Che Green, Executive Director of Faunalytics, spoke with Jon Bockman, ACE’s Executive Director, on August 12, 2015.
Faunalytics’ overarching goal is to empower animal advocates with information. This mostly involves creating independent research, working directly with client organizations, and providing resources for individual advocates. For the latter goal, their target for mid-2014 was to expand their subscriber base by at least 25% within the subsequent 12 months. This goal has mostly been reached now in mid-2015, but with their new website and rebranding, they are in the process of setting new goals. They also hope to devote a greater proportion of resources to pro-bono work in place of fee-for-service projects. In the immediate future, they are publishing follow-up analyses for their study of Lapsed and Current Vegetarians and Vegans and also planning for their next major study. They hope to get feedback from the community for their next independent study, but the current plan is an in-depth study of donors investigating how to inspire more donors to contribute to helping animals.
Faunalytics has used an internal dashboard to track goals and the outcomes associated with those goals. They recently considered a merger with another nonprofit organization, but instead pivoted to a rebranding process. With the time devoted to re-branding, they temporarily halted quantitative tracking and the dashboard for a period of about eight months; during that time the organization focused on qualitative goal-tracking. Now that the rebranding is complete and they have more staff time available, Faunalytics is in the process of updating its metrics and dashboard and will soon return to the quantitative system.
Currently, they have one full-time employee and three contractors who work anywhere from ⅕ to ¾ of a full-time commitment. Combined, on average they have the equivalent of 2.2 full-time staff members. They also have an active Board of Directors and an active group of advisors.
They were not able to raise the funding necessary last year to fully fund the programs they consider most important. Their primary expense is personnel with staff working remotely from home offices to reduce organizational overhead. In the past roughly year and a half, they have completed three pro-bono projects, but could easily have doubled or tripled that number based on the availability of qualified applicants from the last time they solicited research proposals. Beyond that, the organization believes there’s no limit to the amount of research that needs to be done and the number of critical advocacy questions that need to be answered through research.
Additionally, they have been able to nearly double the number of articles they are able to summarize and add to their database on a weekly basis, but they have a backlog of over 400 articles waiting to be put into the database and could definitely use additional capacity. Both of these areas are important programs for Faunalytics to expand with high ceilings for growth, and the article database is especially appreciated by their audience.
Faunalytics is atypical for a nonprofit because most of their funding currently comes from fee-for-service work performed for other nonprofit organizations. This approach has allowed Faunalytics to sustain itself, but it also restricts staff time and other resources that could be used for other research. Currently the organization generates about 60% of its income from fee-for-service work, about 35% from grants, and about 3% from individual donors.
Professional Contractor Network
Within the next year, Faunalytics is planning to formalize a professional contractor network of people with the skills to assist with independent research projects and client research. They already have a strong pool of candidates who could be a part of this network, and the amount of funding Faunalytics could make use of is only limited by their ability to manage these people and projects. Faunalytics would be comfortable taking on up to $80-100,000 to fund additional pro bono and independent research projects in the next year.
Future Funding Situation
They are moving towards their goal of less fee-for-service and more independent and pro-bono research projects and have had some success in funding their work through foundation grants over the past 18 months. Additional funding would allow them to grow their staff, mostly for independent and pro bono projects, but also for marketing/sharing their results to advocates who can use that information to improve their advocacy effectiveness.
Lapsed and Current Vegetarians and Vegans study
This study was considered particularly successful by Faunalytics for several reasons. First, it answered a question posed by animal advocates for many years: how many vegetarians and vegans revert to a diet consuming meat or other animal products? Although some of the details and conclusions can be debated (and indeed have been), like with any research, it’s clear that the proportion is high and that recidivism is an important issue. This study gained serious attention from advocates and the organization has received consistent (but anecdotal) feedback that the results are encouraging advocates to focus more on sustained advocacy.
Outcomes are measured with a client feedback survey to investigate the positive and negative aspects of Faunalytics’ work, how valuable the client felt it was, and what the qualitative impact was on client programs. The organization also asks clients for an estimate of animals impacted, but accurate info is rarely available. There are some exceptions, such as the work that Faunalytics completed with Farm Sanctuary, resulting in a quantitative assessment of impact and differences by program. But more often the group is relying on qualitative feedback from clients.
Website and library
The primary outcome measured for the Faunalytics library is engagement, including website traffic and user satisfaction surveys. They ask users questions about how often they use the site, how valuable it is to them, and whether they recommend it to other advocates.This feedback also covers and leads to improvements for the organization’s weekly/monthly alert emails. Faunalytics is a Google GrantsPro recipient, meaning they have $40,000 in free search advertising each month, which they are able to fully utilize. They track conversions from these visitors, with a focus on website usage and email signups.
Faunalytics also tracks engagement for independent studies. An important outcome for this is what organizations say they are changing based on the studies. The recent study on Lapsed and Current Vegetarians and Vegans, for example, has caused several groups (at least) to focus more on sustained rather than one-time vegan advocacy programs. These groups have included Mercy For Animals, The Humane League, FARM, Farm Sanctuary, VegFund, and others. The study also received widespread media coverage, though this is not a focus for Faunalytics.
Improvement and Openness to Change
They are happy with their performance in terms of client and user satisfaction, which consistently show high ratings. But Faunalytics would like to do more to grow their user and donor bases. When the first library came out, they got user feedback suggesting the library be personalized so the user could choose which topics they receive. They implemented that in the next iteration of the project. Faunalytics has also asked subscribers about the frequency of emails they receive, which recently led them to offer monthly and weekly alert options. Their new website also makes content more accessible and readable than it was before, especially in terms of implications for advocates. They have also simplified their registration process in response to user feedback.
The best indicator for whether they would need to change their strategy for independent studies would be if they got consistent feedback from knowledgeable and well-respected people that their methodology was wrong. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened so far. The organization did receive some constructive criticism about its study of lapsed vegetarians/vegans and addressed each of the major points of criticism in a public response. One approach Faunalytics is using now is to gather more feedback on their work from outside reviewers before publishing it. In the future, this will likely include public pre-registration and open commentary for all major studies.
Less Successful Projects
Faunalytics has retired one program, Humane Trends. This program tracked 25 different indicators for animal advocacy across the United States. Although the results were interesting, the scoring seemed arbitrary in some respects and tracking the data through various sources was a significant staff cost. The program didn’t get enough utilization to justify the staff time, so the program was retired in 2013.
They are also considering a revamp of their Animal Tracker longitudinal study, which records the attitudes of adults in the U.S. towards animals and the use of animal products. They have learned quite a bit since starting the study and would like to simplify their research goals and question language to increase the accuracy and usability of those results. Any changes or new questions will involve gathering community feedback to find out which research questions are considered most important.
Che Green serves as Executive Director since founding the organization in 2000, and they have an active Board of Directors. Green has been involved in animal advocacy for more than 20 years and spent two years managing research for a division of Microsoft. The organization’s newest Board Member, Caryn Ginsberg, has been incredibly active as an advisor for many years. Kathryn Asher, a sociology doctoral student focused on diet-change research, leads many of the research projects for the organization.
Although they don’t currently have an official transparency policy, it’s an important value for Faunalytics. As dictated by their organizational mission, they work to make their research available to other animal advocacy organizations and individual advocates. Most of the content that the organization produces for its library is free and open to the public. The organization does restrict access to some full-text documents if they contain sensitive findings or at the request of clients. However, even these restricted documents are available to registered users, and registration is free. This approach allows Faunalytics to ensure accountability for those accessing the data and also allows the organization to continue growing their user base.