Who Gets The $$$? Read this before you donate!

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1992:

You’re getting more begging letters than Christmas
cards. Some of the begging letters come disguised as
Christmas cards––only when you open them, out topple not
snapshots of friends and relatives, but instead photographs
you wish were from Halloween and fake, depicting every
kind of animal abuse.
Every begging letter describes a heartrending situ-
ation. Every sender claims credit for dramatic compassion-
ate actions. Each claims to be making the very best possible
use of your money.

And you can’t give a meaningful amount to every-
one. To whom should you give?
No one else can define your priorities for you.
You alone must decide which issues and causes are most
deserving of your attention. But even then, dozens of
groups may be involved.
That’s when it’s helpful to know each group’s eco-
nomic history: how much it spends on programs, how
much on fundraising and administrative salaries, and how
much is held in reserve. Our third annual set of financial
abstracts for the biggest and most influential animal and
habitat protection groups in the U.S. begins on page 12 of
this issue. Except where otherwise indicated, the informa-
tion comes from current Internal Revenue Service Form 990
filings, covering either calendar year or fiscal year 1991.
(1992 filings won’t be available until next fall.) Also includ-
ed are the abstracts of the leading opposition groups, to pro-
vide a benchmark for comparison. For additional perspec-
tive, consider that the National Charities Information
Bureau requires approved charities to spend at least 60% of
their budgets on program services, not including direct-mail
fundraising. This standard is stricter––and more indicative
of an organization’s priorities––than the Internal Revenue
Service rules, which allow charities to write off some
direct-mail fundraising costs as program service under the
headings of “membership development” and “public educa-
tion.” Thus the figures that organizations declare and the
figures as amended after interpretation according to NCIB
guidelines are often very different. You’ll find the differ-
ences explained in our footnotes.
The NCIB also suggests that, “Usually, the orga-
nization’s net assets available for the following fiscal year
should not be more than twice the higher of the current
year’s expenses or the next year’s budget.” Remember,
though, that not all cash and securities are actually avail-
able; many of the better-endowed organizations derive half
or more of their income from interest.
ANIMAL PEOPLE does not recommend, how-
ever, that you should guide your giving strictly according to
either NCIB standards or those of the Better Business
Bureau. Both the NCIB and the BBB annually publish lists
of prominent charities that either do or don’t meet
these and a number of other rigid standards, and
end up giving negative ratings to some of the
most effective organizations in animal and habi-
tat protection because their standards are not
appropriate for most small, highly specialized
groups. For instance, to prevent conflicts of
economic interest, the NCIB allows only one
salaried staff person to sit on a charity board of
directors, and the salaried person may not be
president of the board. Related people also aren’t
supposed to sit on boards together. Reasonable
when applied to multimillion-dollar charities,
these guidelines are quite impractical for small
“mom-and-pop” charities, few of which take in
enough money for significant economic conflicts
of interest to develop. In general, the smaller the
organization, the more likely staffers and board
members are to be one and the same, and relat-
ed––and the more likely this is to be quite appro-
priate to what the organization is doing. Even
some large groups, notably PETA and Friends of
Animals, have flunked the NCIB conflict of
interest standard in recent years without actually
having a significant conflict of interest: PETA
and FoA board presidents Alex Pacheco and
Priscilla Feral were respectively paid $19,000
and $42,000 a year, well below the national
medians for their position.
Among them, the 3,500 humane soci-
eties and shelters and the 900 animal protection
advocacy groups collected about $1.16 billion
in 1991––less than 1% of the total U.S. charity
budget. A similar amount was spent on habitat
protection. Because the need is so acute, rela-
tive to the resources available, ANIMAL PEO-
PLE recommends that you choose the recipients
of your aid wisely. Begin by budgeting. Figure
out how much you can afford to give, save the
incoming appeals until you have time to make
studied choices, and look past the hyperbole of
the begging letters and the shock of the pho-
tographs for evidence of accomplishment. The
tables here can help you make your choices, but
they provide only some of the information you
need. We can’t statistically quantify the signifi-
cance of each organization’s work, or how
responsive it is to your concerns, or even
whether certain staff members are worth salaries
far exceeding the median for their jobs.
We suggest supporting projects and
organizations in your own community first,
whose work most directly helps animals, whose
need tends to be most critical, and who tend to
have the least ability to get out appeals. It’s easi-
er, too, to monitor the activities and accom-
plishments of people and institutions in your
own back yard.
Deciding which national groups to sup-
port is more difficult. We recommend basing
your choices on knowledge gained from indepen-
dent sources––not just from appeal literature and
newsletters. Be aware, too, that you can specify
which projects your donations must be spent on:
you can, in effect, vote upon what each group
should be doing.
We ask you, finally, to remember your
nonaffiliated information media. That’s us, yes,
along with Bunny Hugger’s Gazette, Quagga,
several outstanding regional calendars of coming
events, and you can probably think of others.
When you support reliable independent media,
you support your own right to know, a prerequi-
site for being effective.
Thank you,
––The Editors
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