The following is a summary of a conversation that took place as part of our evaluation of The Humane League. Andrea Gunn is the National Grassroots Director at THL. Andrea spoke with Allison Smith, ACE’s Director of Research, on July 22, 2015.
Andrea Gunn, The National Grassroots Director at The Humane League (THL), works to improve the organizational structure and efficiency of the organization. The goal is to develop structured communication, standardized methods and practices at all offices, and an effective employee manual. Andrea hires, trains, supports, and conducts individual bi-weekly meetings and a weekly group meeting with all local grassroots office directors who currently run offices in Dallas, San Francisco, Baltimore, Seattle, Atlanta, South Florida, Denver, San Diego, Charlotte, and Philadelphia. These offices conduct grassroots efforts for vegan outreach in these cities and the surrounding areas, including leafleting, humane education, tabling events, maintaining news racks, and coordinating local fundraising events.
New staff are hired when funds are available and are sometimes recruited from their volunteer base, with 4 new grassroots staff hired in the past two months. New offices are opened when sufficient donations to THL are received, but THL is not able to predict when a new office will be feasible, due to the spontaneity of many large donations. Regardless of donations, THL typically will only open a maximum of two new offices at a time, and will wait at least one college semester to open additional offices. Occasionally, donations are made specifically for opening offices in predetermined cities.
Oversight of local offices involves a weekly video chat on Fridays involving most of the staff, a bi-weekly video call between the national director and each local director lasting roughly an hour, and a bi-weekly video call between the development director and each local director. Most offices are run by a single full-time staff member—the local director—while volunteers and interns supplement a large amount of the outreach work, such as distributing leaflets and restocking news racks.
Local directors are given general guidelines for time-management and outreach prioritization within their budget. All local offices are recommended to conduct leafleting roughly twice a week, humane education once a week, maintain at least 10 newsracks every 2-4 weeks, and set up as many additional newsracks and attend as many tabling events as possible within their budget and availability. However, local offices are given flexibility in how they divide the outreach time. Instead of a set weekly schedule, they are given outreach goals lasting from January to the end of April, May to the end of August, and September to the end of the year, during which time they are given appropriate outreach benchmarks. For instance, in Charlotte they are expected to give out 40,000 leaflets in the fall period and 20,000 in the summer period. Each local office also runs one fundraising gala a year and leads a running team, as well as getting involved in national campaigns that THL runs and local offices participate in when needed.
Leafleting is considered one of THL’s primary forms of outreach. They typically use three versions of Vegan Outreach leaflets, and one or two versions of Mercy For Animals leaflets. The three versions of Vegan Outreach leaflets target different audiences: “Your Choice” is aimed at college students, “Compassionate Choices” is used for more diverse audience age groups, and “Compassionate Athletes” specifically for athletes. Vegan Outreach is largely responsible for updating the leaflets. Vegan Outreach has specifically requested that their leaflets only be used at events where there is a targeted demographic, so for non-targeted leafleting (e.g., leafleting in a busy intersection or outside a subway station), THL uses Mercy For Animals “FRESH” leaflet. Mercy For Animals has a special version of the “FRESH” leaflet for Gay Pride festivals (only changes are adding LGBT people on the front and back cover), and THL uses this booklet for all Pride events.
The locations for leafleting are determined by local demographics, and the guidelines are set primarily by those in the organization who have the most personal experience in the practice. THL also uses Vegan Outreach’s site Adopt a College for reference. THL primarily targets college campuses, concerts, and other large social events where the attendees are either teenagers or millennials, or they are more liberal or progressive. In North Carolina, for instance, THL primarily does leafleting on large college campuses, whereas in San Francisco leafleting at large social events is currently more common, to avoid overlap with Vegan Outreach’s activities. There is some standardization for THL’s leafleting practices at colleges: they aim to distribute leaflets to a minimum of ten percent of the student population.
THL coordinates at the start of the fall and spring semesters with Vegan Outreach—an organization which also leaflets in areas where THL is active—in order to make sure each organization is targeting different colleges. If there is an overlap in leafleting between organizations, the standard practice is to either collaborate and leaflet the college together, or compare the booklets being used to confirm they are sufficiently different or confirm that the groups leaflet on different days of the week (e.g. Mon/Wed instead of Tues/Thurs) to ensure different students are receiving booklets. THL also coordinates with Mercy For Animals by giving them their leafleting schedule so that Mercy For Animals volunteers can leaflet with THL.
The specific locations for leafleting are determined by a variety of factors: first, THL determines whether any laws prohibit leafleting activities at the location. Then, larger schools or social gatherings are prioritized over smaller ones, and the time of day leafleting takes place is optimized to reach the largest possible audience. As a result, for instance, around 29 schools are leafleted in North Carolina, and at all of which, at least 300 leaflets should be able to be distributed in 3-4 hours. Social events such as concerts that are composed primarily of younger or more liberal individuals are ideal outreach locations, but on occasion THL also leaflets in busy public spaces.
THL considers leafleting to have a number of distinct advantages, and, compared to their other outreach methods, they consider it to have the greatest potential benefit relative to the costs of the program. First, it can be performed by volunteers with very little time and energy used relative to the number of leaflets distributed. For instance, a group of volunteers can hand out around 4,000 leaflets in a few hours. Second, there is data to suggest that leafleting is to some degree effective in changing views and behavior (such as ACE’s study into the effectiveness of leafleting). A change in 1 out of 50 college students is a reasonable estimate of effectiveness, in THL’s view. Third, leafleting also functions as an effective marketing tool for organizations like THL, sometimes also bringing them into contact with prospective volunteers and leading to the creation of campus clubs.
On the other hand, THL does not consider leafleting to be without disadvantages. First, it can be mentally draining work on volunteers who do not always deal with receptive audiences. Second, perhaps the largest drawback is that leafleting also creates waste from discarded leaflets. Third, there is a monetary cost in gas and parking fees to travel to different colleges.
THL also conducts humane education programs at schools and occasionally social clubs. They are in the process of further standardizing the presentations, but currently the presentation given in the Baltimore office is different in some respects to the presentation used by other offices. Andrea’s goal for the next year is to improve and standardize the presentation across all offices. However, some variations are permitted by local offices, such as the inclusion of locally relevant issues (such as water issues in the San Diego area or damage caused by farms in the Charlotte area) or changes in content due to locally relevant celebrities. Like the guidelines for leafleting, THL does not have a completely strict or standardized set of practices but instead has rough guidelines that can be modified by those with extensive personal experience, as the demographics of each city will greatly impact the behavior and receptiveness of both the teachers and the audience.
The location of presentations is determined by proximity to each local office, with a 45 minute driving distance or less being the ideal. A list of local schools, relevant classes, and the respective teachers is then developed. Relevant classes where a humane education presentation could be given include science (environmental science, biology, etc), social studies (civics, history, human geography, etc), or health in High Schools, as well as ethics or philosophy courses in colleges. Though these classes are uncommon, THL also occasionally presents to High School sociology, psychology, and philosophy. Presentations are also given when teachers directly request one, and they are occasionally given at other venues such as social clubs, libraries, community groups, or churches. THL does not have strict guidelines on the audience size needed to hold a presentation, and sees advantages in reaching both larger and smaller audiences. THL does not typically have issues with prioritizing when or where to give presentations, as they can be difficult to book in many of their cities.
For the upcoming Fall 2015 semester, THL has done research on “educational standards” for every state where they have offices, and have found many standards in science, social studies, and health that the presentation meets. They will include these standards in their Humane Education outreach emails (to teachers) and expect to get a significantly higher response rate as a result.
THL considers humane education an important part of their outreach. First, it is an attractive and inspiring form of outreach for donors or prospective donors to THL. Second, in showing a video on the conditions of factory farmed animals, the presentations exposes audiences to graphic material they might not otherwise see. Compared to leafleting, the humane education presentation goes into more detail and is harder to simply disregard or ignore for the audience. Third, group dynamics can work in favor of the presentation, such as when members of the audience begin to discuss the issues on their own. The audience may be motivated to take group action. For instance, THL has seen some groups adopt Meatless Monday programs. By contrast, leafleting is a much more individual-oriented practice.
The humane education presentations do have a number of potential weaknesses, however. First, group dynamics can also work against the presentation, such as when members of the audience influence others to disregard the information. Second, it is also a time-consuming outreach practice for THL compared to leafleting. Third, THL does not conduct follow-up programs to evaluate the effectiveness of the presentations, and an initial study conducted by ACE has raised worries about the effectiveness of such presentations. Fourth, there are worries that traveling relatively long distances to perform leafleting and presentations might not be as effective as focusing more on outreach specifically within the local community where the office is located.
Other Forms of Outreach
In addition to leafleting and humane education, THL also conducts other outreach practices including setting up and maintaining news racks with free vegetarian starter guides, attending tabling events, hosting social events (like monthly vegan drinks, vegan meetups, and potlucks), and assisting with national campaigns. THL offices also do some local restaurant work such as making veg dining guides for their cities, labeling veg-friendly restaurants with stickers that say “Vegan Options Inside”, and giving out cards that let restaurants know people chose to patronize them because of their vegan options.
These are not given the same high priority as leafleting. First, news racks continue to be used because of the low maintenance and low cost required from each office. Volunteers restock the racks every two to four weeks. However, they can be expensive (at, for instance, a one-time fee of roughly a hundred dollars to purchase a plastic rack), and they do run the risk of being vandalized. Second, tabling events is considered less a form of outreach and more a form of marketing for the organization itself, where THL can recruit new members to its mailing list or potentially recruit new volunteers, though they do distribute veg starter guides and leaflets at their tables. Finally, THL has significantly slowed down cage-free campaign efforts as this is an area where they have seen demonstrable success in the food service industry, so it has been given a lower priority.
General Strengths and Weaknesses of The Humane League
Andrea sees a number of general strengths in the operation and outreach practices of THL. David Coman-Hidy as executive director is highly efficient, and at an advantage in the organization by virtue of not being the founder, which can potentially help with making less emotional decisions on behalf of THL. The priority that THL places on effectiveness in outreach is also a strength of the organization, insofar as it allows them to focus efforts on cost-effective campaigns, reaching large audiences within a limited budget, and gives them the flexibility to change programs at any time if new information indicates a change in effectiveness. Finally, office morale and staff culture are considered strong points, which feed into effective activism among staff and volunteers. In terms of potential weaknesses, aside from those mentioned as potential weaknesses in the outreach methods themselves, there are questions of whether the office director job duties could change to involve more local work (such outreach with restaurants to provide more vegan options) and less traveling to leaflet around the state. However, Andrea is currently working to add restaurant outreach to the office director task list.