Editorial: Know where your gifts go
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1997:
The Philanthropy 400, an annual ranking by income of the biggest U.S. charities,
published by The Chronicle of Philanthrophy, is the nonprofit equivalent of the Fortune
500 index of for-profit corporations. The organizations appearing on either list are those
most likely to be respected as movers and shakers by the rest. Fortune 500 firms are both
most often solicited for donations, and most frequently hit by boycott, especially boycotts
called by relatively small activist groups whose leaders hope that choosing a high-profile
target will enhance their own prestige, as well as that of their cause.
Conversely, Philanthropy 400 charities are most likely to receive corporate
largess when for-profit companies seek to promote themselves––and avert or undercut boycotts––through association with prominent philanthropic projects.
Thus the rich get richer, and overworked underbudgeted grassroots groups struggle
just to survive, even as they build the moral impetus, provide the volunteers, and do
most of the outreach that expands donor support.
Other than overt direct mail mills, which build on focused mailing lists rented
from other charities in existing causes, the fastest-growing charities are most often those
that effectively martial grassroots labor during the take-off phase of a cause, but cut loose
of encumbrance in local issues and reliance on volunteer tablers and door-knockers after
building big lists.
Examples in the animal protection field include the Humane Society of the U.S.,
Greenpeace, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
HSUS built the structure and image for present financial success during the animal
welfare movement of the 1950s and early 1960s. HSUS still raises funds by encouraging
the misconception that it is an umbrella for animal shelters, yet puts less funding into shelter
work each year than hundreds of individual high donors.
Greenpeace shot to prominence during the save-the-whales-and-seals campaigns
of the 1970s and 1980s, but dropped the fur and sealing issues in 1984, declared that it has
no objection in principle to either sealing or whaling in 1994, and dropped grassroots outreach
this year. Present Greenpeace financial troubles, assert critics including cofounder
Paul Watson, result from having lost a clear sense of mission along with the original
PETA, the most successful group to emerge from the animal rights movement,
took off like a rocket in 1981, formed numerous regional affiliates, then cut them all loose
five years later like exhausted boosters, to crash back to earth or consume themselves in
their own fiery orbit.
In each case, many talented people shed during the take-off formed their own
charities, a few of which became distant rivals. Watson, for instance, founded the Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society in 1977, whose direct action accomplishments eclipse
those of Greenpeace, whose direct action image he himself largely built, on a fraction of
the budget. The Fund for Animals, International Society for Animal Rights, and Animal
Protection Institute, among others, resulted from splits within HSUS over opposition to
hunting and vivisection. A surprising number of former PETA affiliates have become
strong state or regional activist networks, and many ex-PETA program staffers have founded
influential special focus groups, often after conflict with the rigid PETA ideology.
In no case, however, since HSUS spun off from the American Humane
Association in 1954, has a spin-off group established an income equal to that of the predecessor.
Burnt-out grassroots campaigners rarely put equal energy into building another
organization after seeing one grow beyond considering their contributions important.
Donors used to giving to particular charities are not easily weaned to supporting others,
even after their favoritie charities abandon their deep concerns. Charities once named in
bequests tend to stay there, no matter how badly they betray their origins, as in our view
Greenpeace did when it decided humane concerns were none of its concern.
Defenders of Wildlife may offer the most blatant example: founded as Defenders
of Furbearers in 1947, it changed names in 1959 and gradually dropped opposition to
leghold trapping and predator killing, to the point that today it actively promotes trapping
and predator killing as part of the price of re-establishing wolves and grizzly bears to their
former range. Defenders argues that wolves and grizzlies are best served by extending their
habitat, even at cost of great suffering to individual animals, yet continues to collect revenues
from the estates of people whose concern was not species conservation but rather the
prevention of cruelty to wild animals.
Among the 18 categories of charity recognized by The Chronicle of Philanthropy
in compiling the Philanthropy 400, “Environmental and Animal-Related Groups” is among
the smallest, with just 11 representatives on the 1997 list, albeit up from the mere eight that
made the 1990 list. Each of the 11 is abstracted in our eighth annual “Who Gets The
Money?” feature, beginning on page 12.
Informed animal advocates will find these 11 charities a mostly unsavory mob of
rather odd bedfellows. The biggest, 20th overall, is The Nature Conservancy, which with
the Natural Resources Defense Council, 324th, and the National Audubon Society, 339th,
ardently pursues the extermination by any means available of “non-native” species, meaning
any creature unfortunate enough to enter a habitat within the past 500 years.
The second biggest “Environmental and Animal-Related” charity, 152nd overall,
is Ducks Unlimited, whose object is furnishing hunters with all the waterfowl they can blast
into bloody shreds of flesh and feathers.
The World Wildlife Fund, 162nd, was commenced in 1961 by trophy hunters
who feared disenfranchisement might follow African independence. WWF remains dedicated
to promoting trophy hunting as both the ultimate reason and means for funding conservation
of elephants, lions, tigers, et al. The cuddly WWF panda emblem was adopted specifically
to woo support from donors, especially female, who don’t equate wildlife preservation
Farther down the list is the National Wildlife Federation, 345th, whose direct
mail appeals and wildlife magazines carefully conceal from animal protection donors the
incontrovertible fact that it is the national umbrella for 49 state hunting clubs. Some have
changed their names to avoid giving away their focus to the unaware, but 48 of them are the
same organizations that united to form NWF in 1936, with obtaining plentiful living targets
as their unabashed goal.
We don’t know anything obnoxious about the Trust for Public Land, 200th overall,
whose main project is acquiring watersheds, but have not yet seen anything of their animal-related
HSUS, the only animal rights/welfare advocacy group on the list, is 216th.
The North Shore Animal League, 263rd, is the only animal sheltering group listed,
and the national organization making by far the most substantive contribution to local
animal shelters and neutering programs: $2.3 million in 1996, mostly via the affiliated Pet
Savers Foundation, over and above projects involving animals taken from other shelters for
adoption and neutering by North Shore.
The final qualifier is the Wildlife Conservation Society, 368th, formerly known
as the New York Zoological Society, whose presence raises the point that animal advocacy,
animal sheltering, and zoological conservation are nearly equal-sized branches of charity
which together collect less than one percent of the total U.S. charity dollar.
Conservation groups including the pro-hunting outfits described above, take
another 1%, much of it from people who mistake their purpose.
Who helps you find out?
Only one organization, ANIMAL PEOPLE, is dedicated to helping animal protection
donors find out just who is actually doing what. We not only don’t make the
Philanthropy 400, but in terms of resources available might not make a hypothetical Animal
Protection 4000. At least 29 executives listed on page 14, whose direct mail pitches you
may get tediously often, individually take home more of your gifts meant to help animals
than makes up our entire budget.
If we manage to redirect even a penny on the dollar misdirected by animal protection
donors to organizations that support hunting and trapping, our net accomplishment is to
raise more money for the organizations actually helping animals than the annual budgets of
many leading animal activist groups.
If we ourselves took in a discernible percentage of those funds, we wouldn’t be
perennially struggling just to meet printing and postal costs. We’d be able to do vastly more
outreach, to answer thousands more donors’ questions about “Who Gets The Money?” and
significantly increase the animal protection share of “Environmental and Animal-Related
In the animal protection cause, it is sometimes appropriate that some charities are
for the birds and some gifts are thrown down a rat hole––if the beneficiaries really are birds
and suffering lab rats or endangered woodrats. ANIMAL PEOPLE believes no creature
should suffer. But it is important, too, that the gifts meant to help suffering lab rats and
endangered woodrats, et al, are not diverted into sponsorship of rat-shooting contests to
“protect” birds, as has happened in some cases we have exposed, while gifts meant to help
birds go instead toward opening more gun seasons.
Please help us help you––and other animal-loving donors––avoid misleading
appeals. Please send the most generous gift you can afford to ANIMAL PEOPLE this giving
season: $50, $100, $500 or more.
The work we do pays dividends––for animal protection donors, worthwhile animal
protection groups, and most especially, for the animals, who deserve the kindness that
so many people have meant to send them all along.