ACE evaluates animal advocacy organizations in order to find those that are able to do the most good with additional donations. Following anti-speciesist principles, we recognize that success can take many forms, but aim to compare these different types of success by the amount of improvement they cause in the lives of animals.
Our charity recommendation process involves several sequential stages, with new recommendations being released each December starting in 2014. Our goal is to identify the most effective animal charities, not to rate or grade all organizations, so we consider a large number of groups in early stages of our process, then a smaller number at each stage that follows—until we recommend a few groups which we are very confident are highly effective.
In the general research, basic consideration, and exploratory review stages we consider increasing amounts of publicly available information about each group, seeking to identify first that they are a real group currently working to help animals, and then to get a sense of how well they meet our criteria for recommendation. In the comprehensive review stage, we talk to leaders at the organizations involved to get a fuller picture of the organization’s activities and how well it fits our criteria. Finally, we select the best of these thoroughly-researched groups as our Top Charities, and other groups with exceptional strengths as Standout Charities. Any organization designated as a Top Charity will be re-evaluated every year, while any organization designated as a Standout Charity will be re-evaluated every other year. Additionally, we will evaluate new organizations each year.
We generate a list of organizations for consideration by combining existing lists of animal advocacy organizations, organizations that we are aware of for other reasons, and suggestions solicited from experts and obtained through our website. Suggestions for our next round of evaluations are welcome.
Because there are so many animal advocacy organizations, even briefly evaluating all of them would easily overwhelm our capacity: The Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are 3,500 animal shelters in the U.S. alone, and though in some cases a single organization runs many shelters, this suggests the number of animal advocacy organizations is similarly high. Therefore, as we are compiling our list, we use heuristics to decide which organizations to include. Specifically, we strive to include all organizations focused on highly effective areas, but in areas we consider less promising, we evaluate only those groups recommended specifically to our attention. Therefore, while we hope that our evaluations cover a large percentage of groups working towards farm animal advocacy, we omit from consideration many charities focused on companion animal welfare. As we conduct future research, we may revise our opinions of which areas offer the most effective ways of improving animal lives, and we would then revise our heuristics accordingly.
ACE’s research staff work with interns and qualified volunteers to conduct charity reviews. We use an evaluation template to ensure that crucial factors are considered for each organization. Evaluators review the organization’s website and other materials and interview some of their employees. Evaluators also consider general evidence regarding the activities of the organization, such as the findings of our intervention evaluations. Evaluators document conversations so that sources can be provided in the final report.
Our reviews occur at two levels of intensity: exploratory and comprehensive (previously referred to as shallow and medium, with an additional deep level). For an exploratory review, evaluators visit the website of an organization and briefly review other publicly-available information about its mission, methods, and past achievements to evaluate how well it meets the criteria listed above. Evaluators also consult a staff member of the organization being evaluated to ensure the review is fair and representative. All organizations we evaluate have received at least an exploratory review.
ACE conducts comprehensive reviews on those organizations that appear most promising following an exploratory review. For a comprehensive review, evaluators more fully examine publicly available information and also solicit materials and interviews from people at the organization being evaluated. Evaluators may also solicit materials and interviews from others who work with the organization being evaluated, such as volunteers and partner organizations.
A comprehensive review requires considerable staff and volunteer time from ACE and cooperation from the organization we are evaluating. If in the process of conducting a review we become convinced that we will not be able to recommend the organization, we may discontinue the review and write a report based on what we have already learned. If an organization fails to respond to our requests for information or explicitly declines to participate in our evaluation process, we indicate this, in lieu of writing a review.
Previously we had a third level of review called a deep review. This was a more thorough version of the comprehensive review, including more conversations with organization staff and volunteers, as well as with others who work with or are served by the organization, such as staff at partner organizations or program participants. As of 2016, we are not planning to conduct any more deep reviews, but we will incorporate some aspects of the deep review into our comprehensive reviews going forward.
The finished product of each review is a narrative report summarizing the evaluator’s research and conclusions. One component of this report is a detailed cost-effectiveness estimate, but it is important to note that such estimates are subject to many and varying sources of error and should not be used in isolation.
We publish the results of finished reviews along with relevant supporting materials. When we have used materials that we do not have the right to reproduce, we summarize and cite the sources we have used. Before publishing a review, we show it to the relevant organization for review and approval. If we are unable to produce a report that accurately reflects our views and is acceptable to the organization concerned, we indicate that the organization declined to participate in the review process.
View our organization evaluation criteria.
We revise evaluations of all organizations that we currently recommend and update our recommendations at the end of November each year. We also conduct new evaluations and revise old evaluations of organizations that we do not currently recommend. To ensure that our recommendations are solid and well-researched, we focus our attention on evaluations that we feel have the most potential to change our recommendations, rather than revising each evaluation each year. We revisit each organization we have previously reviewed (whether they received a recommendation from us or not) at least every third year, to account for changes in the organization over time. We revisit Top Charities every year, and Standout Charities at least every other year.
Top Charity Recommendations
These charities stand above the rest in terms of the quality and quantity of their work, and they perform very well on our criteria taken as a whole. We believe that these charities are excellent choices for donors who want to help as many animals as possible by donating to organizations that will use their resources thoughtfully and efficiently. They work in ways that are likely to produce the greatest gains for animals, they actively evaluate and improve their programs, and they have a demonstrated need for more funding.
We promote these organizations and encourage the public to donate to their campaigns. We use the amount of money that we direct to these organizations as a metric for the impact of our work.
These charities also stand above the rest and produce high quality work, but they didn’t quite meet the standards for our Top Charity selections. This may be because of minor concerns or uncertainties about their approach or projects, or simply because we feel the organizations we recommend as Top Charities had more strength in areas which we view as most important.
We promote these organizations to the public, but we don’t focus heavily on encouraging people to donate to them. We think these organizations are certainly worthy of support, but in order to maximize our impact and provide clear signals to potential donors, we don’t actively solicit donations on their behalf to the extent that we solicit donations to our Top Charities. To help potential donors navigate the list of Standout Charities, we have split this category into two subcategories.
Standout: General Interest
We consider these Standout Charities to be good choices for evidence-minded donors with limited time available to research their donations. We expect these charities would appeal to most donors who generally agree with our priorities and values.
Standout: Special Interest
We think these Standout Charities are especially attractive to donors with certain specific characteristics. For example, some may appeal to donors interested in supporting longer-term work or more speculative projects. A Standout Charity would also fall in this category if we think donors may need to do further research in order to donate there effectively—for example, if donations should be restricted to a particular program.
This category consists of organizations that we directly considered in the first phase of our evaluation process. At the bare minimum, this means that we visited their website to determine their focus area. If we think that an organization is working in a potentially high-impact area, then we flag that group and take a closer look after we finish our initial round of examination. Knowing the limitations of our time and resources, we then select the most promising organizations for an exploratory review.
Declined to be Reviewed
We planned to publish reviews of these charities but for one reason or another were not able to make contact with them or secure their permission for review or publication. This could be because we simply couldn’t reach someone at the organization to request that we publish our review, in which case we specify that the charity “did not respond to our contact.” Otherwise, we offer charities the option of choosing a reason or reasons for declining the writing or publication of a review, and we publish this on our website. These optional reasons include:
- They were too busy during Animal Charity Evaluators’ evaluation season to participate in the review process.
- They chose to wait until the following year to be evaluated.
(Optionally, charities may choose to include more details, e.g., “because they were developing a new program,” “because they were bringing on new staff,” “because they were in search of a new executive director,” etc.)
- They disagree with Animal Charity Evaluators’ evaluation criteria, methodology, and/or philosophy.
- They do not support Animal Charity Evaluators’ decision to evaluate charities relative to one another.
- Animal Charity Evaluators drafted a review that they felt misrepresented or misvalued their charity.
- They do not consider themselves an animal charity.
- They do not currently have a significant need for more funding.
In order to maximize cooperation from the organizations we evaluate, we give them the freedom to deny the publication of our review and supporting materials. We think this policy benefits both ACE and the animal advocacy community at large. It helps us because it allows groups to communicate with us more freely, which lets us learn more about the organizations we review. Another important consideration is that there are some types of information which may harm an advocacy group if shared publicly. By involving the organizations we review in the decision of what to publish, we allow the stakeholders most affected by the information we publish to help identify what should remain confidential. Although they help us decide what to publish and what to omit, all materials we do publish reflect our own views, which sometimes differ from those of the group involved.
Voluntarily Removed from Consideration
This designation refers to those charities where someone in a leadership role has made a donation to ACE within the last three years. To adhere to our conflict of interest policy, we do not review groups from whom we have accepted donations, so as to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Not Considered; Outside our Scope
This category refers to those organizations whose work could be seen as a conflict of interest to the writing of an impartial review, especially in the case of foundations that could potentially provide grants to our recommended charities. We restrict these listings to those groups that are in a related field and that we would have otherwise reviewed if it were not for this concern.