|Type of Work||Industrial Agriculture Wild Animal Rescue and Shelter Animal Meta-Charity|
|Review Published||December, 2015|
What does Animal Ethics do?
Animal Ethics works to spread anti-speciesist messages in academia and to a general audience. They research topics related to anti-speciesism and animal issues, particularly wild animal suffering, and write up their findings in academic papers and essays aimed at a general audience. They also give talks, particularly in academic settings, distribute leaflets based on their work, and conduct online outreach and education through social media.
What are their strengths?
Animal Ethics works in a generally neglected and potentially very important area, especially with their work on wild animal issues. The part of their work that is done in academia is especially promising, because the broad scale of their arguments and long timescale involved in any solution can be challenging to work with in other settings, but are normal in academia.
What are their weaknesses?
Animal Ethics is a young organization with a short track record, so we’re not sure how much they can accomplish. Additionally, because their programs are unique, we can’t use information from other organizations to evaluate them, and Animal Ethics may have to try more things that don’t work before finding the things that do. Furthermore, they are also a young enough organization that we don’t have good information about their ability to recognize success and failure and to change based on that evidence.
Why didn’t Animal Ethics receive our top recommendation?
Animal Ethics works in a very promising area, and so far their choices about what to prioritize make sense to us. However, neither Animal Ethics as an organization nor the particular interventions they work with have a long track record, so we aren’t as confident in them as we are in some more established organizations. We recognize their apparently solid work in an important and neglected area by designating them a standout charity, and as they develop a longer history and track record, we will continue to follow their progress.
Animal Ethics has been one of our standout charities since December 1, 2015.
Performance Based on Our 7 Criteria
- Criterion #1: The Charity Has Concrete Room for More Funding and Plans for Growth
- Criterion #2: A Back-of-the-Envelope Calculation Finds the Charity is Cost-Effective
- Criterion #3: The Charity is Working on Things That Seem to Have High Mission Effectiveness
- Criterion #4: The Charity Possesses A Robust and Agile Understanding of Success and Failure
- Criterion #5: The Charity Possesses a Strong Track Record of Success
- Criterion #6: The Charity Has Strong Organizational Leadership and Structure
- Criterion #7: The Charity is Transparent
How Animal Ethics performs on our criteria
Criterion #1: The Organization Has Concrete Room for More Funding and Plans for Growth
Animal Ethics was able to fund all of their programs last year because they were working on expanding their base of knowledge and materials, a project on which much of the work was done by volunteers. Creating a body of academic research and a framework for the organization primarily required an investment of time from the founders, rather than additional staff hires.
Now that they have a research base, they plan to expand their outreach work through social media, leafleting, and editing more academic articles to be accessible to a larger audience. These are tasks that additional staff could help with, increasing their reach and the speed with which they produce new materials. Animal Ethics would like to hire several staff members to work on research, graphic design, and coordinating volunteer outreach. They have also recently hired someone to work primarily on English social media, although he is based in Brazil and will also do some work expanding their audience in Latin America.
We think it’s likely that Animal Ethics could expand to fill the three roles mentioned with three new staff members in the coming year. While this more than doubles the number of paid staff at the organization (from the current two), Animal Ethics also has three committed volunteer directors who do a significant amount of the organization’s work. With their involvement, they should be able to train the needed new staff. However, we think that this will put Animal Ethics at or near the size where someone in a management role should be able to make a full-time commitment to the organization, whether this is one of the current directors, one of the current or planned staff, or someone else. Depending on where they make hires, Animal Ethics could probably use an additional $100,000-$150,000 effectively in the next year. Since they have limited fundraising experience, almost all of this is probably a funding gap. We can’t predict exactly how any organization will respond upon receiving more funds than they have planned for, so this estimate is speculative, not definitive. We could imagine a group running out of room for funding more quickly than we expect, or coming up with good ways to use funding beyond what we have suggested. Our estimates are indicators of the point at which we would want to check in with a group to ensure that they have used the funds they’ve received and are still able to absorb additional funding.
Criterion #2: A Back-of-the-Envelope Calculation Finds the Organization is Cost-Effective
Animal Ethics runs several programs; we estimate cost-effectiveness separately for each program, then combine our estimates to give a composite estimate of their overall impact. Note that all estimates factor in associated supporting costs including administrative and fundraising costs. We think this quantitative perspective is a useful component of our overall evaluation, but the estimates of equivalent animals spared per dollar should not be taken as our overall opinion of the organization’s effectiveness, especially given that we choose not to account for some less easily quantified forms of impact in this section, leaving them for our qualitative evaluation.
We estimate that Animal Ethics will spend about 3% of their budget in 2015, or around $1,614, on giving talks. We estimate that Animal Ethics will have about 800 attendees in total for their talks in 2015, using their current total of attendees and their plans for talks in the rest of the year. This suggests a cost of $2.02 per attendee.
We estimate that Animal Ethics will spend about 16% of their budget in 2015, or around $8,623, on social networking. We estimate that Animal Ethics will have about 36,500 social network shares by the end of the year, using their current total of shares and assuming that rate of sharing stays constant through the end of the year. This suggests a cost of $0.24 per share.
Leafleting and Tabling
We estimate that Animal Ethics will spend about 47% of their budget in 2015, or around $26,075, on leafleting and tabling. We estimate that Animal Ethics will distribute around 20,000 leaflets in 2015, using their current total for both leaflets distributed and leaflets printed as well as their plans for distribution for the rest of the year. This suggests a cost of $1.30 per leaflet distributed.
All Activities Combined
To combine these estimates into one overall cost-effectiveness estimate, we need to translate them into comparable units. This will introduce several sources for errors and imprecision, so the resulting estimate should not be taken literally. However, it will allow us to judge whether Animal Ethics’ efforts are comparable in efficiency to other groups’.
To assess the impact of talks given by Animal Ethics, we compare their impact to that of online ads using our Online Ad Impact Calculator. We make a ballpark assumption that an in-person presentation is five times more impactful. This is because, despite likely having an audience that is already more friendly to animals, the presentation is longer and makes a more personal connection than online content. In this, as with the rest of Animal Ethics’ activities, we think the most charitable case for their effectiveness occurs if one believes their content, which focuses more on the topics of antispeciesism and wild animal suffering than most animal advocacy, is therefore more impactful. We leave that consideration for our more qualitative criteria, and assume that their content has the same impact of other animal advocacy content. Given that we estimate Animal Ethics will have about 800 attendees for their talks in 2015, this suggests their Talks program results in an estimated 6.8 animals spared per dollar.
For Animals Ethics’ social media presence, we think the impact of a Facebook share is similar to that of online ads, but smaller for various reasons that apply to most animal advocacy organizations: difference in content because the content on Facebook is less optimized for dietary change (50%), difference in audience because much of the Facebook audience already follows the organization and is likely already reducing/eliminating their consumption of animal products (10%),1 and a difference of reduced engagement because of the distractions and large amount of other content on Facebook when the user is engaged (50%). Taken together, this suggests an estimated 0.06 animals spared per dollar through the social media program.
For Animal Ethics’ literature distribution we get an efficacy of 1.1 animals spared per dollar using our Leafleting Impact Calculator. Similar qualifications apply regarding the potential impact of Animal Ethics’ content. This cost-effectiveness estimate also leaves out one of the key activities of Animal Ethics, their production of website and research content. Although we know of numerous informative articles written by Animal Ethics on important topics, we don’t have easily usable outcomes to associate with these efforts so we leave their impact out of our cost-effectiveness estimate and incorporate them in our broader evaluation.
In total, this leads to an estimated animals spared per dollar of 0.7 animals spared per dollar for Animal Ethics. This is at the low end of the range of estimates for other groups we have reviewed at this depth, but we think Animal Ethics has particularly large uncertainty around this estimate, and we have not accounted for several of their potential avenues to impact, such as promoting antispeciesist ideas in academia. Because of extreme uncertainty even about the strongest parts of our calculations, the youth of Animal Ethics as an organization, and their current focus on creating content and establishing themselves rather than maximizing immediate impact, there is currently limited value in further elaborating this estimate. Instead, we give weight to our other criteria.
Criterion #3: The Organization is Working on Things That Seem to Have High Mission Effectiveness
Outreach and Education
Online and grassroots outreach about factory farming to individuals seems highly effective because it is focused on changing the culture of animal use for food. This culture must ultimately be changed if conditions are to improve significantly for animals, as it is not possible that animal agriculture can continue to grow at its present rate in a way that is respectful of animals’ interests. The effectiveness of this type of outreach is somewhat limited when compared to some other forms because viewers and readers are encouraged to make small-scale individual changes and may not influence others the way a change in law or corporate policy influences many people.
Animal Ethics does primarily more general antispeciesist outreach. This has even greater potential benefits in terms of attitude change, because their focus on antispeciesism and wild animal suffering means that their materials address the situation of the largest group of animals on the planet. However, it is likely less productive of short to medium term changes for animals, since farmed animal issues are unique in allowing most individuals to make a fairly direct impact on many animals through changes to their own behavior. Materials that address wild animal suffering or other issues often lack a direct connection to the reader’s personal actions, so that attitudes may change without causing corresponding changes in behavior.
Many animal issues are under-researched, because academics, like the rest of society, don’t place a high value on preventing animal suffering. How the conditions wild animals live in affect their quality of life is particularly neglected as an area of study, as are interventions that could improve the quality of life for animals in the wild. Animal advocates producing high-quality research in these areas may help stimulate additional research in the field, producing impacts beyond those of their own research as research guides development of additional programs that can effectively help animals in the wild and elsewhere.
Criterion #4: The Organization Possesses A Robust and Agile Understanding of Success and Failure
Because Animal Ethics is quite young as an organization, even if they have a good understanding and responsiveness to success and failure, they might not have had reason to make many significant changes by now. They model their practices on other more established organizations, in addition to well-confirmed results from studies on charitable giving and activism methods. Eventually, they hope to do more to evaluate the results of their work. Using tools like Google Scholar will allow them to measure citations of their published articles, but much of their work is too recent to reliably follow those numbers now.
We think their plans for evaluating their scholarly work using citations make sense; citation counts are a typical measure of the impact of academic articles, although they aren’t reliable until a body of work has been around for a few years, because of the pace of academic publishing. We would also like to see them do additional research on the effects of their leafleting program. While it makes sense to start with programs that animal advocates have used successfully, because Animal Ethics’ materials are very different from farmed animal advocacy leaflets, we’re not sure how well other leafleting studies apply to them.
They are flexible in identifying and adjusting to problems in their work-flow. For example, the original goal of publishing all of the research Animal Ethics staff has so far conducted ended up being too time-consuming, so they refocused on publishing half of it and revising these pieces to be more user-friendly, as well as spending more time building their social networks. This allowed them to boost their public presence earlier, and create an audience to which they’ll present additional pieces as they are published. Their approach to publishing on social media sites like the Animal Ethics Facebook page has changed over time as well. They feel more comfortable posting on controversial topics like predation as they become more established.
Criterion #5: The Organization Possesses a Strong Track Record of Success
Successfully carrying out planned programs
Animal Ethics is a young organization. As such, their track record provides relatively little information about what they can expect to accomplish in the future, since much of their effort thus far has gone towards starting the organization and preparing materials that they will be able to use in future outreach.
However, they do have some past successes in carrying out programs they hope to extend into the future. For example, Animal Ethics has conducted leafleting and tabling events, given talks in academic settings, and gotten research published in journals and in a textbook. Not all the impacts of these activities are yet known–for instance, the success of an academic paper can be partially understood by the number of citations it receives, but this takes years to become apparent, as the pace of publishing is slow–but at least Animal Ethics is capable of carrying out most of their planned activities on a logistical level.
Programs leading to change for animals
Since Animal Ethics is a new organization working in a style rather different from others we’ve evaluated, it is particularly difficult to understand their ultimate impact upon animals. They hope to have impact through reaching both general and influential (especially, academic) audiences with anti-speciesist arguments that address the condition of all animals, including animals in the wild as well as farmed animals and other groups more typically served by animal advocates. Ultimately, their impact on animals would be through cultural change, as more people took seriously the need to care for the welfare of all animals. This cultural change would lead to changes in practical behavior towards animals, including both typical goals such as decreased consumption of meat and animal products, and more unusual aims such as increased research on how to prevent or reduce suffering in the wild, and ultimately implementation of programs to do so.
Animal Ethics’ strongest selling point, in terms of their impact upon animals, is simply that they are one of very few groups that truly focus upon all animals in their major programs. Their materials regularly address the situation of wild animals, including small wild animals which humans do not typically sympathize with. This significantly increases the potential scope of their impact, since small wild animals are by far the majority of animals on the planet. (There are about one billion times as many animals in the wild as on farms, when insects are included in the numbers, and one thousand times as many if only vertebrates are counted.) However, the case for their impact is extremely speculative, due to the joint uncertainty caused by their own short history and the diffuse way in which their programs intend to create impact. Their potential impact is very great, but the evidence that they will actually have that impact is much weaker than for many other groups we’ve considered.
Criterion #6: The Organization Has Strong Organizational Leadership and Structure
Animal Ethics has three staff members who share the position of director, and two full-time employees who do other work, assisted by many volunteers. New volunteers have some standard guidelines which they follow for common activities like writing, editing, and outreach. This structure has worked well for them during their early development, since they had a variety of skills available to them regularly for little overall cost. We aren’t sure it will prove stable as Animal Ethics grows. We worry that with more full-time staff, a clearer chain of command might be necessary in order to provide an environment where efficient work is possible. Additionally, any conflict among the three directors will be more disruptive if there are more affected but uninvolved parties. However, it’s possible that Animal Ethics will naturally modify their structure as they grow in order to remain effective; for instance, as more separate program areas develop, the directors might have more formal separation of responsibilities that allows the leadership team to remain the same while providing clear points of contact for other staff. It’s likely some informal separation has already developed in order to allow them to manage the volunteers they work with.
Criterion #7: The Organization is Transparent
Animal Ethics has a policy of sharing any information about the organization upon request. They have a fair bit of information on their website, and they are working to add more when possible. By the end of the year, they hope to broaden their transparency by registering with major sites like Charity Navigator and GuideStar, as well as posting full 990 tax forms for public reference. They have been open in their discussions with ACE and provided all information that we requested.
The following materials are supplementary research documents associated with our charity review process and are referenced in the Comprehensive Review.