The following is a summary of a conversation that took place on March 20, 2014 as part of our medium depth investigation of The Humane League. David Coman-Hidy spoke with Allison Smith, ACE’s Director of Research.
1 year goals
A big part of THL’s programs involve local coordinators in various metro areas. Right now they have seven, and would like to expand to 2-3 more cities in the next year. They’ll also continue with national corporate campaigns; right now they are targeting 2 large companies and plan to finish those campaigns by the end of the year. They also expect to finish the current set of Humane League Labs research programs; they plan to release the first results on April 1st and have about 25 studies in total, with one expected to come out every two weeks from that point on.
5 year goals
They’d like to continue opening local offices so that major metro areas are covered by staffers. They also plan to continue expanding the online ads program; they’ve recently started doing overseas ads, which has an enormous amount of room for funding and a little split-testing has really increased the efficacy of the program.
They’re also working on re-branding—a new website, updated newsletter, etc. Once this is complete they’ll be going for more media attention on their national campaigns. Hopefully within five years they’ll be able to go after larger targets with these campaigns or run them in a more ambitious way.
More about national campaigns
These campaigns are THL’s smallest expenditure, in terms of staff time and resources. They are currently conducted by David and by Aaron Ross, the Director of Campaigns. Last year’s victories included Au Bon Pain pledging to phase out gestation crates and battery cages, Johnsonville Sausage pledging to phase out gestation crates. Aramark and Sodexo had been in negotiations with HSUS and THL added pressure that moved those negotiations along, both nationally and with campaigns at specific campuses. There is a current campaign against Centerplate, the 3rd largest dining provider, and there will soon be one against Seaboard Pork, one of few large pork producers not to make a commitment against gestation crates.
THL is in a position to use more confrontational tactics against groups that have demonstrated an unwillingness to make welfare reforms. They can set up online petitions, set up websites, contact distributors of products to suggest switching to more cooperative suppliers, etc.
Funding last year
Last year, THL did have as much funding as they needed for their most important projects. The local offices are expected to fund themselves through fundraising events within 2 years, and they had enough other donations to put a lot towards online ads. They actually exceeded their fundraising goals last year.
More about local office fundraising
There is some variation in fundraising success between offices, a lot of which has to do with whether an office connects with a really big donor. There are three events each office runs yearly, a run, a walk, and a holiday party. The holiday party is where they get more variance; in some cities these produce large personal donations that create a budget surplus for that office. So the offices that get these larger donations tend to have budget surpluses, while offices that don’t are able to cover their own expenses (after the first two years) but may not exceed that. In some of the newer offices it’s hard to say how they’ll do, but they’ve been reaching all their goals.
Future funding situation
They’re starting to put more effort into communications, which will hopefully increase the amount of funding they get from the current body of supporters. The offices they’re opening in new cities should also expand the number of people they can reach out to. They expect to grow in fundraising in proportion to their expansion, but are hoping to go even further by leveraging the new effectiveness studies and increasing focus on communications and design.
A lot of people in the EA community know about THL, but their hope is to reach more of the animal community at large with how effective they are.
Additional marginal funding
Their first goal with more funding ($10k, $50k, or $100k) would be to expand local offices to new cities, and there are a lot of cities they could expand to. The other option would be something like online ads. The local offices have a lower initial return on investment, but because they do their own fundraising they are valuable to expand in the long term. It costs about $40,000 over two years to open an office and support it until it becomes self-sufficient, so with that level of additional funding, they could open 1-2 more offices than planned. For online ads, they could use as much funding as they could get.
It takes some staff time to establish a new office and train the campaigner so that they are as effective as possible. But because they’re been growing quickly, they have a set way to train new people and Aaron is supporting local staff full-time, which frees them up to expand more quickly if the funding is there. A lot of the new people from last year are now becoming self-reliant. If money was not a concern, finding talented staff people would be the other limiting factor, but THL could probably open about 4 offices in the next year and continue that higher rate of expansion.
The local campaigns are easy to measure in terms of output. They record how many leaflets they hand out and where, how many Vegetarian Starter Kits they stock and where, and how many students they present to and where. They aggregate reach by trimester, since they do so much work in schools. In terms of impact, they aim for reducing suffering, and they hope that with Humane League Labs they’ll be able to better measure the outcome of these programs in terms of impact. The local cage-free egg campaigns are easier to measure for final impact, because they can learn from the dining providers how many eggs they purchase.
Online programs are also relatively easy to measure because of analytics on websites that tell you how many people watch the video and what else they click. But they’re also doing more research to help translate these things into the preferred impact measure of suffering reduced or animals spared.
For intuitive reasons, they think the best target audience for outreach is young people in college or high school. But one of their current Humane League Labs studies is asking questions about recidivism and the time people started going vegetarian, so hopefully they will get some information about what groups to target there. A red flag would pop up if young people did not look like the best target group.
Success of recent programs
Online ads have been really good in terms of how cheap it is to reach people with their message, and also because it’s influenced other groups. This is an area where data can be very influential on campaigns, because you’re looking each month at statements including how much money you paid and how many people you were able to reach. In that sense, this might be the most important thing for the movement overall.
However, that local offices essentially pay for themselves and are able to distribute a lot of literature very cheaply is also good. Not including the costs of printing, it costs them 2¢ to distribute a Veg Starter Kit and 4-6¢ to distribute a leaflet. Local organizers also recruit and organize young people on campuses, which has a more difficult-to-measure benefit by growing the movement. For instance, last year this led to THL bringing almost 30 college-aged interns and volunteers to the Animal Rights conference for their first time (THL provided free transportation and some housing costs). Because the local offices pay for themselves in terms of THL’s overall budget, these might be the most effective programs.
Overall, online ads coupled with Labs and split-testing videos are probably the most successful and important programs that THL runs. Their group is so small that the influence they’ve had on larger groups through this program is probably their biggest contribution so far.
More about costs
THL partners with Vegan Outreach for leaflets. When they open an office, Vegan Outreach no longer has to send leafleters to that area, because THL can leaflet local schools for them. Vegan Outreach provides and ships the leaflets and THL hands them out.
They use PETA’s Vegetarian Starter Kits in their newsracks, because they use so many that only a very large group would be able to afford to print them.
Sometimes they volunteer to take old literature to distribute, as when Mercy For Animals printed new Veg Starter Guides.
Factoring in both groups’ costs for THL distributing Vegan Outreach leaflets, the cost per leaflet rises to about 12¢.
Signs that programs need change.
They’re simply looking for the activity that will help the largest number of animals. The Meatless Monday campaign is a good example. This semester, after talking with HSUS about why they’re doing a lot of Meatless Monday activities and how many meals it changes, they’re trying Meatless Monday campaigns instead of cage-free egg campaigns. For example, if Philadelphia were to do Meatless Mondays in the public schools, they have 166,000 students, so about 90,000 animals should be spared, based on the number of meals that would be changed. Boston is a lot smaller, with 57,000 students, and therefore only about 30,000 animals could be spared per year. When they looked at that data, it was hard to argue that they should continue cage-free campaigns for right now. Instead they should focus on this to give it a shot. It’s possible they won’t succeed in any, though this is unlikely. Even a single success would increase the number of animals helped.
If the Humane League Labs data comes out that leafleting or any of their programs are a net zero or net negative, it would be an instant and easy decision to make a switch. They are almost entirely numbers driven in how they decide what to do.
The exception being that they would not shift to only doing online ads, because their funding model has local offices paying for themselves; they aren’t entirely drawing from the same funding pool as online ads. Because they use events to fundraise for local offices, the donor pool these draw from is very different from the donors THL or comparable organizations might find in other ways. For instance, the majority of people who go to their walks are dog and cat lovers. The fundraisers essentially create wealth for the movement by involving people who would otherwise not be donating to effective animal activism at all. Larger donations from bigger donors go into excess funds, which cover online ads or expansion.
Less effective programs
One recent shift from a less effective model to a more effective model was temporarily swapping cage-free campaigns for Meatless Mondays. They also considered doing Meatless Mondays in colleges as a next step for schools that had gone cage-free, and tried it on one or two campuses. By looking at the surveys from when Sodexo implemented Meatless Mondays in many of their schools, they found that this program did not change how much meat was being purchased by the schools. So even though they’re more comfortable working on college campaigns, they’re trying Meatless Mondays in K-12 schools.
They print local veg dining guides, and have realized that these mostly make vegetarians and vegans like them, rather than fighting recidivism or being useful to non-vegetarians. Mostly activists seemed to be using them. They’ve stopped distributing these widely and only print small runs to use at events for branding. They’re getting all the costs covered by sponsors now. This was a hard call emotionally, because people love them but they don’t seem to be particularly effective.
For online ad campaigns, they are constantly split-testing and improving based on data.
In Chicago they tried to do remote cage-free campaigns. They got UIC to switch, but having someone part-time wasn’t successful in general and took too much effort from management. They cut the position after they reached the one victory they were closest to.
One thing they have expanded based on success is the newsracks/Vegetarian Starter Guides operation. They’ve worked with people in a number of cities to set up newsracks. They check up on the newsracks and move the ones that get completely emptied a lot, because that doesn’t indicate actual interest. In smaller cities they don’t have much of a problem. They do have a few hundred survey cards returned from some of the kits but haven’t had time to analyze the data.
They have an Executive Director, a Director of Campaigns, and a Director of Operations. On the Board of Directors, Nick Cooney and Harish Sethu are most involved in strategy. Lydia Chaudhry, another board member, works in the Philadelphia office several days a week and is a critical part of that office and the national intern program. Overall they have 10 employees.
David and Aaron (Director of Campaigns) have been involved for 3+ years each. Nick is the founder, and while still involved stopped being involved day-to-day about 2 years ago. The Director of Operations position has had more turnover.
David trains new people and stays with them for about a month, and Aaron helps them on a day-to-day basis. They have weekly check-ins with all offices. They bring in a lot of volunteers from campaigns on college campuses. They also get volunteers through networking and tabling. They recruit interns through the Philadelphia office and send them to local coordinators or on Warped Tour. Full-time local interns will do 25-30 hours per week of brute force outreach like leafleting, and beyond that they’ll do something more engaging depending on their skills.
With Humane League Labs, they try to make everything extremely public. They think their strong suit is that they can put their money and numbers where their mouth is, and there really isn’t anything they think they would hold back. So far, a lot of their sharing has happened through people emailing them and asking for information, but recently they’ve started publishing the results and data from their current round of studies on the Humane League Labs site.
They publish their best estimates at the end of the year of what specifically they’ve accomplished, such as number of hens spared from battery cages or number of leaflets distributed. They try to be as open as possible at all times. They try to work without ego and spare the largest number of animals, which is why they look for and share so much data.