Leah McKelvie and Oscar Horta are two of the three co-founders at Animal Ethics. They spoke with ACE Research Associate Jamie Spurgeon on August 14, 2017. This is a summary of their conversation.
What are some of Animal Ethics’ recent accomplishments?
Animal Ethics is engaged in several areas of work—adding new content and languages to their website, leafleting and tabling, giving talks and seminars, and reaching people on social media.
In previous years, Animal Ethics spent a lot more time and money on creating content—including materials for leafleting and tabling. This year, their cost per leaflet distributed is lower, and they have distributed many more leaflets. In their first year of leafleting they distributed in the tens of thousands of leaflets, and now they’re distributing hundreds of thousands per year. Their leaflets are now available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German and French—they plan to have them in all the languages available on their website. Their reach across the world has also expanded: they’re particularly strong in the U.S., Spain, and Brazil, and also carry out work in other countries in Europe and Latin America. In the U.S., they have the strongest presence in California, Texas, and Colorado—but people distribute their leaflets throughout the country. They hope to decrease the fraction of their overall budget spent on leafleting in the future.
Animal Ethics has 140,000 followers on their English Facebook page, around the same number on their Spanish language page, and around 80,000 followers on their Portuguese page.
Animal Ethics has increased the number of languages available on their website; content is now available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and German. Chinese, Russian, Romanian, and Polish translations are also in progress. This is all done on a volunteer basis and doesn’t cost anything. They are also in the process of redesigning their website; they are updating it to make it easier to navigate and easier to order leaflets.
Animal Ethics has given about 40 talks all over the world so far this year. They’ve also attended a few conferences and organized their third annual seminar at Madrid University for undergraduate students. They’ve come up with research plans for the future, which are primarily focused on the situation of wild animals. This includes a research plan to try to assess attitudes toward reducing wild animal suffering among scientists and students. Their overall research and publication plan for 2017–2018 includes adding more essays to their site about effective animal advocacy and about sentience, particularly of invertebrates.
Within the organization, Animal Ethics now has three volunteer coordinators (one for the English-speaking world, one for the Spanish-speaking world, and one for the Portuguese-speaking world) and they have done some work on formalizing their policies and guidelines. They’ve also worked on trying to gauge strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (doing a SWOT analysis) through a questionnaire sent out to people involved with Animal Ethics at all levels.
What is Animal Ethics’ ten-year plan and what are their overarching goals?
Animal Ethics tries to be influential by reaching the general public in addition to animal advocates. They also work to influence academics (mainly within the field of animal ethics and related fields) and they think their publications and their presence at conferences have had some impact in this area. A big focus for Animal Ethics has been on influencing animal advocates in Europe. They believe that the increase in concern for wild animal suffering among these advocates reflects their success, since they were initially the only organization working to address wild animal suffering (as far as they know).
One of Animal Ethics’ main goals—which they had not addressed before and which they are starting to address now—is to influence ecologists and people working in animal welfare science. For wild animal suffering to become a respectable cause both socially and in policy making, it needs to be respectable in academia. To accomplish this, their main long-term plan consists of creating this field of research. Their ten-year goal is to have some people working within academia on wild animal suffering, and to have some people within the fields of ecology, animal welfare science, and veterinary medicine who consider this a reasonable area of concern. In addition, they’d like the idea of wild animal suffering to be much better known among animal advocates. They’d also like the idea of speciesism to be much more used and discussed by animal advocates. Finally, they’d like Animal Ethics’ reach to expand to China and India.
Animal Ethics would like their impact on animal advocates to be visible. They would like to be funding some work on ecology and animal welfare, in order to promote their goals of influencing academia. They’re also close to publishing their website in Chinese and will probably do so in late 2017 or early 2018. In five years they would like to already be influential in China and India through distributing materials to Chinese and Indian communities in the West and then making the transition to China and India.
In addition to all of this, Animal Ethics would like to start publishing a newsletter and to create more appealing and accessible materials for advocates and the general public. They also hope to publish a book on wild animal suffering and to automate some work that can be automated, such as parts of the volunteer process and research pipeline. They will begin to measure impact in the ways that they are able.
Animal Ethics sees themselves as being in a transition period right now. They think they have grown a lot in the past few years, and the results of that growth will be more visible one year from now than it is currently. Throughout 2017 they have been establishing new groups in places where they weren’t previously active, such as Brazil. They’ve also been developing relationships with other organizations—including ProVeg in Germany and some organizations in Latin America. One year from now, their work in these new places should be much more established.
Animal Ethics would also like to have accomplished the first stage of their plans to establish wild animal studies in academia in the next year. That means that during this academic year they will carry out some studies assessing ways in which academics find it interesting or acceptable to address wild animal suffering. The first stage of research will be qualitative, involving interviews and discussion groups. Then, during the spring 2018 term, they will use these results to do a quantitative study with students as well as to look for partnerships for the 2018–2019 academic year.
Animal Ethics wants their website to become a major resource for animal activists and others who are seeking information that can improve their knowledge of areas related to animal ethics. They believe that this will in turn help improve the accuracy and effectiveness of their work. To achieve this they want to expand the content on the website to cover many more areas. This is already something they’ve been working towards, and their website already has lots of material.
What does Animal Ethics’ strategic planning look like?
The ten-year plan has already been created. They’ve made small changes, but haven’t changed their goals and don’t have an established method for revising the plan.
Every year, Animal Ethics creates a new yearly strategic plan and thinks about how far they are from their goals. So far, their yearly strategic planning hasn’t led them to change their ten-year goals. In theory, this process might help them to decide one thing is more important than another. They do however re-prioritize and make changes to their short-term plans. They create this new strategic plan during the third quarter of each year, so that in the fourth quarter they already have a draft of the plan for the next year. They then revise the yearly strategic plan around halfway through the year, checking which goals were realistic so that they can learn from each year’s experience in setting the next year’s plans. They also have to adjust the strategic plan based on funding, as what they can accomplish is dependent upon how much money they have available. For example, this year they were thrifty in order to conserve money for 2018, because they realized they expected to need a lot of money in 2018.
What are some of Animal Ethics’ past goals and changed plans?
There are some goals Animal Ethics has achieved, as well as some goals they haven’t achieved or chose to stop working on. For example, they planned to influence famous intellectuals, but eventually gave it up because they felt they would be more efficient working in other ways. They also had times when they postponed goals of working in other languages, such as Italian usage in their Facebook posts, so they could focus more on other goals and creating strong content in the languages they were already working in.
Overall, McKelvie feels that they’ve achieved their main goals. While they’re sometimes a bit behind schedule on website content, they’re happy with what they’ve prioritized and they’ve generally been ahead of schedule with website translations and with other outreach programs. Generally each year they meet most of the goals from their strategic plan.
One change over the past several years is that Animal Ethics has increased their spending on outreach in order to hire outreach coordinators. But most of their recent changes have not been to the direction of programs. Instead, they have been adjusting their organizational structure in order to take better advantage of volunteer work. As a result, they’ve had more Researchers helping write texts and doing other high-level tasks. They find these people by organizing talks and getting attendees involved. They’re in the process of formalizing volunteers’ organizational roles and responsibilities.
How much funding could Animal Ethics use effectively next year?
Animal Ethics would be able to use a great deal of money, even $10 million, if they adjusted their strategic plan. For example, with a huge amount of money, they would be able to go to a prestigious university like NYU and discuss funding a program—which would be a very quick way to make progress towards their goal of influencing academia.
More realistically, they’d expect a major increase to their budget to be in the range of an extra $50,000-$100,000. In this case, they’d want to hire another person to help speed up their progress. They would do some fundraising and would then use the rest of the money to fund projects related to welfare biology in academia. With $200,000, they would be able to hire more people in places besides the U.S. Animal Ethics has focused on international expansion both to reach more audiences and to be able to hire people more cheaply while still paying them a good salary relative to their living expenses. In particular, they would like to hire people in Latin America, China, and India—while keeping a large part of the funding increase to pay for wild animal suffering research.
Animal Ethics has not focused on fundraising in the past because they have focused their time and resources on getting critical foundational work done. They have never had enough money to do all they wanted to and could do, but they have been able to maximize efficient use of the money they get.
Animal Ethics started out as a small group and chose to focus on getting the organization established, giving them more to present to potential donors. As they become better known and respected, they expect that they’ll see some funding increases. As more money comes in, they do plan to allocate some to fundraising—which would help them grow more quickly.
How does Animal Ethics measure outcomes?
Because their goals are so long-term, it’s harder for Animal Ethics to measure their impact than it is for many other organizations. They do have some plans, such as measuring impact on activists through surveys, looking at how much discussion there is of wild animal suffering among ethicists, and measuring impact on the public and activists by looking at how many local groups are working with them. As far as their impact on academia, they’d like to measure it through citations of their work, but this is a longer-term project because it relies on their having published more articles and books.
There are also indirect indicators of their success, like their reach on Facebook, or the reach of their website. However, this only indicates how many people they’ve reached, not whether they’ve influenced anyone. They don’t have a good way of measuring the impact they’ve had on animals. Animal Ethics does discuss veganism in their materials, so they could try to just consider those effects in a way similar to the way other organizations calculate the effects of their materials on veganism, but Animal Ethics has somewhat different materials from those organizations, so it isn’t directly comparable.
Animal Ethics does consider ACE’s calculations and other recommendations for having an impact through educational materials. In particular, they try to show individual animals in their materials because of the “identifiable victim” effect.
What are some of Animal Ethics’ strengths?
Animal Ethics recently carried out a SWOT analysis of their organization and identified major strengths. The first is the qualifications and intellectual robustness of the people in the organization: they have a lot of people who are academic and intellectually oriented. They also have a unique approach in that they stress wild animals and speciesism, with a focus on all sentient animals. Additionally, they have very accurate and high-quality texts and informative materials. Another strength is their ability to reassess their work on a regular basis and change as needed. Horta also brings up their international work as a strength, but notes that this doubles as an opportunity, and they plan to be stronger in this area in the future. They have a strong network of volunteers and academics who are able to travel to conferences or to give talks and do organizing work where their paid work takes them.
What are some of Animal Ethics’ weaknesses?
Animal Ethics has identified their external communication, marketing, and branding as areas that need improvement. They’re a small and not yet well-known organization, and they don’t yet have all the resources they need in order to do the projects they’d like to do. Finally, they don’t have a strong sense of what their impact is—in part because it is particularly hard to measure.
What is Animal Ethics’ role in the animal advocacy movement overall?
In many ways, Animal Ethics is a “meta” organization; they want to be a central hub and have people come to their website for reliable information. In the future, they plan to offer research and content creation help to other activists. Basically, they want to help support the work of other advocates by making them better informed and more effective. Of course, they also try to spread their own outreach as much as possible.
Animal Ethics has had an easier time finding collaborators outside the U.S. This may be because in the U.S. there are already many big organizations, so advocates don’t feel they need help from Animal Ethics. In Europe they’ve collaborated with local groups (Italy and Spain), and also with bigger groups such as ProVeg. They’ve also done some work with local effective altruist groups. In Latin America, they have collaborated with local advocacy groups. In the future, Animal Ethics would like to work in China and India by collaborating with local groups who know the local situation better, providing them with money and materials as needed.
What is Animal Ethics’ organizational culture like?
Animal Ethics invests more time in training volunteers than in training their staff. They have a small staff with lots of experience in animal advocacy, and much of their work is done by volunteers. One issue they have been working on with staff is anti-discrimination. They’ve had an anti-discrimination statement and policy since shortly after they were created, but they have been working on revising it recently.
While most of Animal Ethics’ formal training is for volunteers, the staff and board have also been working on developing skills in certain areas of work. They don’t pay for staff to take courses to advance their professional skills, but they do provide opportunities for more informal training. Animal Ethics doesn’t conduct regular surveys of staff to learn about morale or work climate, though they did include staff in their recent SWOT analysis.
Animal Ethics started out as a diverse group and have become more diverse over time, partly because of their structure as an international organization. They’ve been operating with a de facto diversity policy, but they recognize the importance of having an official policy—so creating one is in their plans. In terms of staff, they’re often very limited by who has the skills that they need (although they have found that this has improved their diversity). Most of their staff are women, and part of their anti-discrimination policy is to try to promote women as spokespeople and into visible roles in the organization.
Animal Ethics has had a lot of discussions about content creation and design that benefited from the multiple backgrounds of their staff and volunteers. With their printed materials in particular (which are distributed in many different areas) they’ve made changes based on problems that staff and volunteers have identified—such as images that wouldn’t work well in some places or ways of saying things that wouldn’t sound right in some languages—even though they worked well in the original version of the leaflet in English distributed in the U.S. In these ways they have learned a lot about different ways of communicating and how to get their message across in different contexts. A very specific example is their branding; normally Animal Ethics uses a lot of blue in their visual materials, but in China that doesn’t work, so they will use red.