The following is a summary of a conversation that took place on March 20, 2014 as part of our medium depth investigation of Mercy For Animals. Nick Cooney spoke with Jon Bockman, ACE’s Executive Director.
MFA plans on doubling the number of their investigations from the previous year. They will continue to use their legal department to help pave the way for investigations, whether through fighting to prevent the passage of ag-gag laws or making sure that they are following the law. They feel that increased numbers of investigations are warranted, as according to a Kansas State study, meat consumption decreases for a six month period following media coverage, but resumes more normal levels later on. Even doubling their efforts will still result in a small number of investigations (from 6 to 12 in the United States and Canada), but it is worth noting that this overall number of investigations is very significant in the animal advocacy movement, and more than any other group. Also magnifying the need is the fact that investigations are sometimes only picked up by select networks, thus also reducing overall public exposure. They also point to the fact that some single investigations have caused significant policy changes, such as Tyson (the second largest pork producer in the U.S.) ending the practice of “thumping” piglets (slamming them headfirst into the ground to kill them), and pushing (not mandating) their suppliers to not castrate or tail dock without painkillers, or use gestation crates. Further examples are 1) Kraft’s decision to eliminate tail docking of dairy cattle, 2) Costco, IGA, Sobeys, Metro, and other retail outlets eliminating gestation crates, and 3) Safeway, Costco, and Kmart publishing anti-gestation crate statements, all of which occurred as a result of MFA investigations.
They also want to continue corporate outreach. They’ve had some recent significant corporate victories, notably the Tyson policies noted in the previous paragraph, and are also working with a couple of the largest dairy companies in the country in drafting new and improved animal welfare policies. They also continue to develop relationships with some companies to try to bring about policy changes, and hope to finally convince Walmart to eliminate gestation-crate sourced pork from their stores.
MFA plans on continuing to expand their education programs. They are working to bring quality vegan advocacy materials to other regions of the world with increasing meat production and low available resources. They are testing different design versions of meatvideo.com to optimize effectiveness. They are going to replicate these efforts in Latin America (mostly Mexico), China, India, with the sites in each country’s respective language. There is very little information in these countries about the how and why of eating veg. They anticipate these resources will be online by the end of June.
They don’t anticipate that these international campaigns will affect their work in the US, as time has been reallocated from programs that were not especially high impact. For example, they had two national coordinators last year, whereas they’ve condensed those responsibilities into a single position. They’ve also reviewed their tabling efforts at places like pride festivals, and decided to be more selective in where they table; however they plan on leafleting at more events in 2014 than 2013. These decisions should help minimize costs.
MFA will allocate significantly more resources to their online ad campaigns (about 7 times more money). As a result, they will have virtually no other advertising, with the exception of possibly testing some new television ads at a modest budget amount.
They are refining their grassroots outreach efforts to focus on the more effective programs, mostly leafleting and pay-per-view. This means that they are phasing out certain booklets, and are now mostly distributing FRESH and their vegetarian starter guide.
MFA is trying a new program called “MFA Fellows” where they give one student at elite schools a small award/stipend and have them conduct some form of vegan outreach (specifically leafleting, tabling, conducting pay-per-view, distributing veg starter guides, hosting speakers, and building up clubs).
They are also working to create more viral videos to increase their media outreach.
Past ability to fund programs
Two of the areas that Nick sees as particularly effective are investigations (and the ensuing dietary and corporate/legislative change) and vegan advocacy, both of which are scalable from their current level. They’re doing online ads, but could just as easily be doing five times as many. With additional funds, they would also likely be able to do more investigations.
It’s hard to estimate how much more could be done with investigations. Nick thinks that another $500K would easily be put to good use. Impact/dollar would likely still be approximately the same. For education, the sky is the limit – they are investing $350K in online veg ads this year, and could easily scale that up dramatically. They will be investing resources in media outreach and working with local veg advocacy groups in other countries as well.
MFA’s budget for 2014 is $2.9 million; with an extra $50K or $100K, the directors would look at the increase at their regular meetings and decide where to allocate additional resources. For 2014, they decided that the best place to put additional money was investigations, development, and education. If they had an extra $30K for investigations, it would help fund an additional investigation; if they had an extra $30K in education, some would probably go to online ads, and the rest would either be used to scale up other online veg advocacy, either in the U.S. or internationally.
Expected changes in funding
They expect their funding to increase this year. MFA has recently hired the former Farm Sanctuary Director of Development.
Measurement of impact
A variety of measurements are underway right now. Investigations are harder to measure in general, though the Kansas State study attempted to investigate the effects of media exposure on meat consumption. Impact assessment will be part of Nick’s job with MFA. They are testing variations of meatvideo.com, chooseveg.org, a forthcoming blog site, and email series.
They have conducted studies to help them design their FRESH flyer and Vegetarian Starter Guide. Some are unique to MFA and might not be useful to others, but they are willing to share everything that they’ve conducted.
What would signify a need to change?
Nick believes that the biggest challenge is not recognizing failure, since most farm animal advocacy work has some success (so few people will call their work a failure), but to pay attention and notice opportunities for ways that things can be done better, and then change. Adaptability is very important. MFA has done a really good job of this in the past. For example, for years the main MFA model was very local; they had paid staff organizers in respective areas. While that may work well for certain organizations, it wasn’t the case for MFA. They decided to shut down those local offices, stop paying people to do direct tabling/leafleting/etc (though they still have volunteers doing those things), and in late 2012 switched to more of an online focus. This change has also made more resources available, with which they have now begun working in international markets.
That is not to say that the local model doesn’t work for some organizations. When you have a certain level of resources, a lot of fundraising comes from local offices, and if you were to shut down those offices, you would lose income.
Leadership positions at MFA
There are two levels of leadership: The MFA board and the Directors of each department.
Many of the directors have held their positions for many years, but since they have restructured and created some new positions, they have new people. They have eliminated some positions in the past few years which has led to some turnover, but the changes were made in a manner so as to make the organization more efficient, so they did not have a negative impact.
There aren’t uniform training procedures in place for new staff and volunteers; it varies based on department. MFA does have an employee handbook, but it doesn’t contain specific guidelines for each program they run. Instead, those specific instructions are carried out by the leader of each department. They also have lots of regular contact between directors, including weekly meetings, so that helps bring new staff up to speed.
MFA has 13 total employees (7 key leadership), as well as about 6 independent contractors.
MFA shares a lot of their work with the broader animal movement. They share their investigations, photos and videos, to anyone who wants to use them. This includes letting other organizations use their work in booklets.
They have shared their Vegetarian Starter Guide design information with animal protection groups in Poland, Denmark, and Mexico.
They are happy to share as much research data as requested.
MFA has volunteers all around the country, but their staff is located mostly in Los Angeles (with the exception of three employees). They have worked to connect volunteers around the country with groups like The Humane League, Compassionate Action for Animals, and Vegan Outreach. For example, Jon Camp (Director of Outreach at Vegan Outreach) would let Mikael Nielsen (National Volunteer Coordinator at Mercy For Animals) know which cities he would be in, and Mikael would help when possible with connecting him to activists.