Editorial: “Lion-tamers” versus dull accountants
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2002:
Michael Palin of the British comedy team Monty Python’s
Flying Circus in 1971 inadvertently sketched how animal charities
really operate. Playing a dull accountant, Palin confessed to a job
counselor that what he really wished to be was a lion tamer. He did
not actually know a lion from an anteater, but he had a lion tamer’s
Animal protection charities are nearly always founded by
“lion tamers,” or former lion tamers anyway, who work with animals,
love animals, and are not averse to risk–including from the “killer
cats” who stalk great cities, also portrayed by Monty Python.
Among bare-armed “cat ladies,” ANIMAL PEOPLE often notes
that the most evident visual distinction between cat rescuers and the
suicidally depressed may be that self-inflicted scars on wrists are
short, neat, and horizontal, whereas the wounds from feral cats
tend to be jagged and run vertically from elbow to wrist.
Dog rescuers, bird rehabilitators, and even dolphin
liberators each tend to have their own characteristic battle scars,
from misadventures at close quarters with the animals they try to
help–and sometimes have scars as well from animal abusers and/or
their hired thugs, the muggers who haunt some of the same locations
as feral cats and street dogs, and even some other animal advocates
who passionately disagree with particular decisions.
Dull accountants, as portrayed by Monty Python, on the
other hand are conspicuous only when they put on a lion tamer’s hat
and confront an anteater with whip and chair.
Yet dull accountants, along with equally dull lawyers and
bankers, almost inevitably end up running the animal protection
charities that “lion tamers” start.
There are some accountants, lawyers, and bankers who are
really “lion tamers” by inclination and avocation, and some of them
run successful animal protection groups. Yet these people are
relatively few compared to the support needs of charities as they
evolve from ad hoc activism to institutional strength, and even the
accountant, lawyer, or banker who is actually a “lion tamer” will
usually have to hire a cadre who are not, in order to get all the
Then, while the “lion tamers” are out taming cruelty and
neglect, the accountants, lawyers, and bankers bring about
corporate stability by gradually taking over the key decision-making
positions within the organization.
Even a cursory look at the 13th annual edition of our “Who
gets the money?” salary tables, beginning on page 16 of this issue,
illustrates what happens, and how.
Each year after the salaries of officers, directors, and
top-paid staff are published, ANIMAL PEOPLE hears from donors who
are incredulous that the animal protection cause pays more than 200
six-figure salaries, about 170 of them listed here, to people few
of the donors ever heard of, while many of the best-known program
staff are at the bottom of the published pay scale.
Among the top-paid animal protection charity personnel whose
compensation appears on pages 16-18, fewer than one in seven chiefly
does program work. Another one in seven divides time between program
and support work. Thus no more than 28% of the chief executives,
policy-makers, and other leaders of the animal protection cause are
“lion tamers,” who know first-hand that lions do not eat ants.
Although the Wise Giving Alliance recommends that charities
should spend at least 65% of their budgets on program service,
professional corporate executives often collectively claim upward of
two-thirds of the total payroll and consultancy expense of nonprofit
animal protection organizations. Many then try to pass off direct
mailing expense as “program service” in the name of public education,
a charade as dubious as calling an anteater a lion, not least
because most of the direct mail recipients are already established
animal protection donors, who often know more about the topics of
appeals than the people who wrote them.
To be sure, a considerable lot of animal welfare corporados
strategically pose in their lion-taming hats for photographs used
with fundraising appeals. Our favorite such photo, taken almost 20
years ago, shows a then-prominent animal welfare executive posing
with a very sick baby goat, whom he took from the arms of the then
young publisher of ANIMAL PEOPLE, who is visible in the background,
exasperatedly twiddling her thumbs.
Executive posturing clearly keeps the donations coming. Yet
a glance at either the institutional priorities of animal welfare
corporados or at their arms with sleeves rolled back would confirm
that their values and perspective are markedly different.
Institution-building dictates that campaigns should be
dropped if they fail to elicit enough donations, regardless of how
many animals might be helped by campaign success. Allowing
hired-gun executives to define policies and programs, instead of
people with a passion for the mission of an organization, is how
charities go bad.
For example, corporate considerations led the major
international animal protection charities to stop campaigning against
dog and cat eating in Korea, after the 1991 passage of a weak and
never enforced Korean law against the public sale of “unsightly”
foods, which was later weakened further by amendment. Corporate
considerations also got the big international groups nominally
involved in the Korean cause again last year, after the Korean
Animal Protection Society, International Aid for Korean Animals,
and much investigative reporting by ANIMAL PEOPLE demonstrated that
the issue had not been effectively addressed and remained an urgent
priority for animal protection donors.
Institutional considerations prohibited investing more than
token sums, if any, in actually aiding Korean animals or helping to
build a politically and culturally influential animal advocacy
movement in Korea–which demographics indicates is imminently
possible– because there is as yet no possibility of recouping the
investment from mass mailings to Korean donors. A mere $80,000,
less than the cost of paying the typical vice president for
bean-counting, could buy anti-dog-and-cat-eating placards in every
subway car in Seoul for a year, but so far none of the wealthy
international groups have invested even that much in a year’s worth
of work by KAPS and IAKA. Now that the Seoul edition of the World
Cup of soccer is over, the big groups feel less pressure from their
members to help the Korean efforts at all. Instead, the dull
accountants of animal welfare et al practically tripped over each
other in their hasty exit to address the next fashionable appeal
Dull accountancy has given similar short shrift over the
years to the plight of dancing bears, who learn to “dance” by having
their paws burned, and the even more miserable bears who spend their
lives confined in tight iron cages, their bellies tapped for bile.
Every few years a big international organization does a mailing “on
behalf” of the bears, but ANIMAL PEOPLE has repeatedly found that
the promised construction of bear sanctuaries has been delayed and
underfunded–and the tiny Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation,
with a contract to liberate 500 ex-bile farm farms over the next few
years, already has nearly 100 bears in sanctuary care, without any
firm and reliable ongoing big group commitment to help.
Dull accountancy earlier caused the Humane Society of the
U.S. and other major groups to back away from anti-fur campaigning,
after the sight of fur-wearers on the street was no longer frequent
enough to keep the donor base incensed. Dull accountancy for decades
convinced HSUS and others that serious investment in dog and cat
sterilization was not profit-able–so very few of the big wealthy
groups can legitimately claim more than marginal credit for reducing
the rate of animal killing in U.S. shelters by 86% since 1970 and the
actual number of animals killed by 75% since 1985. That was almost
entirely accomplished by hands-on animal people, raising funds with
counter-cans and “taming the lions” at cost of countless scratches
and bites, while HSUS alone salted away enough money to fix every
unsterilized dog and cat in the U.S. several times over.
Something completely different
ANIMAL PEOPLE certainly does not demean or devalue
accountancy, honest fundraising, and the role of legal services in
securing support for humane services.
On the contrary, our “Who gets the money?” feature and the
Watchdog Report on Animal Protection Charities, published each
spring, are exercises in expository accountancy. As subscriptions
cover only a small part of the cost of researching and publishing
ANIMAL PEOPLE, appealing to our donors is essential to our
As explained on pages 18-19, fundraiser Bruce Eberle
recently sued ANIMAL PEOPLE in an apparent attempt to either shut us
up or increase the price of further exposing the full cost of his
direct mailing tactics. We therefore appreciate the necessity of
having to hire legal counsel to defend us against a wealthy and
strongly self-interested subject of coverage–an inescapable cost of
continuing to point out to you that the charities Eberle represents,
including Great Cats In Crisis, Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, Tiger
Creek, and Tiger Haven, often spend from two-thirds to more than
80% of each donated dollar on further fundraising. They say they are
pursuing rapid growth in order to grow into expanded missions, but
“growth” achieved by diverting sustenance is the way of a cancer,
and belies the premise inherent in charity that donations are
intended to alleviate misery here and now and not in some distant
tomorrow after the charity has attained financial security.
Interestingly enough, Eberle has not as yet challenged
ANIMAL PEOPLE for pointing out that mailings using the lists of
longer established charities, such as Wildlife Waystation, also an
Eberle client, have the effect of causing many donors to divide
their contributions among more organizations, so that each charity
they support gets less, and the cost of raising funds for the entire
animal rescue sector spirals ever upward.
The institution-building approach to fundraising is to raise
funds first, and maybe then do something about the topic of the
appeal. This is how the biggest animal protection charities have
accumulated their assets.
The Eberle fundraising approach differs chiefly in
encouraging relative newcomers to do essentially the same thing.
Many of Eberle’s animal welfare clients think of themselves as “lion
tamers” (and some literally are) whom high-volume direct mail has
freed from the necessity of having to master fundraising and the
other business skills that distinguish effective “lion-taming”
charity managers from those who simply rescue animals.
When these small and inexperienced animal charities in
effect surrender responsibility for managing their support services
to fundraisers-for-hire, they are emulating the typical big-group
transfer of program-and-policy management authority to the dull
accountants, especially after the founding “lion tamers” pass on.
ANIMAL PEOPLE annually documents the economic success of many
older organizations which are eminently skilled at fundraising,
money management, and public relations, yet have few if any
programs or policies recognizable as uniquely inspired, ambitious,
or even their own. Their activity has often been constrained to the
visions of dull accountants for so long that even would-be
anteater-tamers have left their upper echelons.
Program development not narrowly based on the balance sheet
of the current fiscal year would suggest that building a strong
animal protection sector in Korea would eventually not only pay for
itself but also pay enormous dividends in helping to advance the
humane cause in neighboring China, where a fifth of the global
population mostly has no present contact with organized humane work.
Program development with the welfare of animals as the
foremost priority would recognize in the dancing bear and bile farm
bear issues the chance to establish well-funded educational outposts
throughout eastern Europe and Asia, which could expand into bases
for providing the full range of humane services.
Nonprofit executives with animal protection as a mission
instead of a career would understand the value of securing gains
against animal suffering in the U.S. and Europe, perceiving the
demoralizing effect on donors of seeing the big groups allowing the
erosion of “victories” such as the rapid collapse of the fur industry
in the late 1980s. They would know, as any “lion tamer” does, that
one should never turn one’s back on a lion to invite applause and
take a bow.
Making institution-building a priority, instead of focusing
on helping animals and the people who help animals, could transform
ANIMAL PEOPLE into a hugely profitable endeavor. Discontinuing our
investigative and financial reporting would avoid annoying potential
advertisers and grantmakers and having to fight fundraisers in court,
while sending subscriptions to animal protection charities only if
they can afford to pay for them could cut our program expense by half.
We, however, are “lion tamers.” As this edition goes to
press, we are off to do ten days of investigative reporting about
animal issues behind the former Iron Curtain, after attending the
International Companion Animal Welfare Conference in Prague, with
baggage weighed down by copies of ANIMAL PEOPLE and humane cat traps
to give away, and arms and legs scratched, bruised, and scarred.