The following is a conversation between Mahi Klosterhalfen, CEO of the Albert Schweitzer Foundation (ASF) and Jacy Reese of Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE). ACE last spoke to ASF in 2014.
Assessment of Strengths and Weaknesses
In the last couple of years, ASF has been looking for areas where they can increase their work’s effectiveness and impact. They are always seeking to become more efficient, and have been letting go of campaigns and projects that haven’t had the desired impact. This has allowed ASF to focus on key topics and campaigns that work best for them. One project they let go of involved paying for canvas coverings for transportation trucks, contingent on being permitted to print their own messages on the canvas. This type of project wasn’t evaluated well by ACE in the past in terms of cost-effectiveness, and so was discontinued. Related to this continued search for effectiveness and efficiency is their openness to being wrong; they value scientific evidence over gut feelings and philosophical views, and as such are always open to being contradicted by science. They try to make data-driven decisions wherever they can, so they engage in both quantitative and qualitative evaluations. This is something that has increased particularly since they last spoke with ACE. In addition, ASF always looks for ways to build bridges—for instance, combining farmed animal reforms with farmed animal rights campaigning. They don’t see companies as enemies; there might be a way towards agreeing on things—they just have to find the right solutions. Neither do they regard meat eaters as enemies, and they approach other organizations as allies to work with on campaigns.
Areas in which ASF might have room for improvement include, for example, their project management. Internal miscommunications have presented some issues in the past, and this is something that they are working on. ASF has also been too patient with some companies, trying to be as friendly as possible; possibly too friendly. They have decided to start applying pressure earlier on in the process of their communication with companies. They are using this approach with their two new corporate outreach staff. One such high-pressure campaign that they have been working on is directed towards McDonald’s, to get them to extend their cage-free policy to indirectly purchased eggs (e.g. sauces and bakery goods). (Note that as of 10/20/2016, McDonald’s has now sent out a press release saying they will switch all sauces to free-range eggs by 2017, and posted on Twitter that they are looking into extending this policy to all products in Germany.)
In addition, ASF hasn’t been able to share their scientific work as much as Klosterhalfen, and also the scientific team themselves, would like to see. They have decided to make their work a lot more open. Most of this research is not available in English, although this is something that ASF would like to invest in. They would like to share their work with the broader movement, for which some translation would be necessary.
On a personal level, Klosterhalfen thinks that he has been too slow to recognize the need for additional “enablers” (e.g. assistants, operations staff) in the organization. The shortage has since been resolved; including a new assistant for Klosterhalfen and a person in the communications department partly dedicated to work on social media so Klosterhalfen can focus his time on other projects.
For the process of self-evaluation, ASF has designed a graphic based on the image of a classical building. The ultimate goals of ending factory farming and spreading plant-based eating forms the roof, supported by four “pillars” of working with companies, consumers, influencers, and the law, in turn supported by a base of finding animal product alternatives, learning and growth, and well-working structures. This graphic has allowed ASF’s goals to be clearer both internally and externally. ASF tries to formulate measurable and time-based goals in line with this overall structure, and proceeds to evaluate the effectiveness of these goals using Phineo’s seven-step results staircase, which helps measure the impact of the work of NGO’s. They aim for a step that is as high up as possible, while still being measurable. They also track goals internally, recorded on a Google spreadsheet. Goals are assessed monthly by a team member assigned responsibility for that project, and reported on to the organization at large. They implement a traffic light color system (green, yellow, or red) to indicate the state of each annual goal.
Corporate Outreach—Successes and Future Goals
ASF’s corporate outreach work continues to be very strong, and they particularly wish to expand their international outreach. One particular campaign, which involved putting pressure on the company Mondelez to become cage-free globally, was far more successful following international pressure engendered by cooperation between ASF and The Humane League. This campaign was an initial stepping stone to future international work. (Note that after our conversation, ASF has worked with discount chain Lidl to go cage-free in each of the 26 countries they operate in, including for liquid egg used in their own brand products. Lidl almost exclusively sells its own brand products, and made this commitment for 2025.)
Although working within Germany is important, as the largest European economy, ASF also seeks to expand internationally. It also represents ASF’s new commitment to run and win more high-pressure campaigns against companies. They do need to be careful, however, that such pressure would be appropriate in a given situation. ASF wishes to avoid being branded as “radicals”, as this would damage their good relationships with the food industry. ASF has continued to work well with German supermarket chains, who have all stopped selling battery cage eggs. ASF had a lot of success particularly with a small campaign to convince supermarket chains to stop selling quail eggs laid by quails kept in battery cages. As a result of this campaign, the largest quail egg producer was thrown out by one supermarket, and the chain decided to go 100% cage-free. The producer and ASF started working together, the producer developed a cage-free, fresh air, “free to fly” system and has now decided to go entirely cage-free by 2026. It is a mid-term goal of ASF to encourage all German supermarket chains doing business abroad to announce international cage-free chicken egg policies, in addition to their domestic policies. This goal is an example of ASF’s broader aim to work with international companies, and to encourage commitment to animal protection from German companies doing business internationally. (Note that as of 10/20/2016, it looks like every German chain will be on board with international cage-free commitments by the end of 2016.)
ASF has been able to increase their success with encouraging reduced meat consumption and the sale of more and better vegan options, again in communication with supermarket chains. Said chains are active in communicating with ASF for advice on vegan food ranges and animal welfare policies. This latter in particular is a big success, since previously many chains didn’t have any such policies at all. In comparison to other countries, these policies have become very comprehensive in many of these German supermarket chains. ASF has had huge success with their vegan benchmarking, which involves ranking supermarket chains according to their provision for vegan diets. This project has led to extensive discussions with supermarket chains who want to improve their ranking. The project’s success has led ASF to plan another benchmarking program for supermarket farm animal welfare policies. They are aware that in the German food industry, companies look very closely at what their competitors are doing, and try to emulate their successes—working with benchmarking therefore seems like a good way forward.
ASF has recently been able to convince a leading German retailer to work with them on farming standards for farmed fish. The retailer is enthusiastic to increase standards and thereby become the market leader in this area, and for ASF this collaboration has contributed to the writing of a paper, which is being translated into English, containing suggestions for improving welfare in aquaculture. Klosterhalfen has always been keen to work on improving standards in aquaculture because of the huge numbers of animals involved; ASF hopes to expand the campaign to tackle aquaculture in the coming years.
Finally, ASF has been trying to engage both politics and the agriculture industry to bring an end to beak trimming. They have been successful in getting politics and industry to agree on this issue. For laying hens in Germany, this is happening right now, and the industry has agreed to expand the ban into turkey rearing.
For legal reasons, ASF does not themselves conduct investigations into the animal welfare standards of companies. There have been discussions recently in Germany concerning the legality of investigations—and if ASF were found to have supported an investigation that was subsequently declared illegal, then those board members employed (presently or historically) by the government could lose all rights to pensions. A second reason is ASF’s close work with German food companies, who have a low view generally of such investigations, and who don’t seek to work with organizations that engage in them. ASF has already established so many great corporate connections, and so have decided that they aren’t the best organization to engage in investigations. In Germany, Animal Equality does investigations, as well as Animal Rights Watch, PETA, and SOKO Tierschutz.
Consumer Outreach—Successes and Future Goals
In terms of consumer outreach, ASF’s “Vegan Taste Week” is going strong. This project is a website and email program which, in the first week, shares an email every day containing advice on dietary changes, where to find the best vegan products, and what to do while travelling. After the first week, emails are sent less often. They have had 100,000 signups since the program’s launch in late 2014. They also now conduct surveys of subscribers of Vegan Taste Week; they publish the results, and use them to try and improve the program for future users. They have also published the process of developing the survey, the full results including raw data, and some discussion of lessons learned so that other groups may learn from their mistakes.
ASF has been engaging in movement building; they now have 37 all-volunteer local groups across Germany. These groups have a strong focus on talking to people, particularly on encouraging signups for Vegan Taste Week. They also help to apply pressure during corporate campaigns, such as recently holding 45 demonstrations in 29 cities in front of McDonald’s restaurants, sending pictures to McDonald’s franchisees and decision-makers.
ASF wishes to expand their Vegan Taste Week and corporate campaigning internationally. They are looking to begin work in Poland, which has a strong grassroots movement and is close to Germany geographically and culturally. ASF looks particularly for markets that are underdeveloped, where they can have more of an impact—working in Eastern Europe is their first step, followed potentially by countries like China.
Scientific Work—Successes and Future Goals
ASF has also had advances in their scientific work. They have written detailed background articles on the treatment of farm animals and the standard practices in animal agriculture. These articles are getting picked up by politicians, other organizations, Wikipedia, and book authors, among others. They plan also to publish their research on behavior change, and to improve brochures with the addition of in-depth interviews.
ASF has also been involved in work with the College of Higher Education, a project they are very excited about, to establish a Bachelor of Arts program entitled “Vegan Food Management,” which starts this year. ASF has been in touch with the College about this from the start, as the idea originated with them, and they have been involved every step of the way, including the accreditation process and the designing of teaching programs. The director of ASF’s scientific department will also teach a course in his free time. They have also been working with students on veganism-related theses including, for example, theses investigating the reasons people don’t become vegan as well as reasons why people return to meat-eating.
Political and Legal Work—Successes and Future Goals
Following ASF’s decision to begin applying pressure to companies earlier in their campaigns, they are also planning on looking into engaging with confrontational political campaigns. Some politically confrontational actions they have seen attempted for animals in the past, such as a hunger strike in support of changes in animal welfare law, have not had the greatest success. Therefore ASF want to try to identify realistic goals, and to learn from successful organizations such as Campact, an environmental and social justice organization which engages in frequently effective political pressure work. ASF wants to see if it can adjust their campaigning techniques for animal issues.
ASF has also recently been using legal action as a tool to advance their projects, and this is an avenue of development ASF. Particularly, two of their board members, a lawyer who was formerly a judge and has written a book on German animal welfare law, and a judge, are keen to see this area grow. In some German states, animal protection groups, which are not foundations, recently have received some suing rights. While ASF, being both based in Berlin (which doesn’t have suing rights for animal protection groups) and a foundation, has no such rights, they are working with groups that do. State courts can rule that certain sub-laws are in conflict with the German animal welfare law, which is impactful because these sub-laws describe in detail what can and can’t be done to animals. One such case on which ASF is currently working concerns the size of gestation crates. German sub-laws require crates to be wide enough for the sows to turn around, but in practice they are too narrow. ASF believes that if this rule were followed it ultimately wouldn’t make sense for farmers to keep sows in gestation crates at all. This is an action that ASF is supporting financially, and the company of ASF’s lawyer board member is working the case for a very low salary. This project is being conducted in collaboration with Animal Rights Watch, which has suing rights.
ASF is looking into ways to tackle other areas of intense suffering, including in the broiler chicken industry.
The way that ASF fundraises is unusual, as it is entirely web-based. Newsletter subscribers are sent an email every month or so, asking for donations. In 2015 they expected €44,000 a month from regular giving, but they ended up reaching €47,000. This has increased from 2014’s €30,000 raised. Their total goal for fundraising in 2015 was €700,000, but their actual fundraising reached €727,000, up from €533,000 the year before. ASF expects this growth trend to continue steadily, if not quite as strongly. They are wanting to have more success with major donors, so much so that one team member is now investing a portion of time to working with those donors specifically. ASF will hold their first major donor event a couple weeks after this conversation, and have recently secured €100,000 over two years for their work in Poland.
If they were to receive additional funding beyond existing projections for this year, ASF would generally seek to invest in that which has the most impact. If their work with Poland proves successful, for instance, Klosterhalfen thinks that they will invest in other countries in Eastern Europe. With €50,000 they can hire two people for a year, and Klosterhalfen can easily see 10 or more people being necessary across Eastern Europe—so a lot more money is required.
Another campaign they could improve with additional funds is their farmed fish project. They could expand it to engage multiple companies that take part in aquaculture, and possibly could cover the rearing of multiple types of fish. With additional funds ASF would also seek to hire another evaluation specialist, in order to evaluate more of their work, and to help build the website and publish findings—actions that could help the movement at large.
They would also like to hire one of their interns in the scientific department. That step is necessary for ASF to translate and publish their findings, and they currently lack funds for this hire. If they got the funding, they would get another intern so the total staff could increase by one.
They also need funding to take advantage of the legal opportunities described above.
ASF’s Team and Collaborators
ASF has been expanding their team so staff can make more efficient use of their time. For example, the recent hiring of a webmaster has freed up some of Klosterhalfen’s time, which he has devoted to introducing ASF’s vegan benchmarking program, the aquaculture project, and getting the ball rolling on pressure campaigns. ASF has also been investing internal resources in Facebook campaigning—one team member now devotes a third of their time to Facebook campaigning, and a full half of one intern position is devoted to this area. This work has enabled ASF to increase their Facebook reach by over 700%, from 6.3 million in 2014 to 49.6 million in 2015. ASF was one of the first organizations to use free government-funded long-term volunteers in Germany’s “federal volunteer service,” a program which other Germany animal groups are now taking advantage of. They now have nine of these employees who work with ASF on average for about a year. While it does mean that they have to train people pretty frequently, it also allows them to attract talented individuals and hire the best volunteers after their volunteer service is over.
ASF has started working more and more closely with other animal protection organizations to develop positions and to speak as a movement with a more unified voice. This collaboration is helping them counter one argument by German politicians: that the animal welfare movement never agrees on anything. ASF have invited other animal protection organizations to their offices, and now have regular meetings. One particular collaboration that has been successful, in addition to those already mentioned above, is an ongoing collaboration with Compassion in World Farming. Another is with with VEBU. Both ASF and VEBU focus on effectiveness and the promotion of plant-based consumption. Klosterhalfen does not believe, however, that the space is too crowded. VEBU and ASF have slightly different specialities, which serves them very well when working together on projects.
ASF believes in building bridges, and Klosterhalfen does not believe that differences in approach between different animal rights and welfare groups are necessarily a problem. For instance, while ASF focuses on helping individuals make plant-based dietary choices, an organization like Animal Ethics in Spain focuses on changing speciesism itself. This is not necessarily contradictory, however, as ASF believes that attitude change and behavior change affect each other. ASF also seeks to build bridges with NGO’s beyond the sphere of animal rights and welfare. In communication with environmental organizations, for instance, ASF encourages them to more strongly consider the environmental consequences of animal agriculture, and the inclusion of its abolition on their agendas. In so doing they further both their own goals and those of the other organization.
One particularly important bridge that ASF has been able to build spans the gap between animal welfare reform campaigning and plant-based living advocacy. There are lots of organizations in Germany that work on animal welfare reforms only and, previously, a large gap existed between this reform work and plant-based diet outreach. ASF has positioned themselves between the two supposed poles, and as a consequence some conservative reform-based organizations have even started publicizing vegan messages.
It would be a shame for them to focus only on welfare reforms, as some critics might suggest, since they’ve built so many great relationships with companies. These companies often want to know what else they can do to help more, and this is a great opportunity to encourage plant-based diets. There is also a worry that a focus on reforms can lead to complacency with regards to other forms of suffering—that animal welfare reforms mean that people don’t need to be vegetarian or vegan. ASF wants to distance themselves from this notion. Whenever ASF communicates about these issues, they include the caveat that reduced suffering doesn’t mean suffering-free, and the animals are still far from being able to express their natural behaviour.
ASF’s ultimate advice to individuals is to go vegan, as the best choice for the animals. However, they encourage a step-by-step process for people. The instruction to “reduce” is hard to implement, and “cut out” is uninspiring. ASF prefers to suggest people “replace” this with that, or “try” a new food, ingredient or recipe. The most effective results proceed from positive encouragement towards plant-based consumption.