics, which we selected based partially on what Animal Charity Evaluators is asking us to measure, partially on metrics that some donors are asking for, and partially on other things that we want to track so that we can evaluate our programs’ output and impact.
What are Animal Equality’s main goals and objectives for the coming year?
Nuñez: These can be found in our International Objectives for 2018 document. Our objectives are divided by our strategic lines, and then by categories like operations.
With our corporate outreach, our main objective is to win 50 policies by the end of the year. We also have the objective of presenting 42 investigations before the end of the year.
Nuñez: We have a development goal to reach a total income of $7.5 million by the end of 2018. And I’ll let William get into a little bit more of that.
William Rivas-Rivas: Essentially, we’re doing fundraising in four countries. It’s really important that the fundraising be as effective as possible so that we can support many other countries where a fundraising culture doesn’t necessarily exist. The United States by far is the most philanthropic nation in the world, where in 2017, there was over $400 billion donated to the 2,500 nonprofits that exist. So as you can imagine, this is where the bulk of our funding comes from. But it’s really, really important that our teams in other countries have that fundraising knowledge as well. There’s a lot of process that goes into raising $7.5 million, and it requires establishing systems. Along with that goal was to ensure that we have as a lowest common denominator, a database/CRM that is consistent across all of the countries.
A big goal for us in 2017 and 2018 is to start implementing Salesforce. We have Salesforce implemented in the United Kingdom and United States. And we’re currently doing the transition in Italy, to change from their current database that doesn’t have all of the capabilities that are being used in the U.S. and U.K. We’re about to start migrating all of the data from the old database in Italy to the new database, Salesforce. We just kicked off the project in Mexico and we have lined up a few of the other countries that we plan to migrate in the next six to eight months. That’s been a really key project of ours that will contribute to more effective communications reporting and donor relations. It’ll really impact our fundraising for the future. That change is something that we’re really, really proud of.
Valle: Another objective is to keep our donors updated on the work and how their gifts are used. We have the objective of publishing a monthly report.
Nuñez: Our legislation objectives cover 2018 and 2019 because legislation requires a longer time span than some of the other objectives I’ve mentioned. We’re currently working to get legislation regarding the slaughterhouses in Italy. In India, and we’re also working to end the slaughter of animals in live markets. There’s going to be an election this year in Brazil and there was also just an election in Mexico. We look at the election cycles to make sure that we’re able to communicate with politicians and try to influence them to include policies that would protect animals.
Nuñez: In Mexico, our objective, which we will probably achieve by the end of this year, is to get at least one initiative of the ones we’ve presented on the state level passed. In the United Kingdom, we have a campaign to ban the importation of foie gras into the country based on Brexit. We’ve already gathered 100,000 signatures of British citizens wanting to ban the importation of foie gras. We’ve also been in the parliament twice to speak with politicians and present our case on the banning of foie gras.
Have any of the longer term goals of the organization changed since we conducted the review last year?
Nuñez: Our strategy plan hasn’t changed and our goals that are part of our strategy plan haven’t changed. What has changed is the amount of resources that we’re dedicating to education versus system change. We have decided that as an organizational priority, we will focus more on corporate outreach and legislation, but our international goals that are in our strategy plan haven’t changed.
How do you create or revise a strategic plan?
Nuñez: It’s a yearly review. All of the executive directors and all of the department directors are involved in reviewing that strategy. We used to do it every six months, but we considered that not to be very effective, so we now do it once a year, because we already have a very solid document that reflects the mission, vision, values, and overall strategy of the organization.
How do you see Animal Equality’s work fitting into the overall movement?
Valle: We have a deep sense of belonging to this movement, and we learn a lot from others in many different areas. In preparation for the first investigations that we started doing, we attended animal rights gatherings in Europe and connected with investigators in other countries and learned from their techniques, their cameras, etc. Since we started, we’ve been looking at what other organizations are doing, and that has influenced our actions.
We also have a sense that we should give back as well. We know how we have contributed to other organizations and individual activists not affiliated with a particular organization.
We have also contributed to the movement through our iAnimal project. We provide the headsets, videos, and training to other organizations and individuals.
We also collaborate on corporate outreach campaigns and share information with others. We’ve traveled to Europe, Latin America, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile to give trainings and workshops to advocates in those countries.
We also know that we have influenced other organizations’ strategies. For example, in Europe many years ago, the movement was very, very different. It was very much grassroots and focused on protesting fur and confrontational tactics. I think we can claim that we, in part, have influenced the movement to move to more strategic work with investigations, getting public support and not losing it through confrontational tactics, and also getting the support of journalists and influencing politicians. That has a big influence on how the movement behaves.
We are also contributing to the movement through our book collection. We have an agreement with a Spanish editorial where we translate books about the animal movement or about animals in general. We translated Melanie Joy’s book on Carnism, we recently translated “We Animals” by Jo-Anne McArthur, and many other titles. These books are in all bookstores in Spain and in Latin America. We have helped the movement in Latin America access this information that before was not available, because it was just in English. We have helped other organizations with filming, and have contributed our footage to documentaries, to the campaigns of other groups, and we are very happy to do that.
What would be the the maximum amount of funding that you think you could use effectively over that next year?
Rivas-Rivas: One of the strengths that we have is that we have a very solid strategic plan, and one that’s discussed and that everybody understands, and we all have ambitious goals, things that can be scaled up very, very quickly. We’re always thinking of how we can have the biggest impact for animals. But in all of this planning, there are things that we want to do that we just don’t have the opportunity to do. But very importantly, we have experience know-how, and know how to bring them on. So I think quite easily, in addition to the funding that we currently have, we could add up to $5 million for a number of different programs, a number of different things that we want to add to our current work.
Sticking with fundraising there is direct response marketing. This is being able to communicate to a larger base of potential funders. Currently, the majority of our fundraising of small level gifts are coming from online. But online fundraising at low levels only makes up about 20% of all the funding that’s available. So if you’re not doing any kind of mailing, you’re really missing out on the bulk of potential funders. So one of the things that we want to incorporate in the next six months to a year is a direct marketing program, sort of dip our toe into a couple of different campaigns and have some appeals to not only broaden our message, but also broaden our financial support. So that would be something that we could very easily invest.
One of the challenges in the growth of the organization and trajectory of the organization that that has been very steep is that we’ve gone from a grassroots organization to an international powerhouse. That has brought some challenges. What has made us very, very successful is that we’ve had very solid programs, programmatic work, and people working in those programs. Now, what we have to do is augment those programs with auxiliary staff. For example, general counsel and director of operations, which we’ve just recently hired. But for an organization that’s working in eight countries that has 75 to 90 staff by the end of the year, to have only one person on our legal staff isn’t enough. So we would invest a lot more in putting staff in very strategic places. Within the legal department we need lawyers that could do administrative law, advocacy, compliance litigation, a number of different things that are required to operate an organization this size, and also for us to be able to take on some of those opportunities.
Some of the golden opportunities that we have to do food policy work are in Mexico and India. So to be able to add some staff there to be able to do much bigger work would be incredibly, incredibly important. And something that we also find very, very important in the line of work that we currently do is being able to focus on how we can be the most effective as possible. One of the goals that we have is to hire a data analyst to be able to really analyze all the data that we’re bringing in. We have a monthly metrics program, and to be able to have someone who can really spearhead that part of our work would make us much more effective. That’s something that we want to invest in. And also with the growth of the organization, it’s not a very sexy thing to talk about, but we need more office space. It’s a necessity of a growing organization.
I would be remiss not mentioning that through our grassroots work and our reputation, we’ve met so many wonderful activists in different parts of the world. For example, in China, we have relationships with people from the country, with deep roots in the country who are mission aligned. We’re actually already doing some work in China, with education, presenting iAnimal in Beijing and some of the other major cities in in China. But to be able to broaden that and expand the work that we’re doing in China, and we have an opportunity to be doing some work in the Middle East, this is where a significant number of animals are suffering. So for us to be able to do some work there, a place where currently there isn’t a very large animal protection movement ongoing, I think, would provide some really great opportunities for making differences for animals.
What was the fundraising goal last year? And did you did you meet the fundraising goal for the last year?
Rivas-Rivas: The fundraising goal for the previous year was $5 million, and we did surpass that.
Do you expect the fundraising situation in the coming year to be significantly different?
Rivas-Rivas: That’s something that we’re always constantly thinking about. The fundraising landscape is one that tends to shift somewhat slowly, but when it does, you need to be prepared to be able to handle it well. Animal Equality has been the recipient of a lot of generosity, especially at the major gifts level. We’re continuing to manage those relationships, to deepen those partnerships so that we can grow our major gifts. We recognize that in order for us to be as stable of an organization as possible we need to ensure that we have other streams of funding. So one of the efforts that we have ongoing is direct marketing and online fundraising as well, so that we can be able to absorb any potential volatility in the philanthropic market; the trajectory has been steep for us. How steep it is over the next year is something that is hard to predict. We are on track to meeting our goal. We’ve had a very, very good year. And fundraising doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We do well because of the way that we communicate with our donors. But most importantly, it’s what we’re communicating to our donors. The programs and the work that we’ve been doing has been prolific, and has been very, very impactful. So our expectation is that, based on not only the numbers that are coming in but also the work that we’re doing, our funding will continue to grow.
What steps have you taken to improve programs or cut off unsuccessful programs to make room for programs you feel are more successful?
Valle: One of the examples of how we are reevaluating and changing our allocation of resources is education. We are moving resources away from that and investing more into systems changing. That’s corporate outreach and legal advocacy, basically. We are still engaged in education and raising awareness. We think it’s important, but focusing more on changing the systems or the policies has a higher impact, and it’s more efficient.
We are cutting costs on iAnimal and still having impact with it. We are getting viewers who otherwise wouldn’t watch a video on a tablet. We are kind of outsourcing those costs by providing the headsets to animal rights groups in universities.
We adapted to context in India. So we started doing corporate outreach in India to get rid of cages for hens, which is a new type of world and for that country, and we learned that it is a very challenging context. There are a number of problems or challenges with it. And we realized that we cannot really expect to get these policies as quickly as we are getting them in Italy or Spain or other countries. We learned that for some companies it is actually easier to stop using eggs altogether, which also makes the product vegetarian for Indians. Otherwise it will be labeled as non-vegetarian with a red dot. By removing the eggs it can be labeled as vegetarian with a green dot so more people can access it.
Another recent change is doing legal advocacy work in the U.S. We endorsed, promoted, and contributed to the 2016 Massachusetts Question 3 campaign. We are now an integral part of the Prevent Cruelty California campaign.
We also started to do work on broiler chickens in Germany, the U.K., and in Italy. Another change has been moving from doing investigations with some volunteers to be able to hire these people full-time so they can dedicate their time to work on that.
Are there certain pieces of evidence that would really change your approach or programs to helping animals?
Valle: If there are types of policies that can reduce more suffering, that would change our approach. We are hiring for an animal welfare specialist to look into the literature and be able to provide us with the answers. For example, regarding farmed fish, it’s a complicated topic and not as “simple” as with hens in that they’re either in cages or not in cages. With fish there are so many different species, different facility types or methods. Getting the results from science is actually going to make a big difference for these animals. In the case of farmed fish, one of the issues will be properly stunning the animals so they are not conscious when they are killed.
We are willing to change and do more of that work and we are doing some preparation for that. We attended a fish welfare conference in the U.K., organized by Compassion in World Farming.
If there is more solid evidence or studies on effective messaging that can be used for education purposes, we will change our message accordingly. And then how effective overall is that strategy. We have seen that corporate outreach seems to be more efficient and has a bigger impact which is why we cut down on education expenses.
We are pretty flexible. We changed from criticizing or not endorsing corporate outreach work to actually being in favor of it.
What is Animal Equality’s approach to the professional development of staff?
Rivas-Rivas: It’s something I’ve been close to as a director of the organization as well as managing staff, and working very closely with our operations manager who has really, really been able to implement some solid policies.
I think it helps to talk about it in the context of everything that we’re doing, not only for the professional development of individual staff, but also working within a culture that can bring the best out of individuals. There are some differences between all of the countries, but one of the things that we do organizationally is that we have a one-hour training program for all staff on a monthly basis that is called “sharing and learning.” And we have a topic in which we have someone, either internal or external, that can provide some training to benefit the individual in their work. And that can range from human resources, to designing a better landing page, to promote messaging. It runs the whole spectrum. In addition to that, we could have more training offered to individuals that is specifically for communications or development, or we can bring along some internal staff to an investigations summit who could benefit from the knowledge that was being shared.
One of the major things that we did at the organization in the last six months in particular, when we brought our operations manager in, was to take a look at all the policies of the organization in which we could amend or where there was a gap that needed to be closed, so as to provide a much better experience for our staff.
We engaged in a very robust analysis for all roles in the United States to ensure that we were not only paying fairly and consistently, but also competitively so that we could reward our staff with not only a living wage, but one that was better than just the the minimum or the standard. That was a very important issue for staff morale, and it really ensure that there weren’t any discrepancies between roles or within the department or within the organization. That was really made possible by bringing someone on who is very mission aligned, but who, more importantly, had a dozen years of operations and human resources experience. In addition to the salaries, one of the things that she did was to meet with staff from all of our offices to make sure that she was getting feedback and input from staff directly to see where were the areas that staff saw that there were areas for improvement, so that we can make some changes organizationally to improve staff morale. We’ve seen those HR efforts really provide some improvement and ensure high staff morale.
Rivas-Rivas: Some of the policies that we’ve introduced include compensatory time. As you can imagine, in the kind of movement that we’re in, there’s a whole lot of work that’s happening, there’s always more work than there is time. And so sometimes there will be people who are working beyond the hours that are the sort of normal and so we want to ensure that we maintain work-life balance. So we’ve instituted compensatory time for people where the work demands that they they go above and beyond. Paid child care and paid volunteer time. We offered volunteer time that was unpaid but now staff members can have a volunteer time where they can dedicate their time to another nonprofit or missionary that they find important and it’s part of their benefits.
Something that’s been really, really important as an organization that is so involved in undercover investigations, and has undercover investigators and people that are working with material that can be traumatic to see and to be a part of is to make sure that we’re offering support, mental health support, ensuring that we’re communicating and checking in with how people are doing and having flexible schedules and giving them time off as necessary because of the kind of work that they’re doing.
Valle: We are paying for ten sessions of psychological therapy for those staff who require it. For example, not just the animal cruelty investigators but also the video editors. There has been training on how to deal with the footage we collect and there are a number of coping mechanisms or good practices that we have developed to prevent burnout.
With the creative staff, like graphic designers, and video editors, we have already implemented a policy that they can dedicate 10% of their time, which is about four hours a week to investigate and learn about different things without having to be working on a specific project. That is implemented in Spain, but will be implemented in other countries as well in the next few weeks.
We also have staff retreats in all the countries that we’re involved in.
We have already allocated part of the budget for each department that they can dedicate to training and professional development. So the staff knows, and they can apply for it, or the directors of that department know, and they have to tell their staff that we’re willing to pay for you to do some courses.
How do you track or measure staff morale?
Valle: There is a survey that we do that tracks this. Our human resources person has been meeting with all the staff on a one-to-one basis to be able to see if there are any concerns, or if there is anything that we can improve. It’s also part of our culture to ask people how can we improve your happiness. For example, if a person is working with a computer that is outdated or a printer that is a bit old, or is not working properly we can immediately buy new equipment because even if it’s something that looks minor to us, if you have to use it every day, it is an additional frustration that we don’t need.
There is a cultural aspect of it, being open to listening, or proactively asking the staff. We also have the performance appraisals every six months, where we also meet with all the staff one-on-one and then we discuss how can we help them to be better or enjoy their work more or improve things and we have implemented a number of things based on that feedback.
What practices do you have in the hiring and recruiting process to encourage diversity?
Rivas-Rivas: Diversity and inclusion is very important to us but it’s a challenge. It’s not something which there’s an easy solution to. There’s a number of different parts that are involved in it, we can have the goodwill and the desire to do things, but unless you’re implementing very specific programs, you’re not going to meet that mark. So we’ve acknowledged that this is an area that we need to really focus on and spend more time on. And I’m glad to be a part of that conversation.
We’re in the process of looking at getting not only training, but establishing a program in which we can really benefit from. It’s a conversation that I’ve had directly with our operations manager about how we can open up our hiring to more diverse groups. And it’s something that’s a focal point for us.
One of the things that we’ve done to ensure that there is fairness in all of our hiring practices is that when we have a job that needs to be filled, one of the first things that we need to do is to communicate with our operations manager who functions as our HR person to ensure that we have been properly trained with our hiring protocol, which very clearly states the consistency that we need to maintain through our interview, the questions that we need to ask, and how we can ask them. Also getting help with evaluating candidates and bringing other staff members in, like our operations director, so that there isn’t one person who may have some bias that we don’t know about, that we’re not aware of. Some staff have participated in diversity training, so we have this plan to involve the directors in that type of training as well, but it’s something that we’re still engaging in.
What protocols do you have in place to deal with harassment and/or discrimination in the workplace?
Rivas-Rivas: In February, after a lot of conversation, collaboration, investment in time and resources, we rolled out a very well thought-out and detailed harassment and discrimination policy that we adapted to all of the countries that we operate in. All our staff at Animal Equality has been trained in it and is aware of the policy. It is a critical part of our onboarding. Anytime we have a new staff member, we go over the harassment and discrimination policy. So not only what your responsibilities are, but also your recourse if there are any challenges. We have had a very defined complaint procedure and an investigation process, which we take very seriously in case that were to come up.
One of the things that we have done is to encourage all of our staff, and in particular, our directors and managers, a culture of feedback, seeking out information, being able to talk and have open lines of communication and ensuring that everyone knows what their not only responsibilities are, but what their rights are—that they can communicate those and we have our operations director, our general counsel, our executive director, and executive vice president available to all of our staff members if there are any issues whatsoever.
Valle: Our managers have undergone specific training that is slightly different than for regular staff. If you manage people, you have to pay attention to a number of additional things that are your responsibility as well. For example, in Spain, we’re currently undergoing an examination by a third party, a gender equity entity from the government, that looks at the organization for things we can improve upon.
It’s the culture of the organization, not just having a policy and following it, implementing it, but also being aware of all the things that could be biased, or could result in an inadequate or unfair situation. Of our staff, 66% are female, and 70% of them are directors or in a leadership position.