Certain animal charities can help many more animals with your donation than others can. This is largely because some ways of helping animals are much more efficient than others. We have explored charities’ wide range of efficiencies by comparing the effects of a $1,000 donation to a companion animal shelter with a donation of the same amount to an ACE recommended charity. This resulted in the chart below. Although there is some variation in the effectiveness of different charities, and we have some uncertainty about the outcome of particular programs, we believe that by donating to an ACE recommended charity you can help many more animals than you would by donating to a conventional shelter.
Note that the way in which animal shelters and ACE recommended charities “spare” animals is quite different. Shelters usually spare animals from life on the streets or from euthanasia by providing them temporary housing and trying to find them new owners, while ACE recommended charities tend to spare animals from life in industrial agriculture by reducing the size of the factory farming industry (preventing new farmed animals from coming into existence) and reducing the suffering of existing farmed animals by, for example, getting companies to adopt cage-free or other similar policies.
About the Data
Estimates for costs of animal shelters were obtained by searching Google for “what does it cost for an animal shelter to rescue a cat or dog” and visiting the resulting shelter/SPCA/humane society (but not sanctuary) websites.1 If the shelter provided its own estimate of what it cost, on average, to place an animal, that estimate was recorded. If the shelter provided its budget and an approximate or actual number of animals served, those were recorded and used to produce an estimate.2 If we could not find enough information on the shelter website to make an estimate, nothing was recorded. Some shelters provided enough information to make both kinds of estimates, in which case both were recorded. A total of 10 estimates were obtained. Average costs were also weighted by the number of animals served by the shelter to produce a weighted mean estimate.
Estimates for the costs of sparing animals from life in industrial agriculture through ACE recommended charities are from our 2017 cost-effectiveness estimates for all the ACE recommended charities that we completed cost-effectiveness estimates for.3 Specifically, these 2017 estimates were respectively for donations to The Humane League, Animal Equality, L214, Open Cages, and Compassion in World Farming USA. We combined the distributions produced by each estimate, then cut off their tails (10% on each end) to produce a distribution which is more comparable to the one obtained for shelters. This is because the outer ends of each of the sets of the overall cost-effectiveness estimates represented unlikely situations, the equivalents of which we did not consider for shelters.
About the Plot
- For each group of charities, estimates were plotted using a violin plot on a log modulus scale.
- For the animal shelter group, the mean was superimposed on the violin plot. This is our best single estimate for the effectiveness of donations to this type of charity.
- For the recommended charities group, the mean was superimposed on the violin plot. This is our best single estimate for the effectiveness of donations to this type of charity.
ACE. Our Use of Cost-Effectiveness Estimates. May 2017.
ACE. Subjective Confidence Intervals. November 2017.
ACE. 2017 Animal Equality Review. November 2017.
ACE. 2017 The Humane League Review. November 2017.
ACE. 2017 Open Cages Review. November 2017.
ACE. 2017 L214 Review. November 2017.
ACE. 2017 Compassion in World Farming USA Review. November 2017.
For more detailed thoughts on the effectiveness of animal sanctuaries, which are similar to animal shelters in some ways, see our blog post from September 24, 2015.
If we wanted to improve the accuracy of this estimate, we could adjust for the expected optimism that shelters have about their own cost-effectiveness and number of animals served. However, our charity reviews do not always explicitly adjust for similar biases either, and the large difference in cost-effectiveness that is the focus of this page is unlikely to be significantly affected by such an adjustment.
We did not complete a cost-effectiveness estimate for all of our recommended charities. For some of our recommended charities, we believe that a back-of-the-envelope calculation of their cost effectiveness would be too speculative to feature in our review or to include as a significant factor in our evaluation of their effectiveness.