Editorial feature: Fundraisers and pro-animal strategy

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2004:

Editorial feature: Fundraisers and pro-animal strategy

Before responding to any of the
fundraising appeals you receive from animal
charities this holiday season, take several
steps to ensure that your donations do the most
they can:

1) Prioritize the issues and projects you wish to support.
2) Avoid splitting your donation budget
so many ways that all you do is give the
organizations back the money they spent during
the year to solicit you. Focus on the few
charities you know best and for which you have
the highest regard.
3) Do not donate to any charity you only know from mailings.
4) Look up each charity in the 2004
ANIMAL PEOPLE Watchdog Report on 121 Animal
Protection Charities, to be sure that you are
fully informed about policies that it may have
but not advertise. For example, none of the
major environmental groups oppose hunting, and
many actively promote it. PETA actively opposes
no-kill sheltering and neuter/return of feral
cats and street dogs. Many other groups may not
take the positions that you expect. [The
Watchdog Report, a handbook published each
spring, is still available from us at $25/copy.
We include all of the biggest animal and habitat
charities, all of those we are often asked
about, selected leaders in specialized areas of
particular concern, and worthwhile foreign
charities whose programs ANIMAL PEOPLE
representatives have personally verified.]

5) Also look up each charity in our 15th
annual “Who gets the money?” report, coming in
our December 2004 edition, to ensure that the
balance of program costs with fundraising and
administrative expense, amount of funds held in
reserve, and size of executive salaries are in
keeping with your expectations. [Earlier
editions of “Who gets the money?” are accessible
at <www.animalpeoplenews.org>.]

Those are just the basics. Donors who
really want to maximize the value of each dollar
they give will ask which charities are mainly
just warehousing animals, or acting as animal
brokers, and which are actually doing things
that help to improve attitudes and public
policies toward animals?
Which have visible, effective campaigns
on the topics that most concern you, and which
just mention the topics in mailings, or create
media circuses of little persuasive value?
Fundraisers know that charities who have
animals tend to raise more than twice as much per
dollar invested in direct mail than charities
that do only advocacy. Lobbying and litigation
inspire donors much less, and humane education
attracts the least support of all, relative to
longterm importance.
Humane education gets short shrift in
part because so many direct mail mills call their
appeals to confirmed animal protection donors
“education,” thereby devaluing the whole
concept, but mostly because asking for a
donation to fund it does not produce a “donor
high.” Donors like to imagine that their gift
will “save Fluffy,” but humane education works
to ensure that Fluffy is never at risk and
perhaps never born. Conditioned to respond to
appeals based on a perception of urgency,
donors tend to have difficulty recognizing that
the Fluffy depicted in an appeal letter was
almost always either dead or rescued long ago,
and that the investments in humane work that will
do the most for the Fluffys of the world are
those that will have influence into the future,
beyond the horizon.
Because individual animals most
effectively tug at heartstrings and wallets,
most charities you hear from will portray
themselves as rescue agencies and even
sanctuaries, whether they actually look after
any animals at all. If a charity infers that it
has animals but does not, it does not deserve
your support. But conversely, if a charity only
keeps animals, that also does not warrant the
support of a donor who hopes to see the end of
the attitudes and industries that keep legitimate
shelters and sanctuaries perpetually full.
The exotic animal sanctuaries most worthy
of support prominently oppose the breeding,
sale, laboratory use, and individual ownership
of exotic animals, and make their positions
known. Competing with them for your donations
are fast-growing numbers of facilities that do
little more than house private exotic pet
collections, sometimes functioning as
quasi-roadside zoos.
Some defend exotic pet breeding and sale; some are engaged in it.
The equine sanctuaries most worthy of
support have a variety of focal issues and ways
of operating, but have in common that they do
not buy horses at auction, for resale in the
name of “adoption.” Buying horses at auction
may save some individuals, yet no more helps to
stop slaughter auctions than buying puppy mill
dogs would help to close puppy mills.
Dog-and-cat humane societies that compete
against puppy mills for pet acquisition market
share may advertise in search of adoptable
animals–but this is also how they find and
sterilize the mothers of unwanted litters, and
ensure that all puppies and kittens entering
homes are sterilized. Any humane society worthy
of your support should sterilize all animals
before adoption. Legitimate dog-and-cat humane
societies will not advertise in search of animals
who cannot be readily adopted, such as pit bull
terriers and feral cats. They get all the
hard-to-place animals they can handle–and then
some–without having to solicit them.
Neither will sanctuaries for other
species actively seek animals. There are no
suitable adoptive homes for big cats, for
instance, and organizations that genuinely
rescue horses, donkeys, and other hooved stock
are typically offered far more animals than they
can handle.
Dozens of charities soliciting donations
of big cats, potbellied pigs, horses and
donkeys, ex-racing greyhounds, feral cats, and
pit bull terriers have in recent years turned out
to be fronts for trafficking in animal parts,
selling animals to slaughter, selling animals to
labs, animal hoarding, and dogfighting.
Several such cases are described elsewhere in
this edition –and for every bogus sanctuary or
shelterless “rescue” that is caught, exposed,
and prosecuted, many others pull a similar
hustle, typically using only a web site, a post
office box, and a cell telephone number to bilk
well-meaning donors and send “rescued” animals to
their deaths.
The short phrase for our advice is to take the long view.
We cannot “rescue” or adopt our way out
of having homeless animals, of any species,
until breeding the oversupply is stopped. This
requires a better informed public, beginning
with better informed donors who will not support
charities that do not actively and energetically
educate against the market demand that creates
the oversupply.
Note our use of the words “educate
against,” instead of a term such as “attack,”
which to many activists might be more energizing.
After initially triaging your stack of incoming
appeals, as recommended above, triage them once
more. This time, set aside every appeal that
uses a “war” metaphor, including all those that
claim some sort of “victory.”
Consider why such words are used.
Certainly “war” imagery is emotionally
charged–but it also polarizes the issues into
“us” against “them.” Often this is done in
situations where the actual objective is to
persuade “them” that they really want to be more
like “us,” and that “us” are not the enemy, but
rather the better side of themselves.
Frequently “us” was “them,” not long
ago. Most vegetarians and vegans once ate meat.
Only someone who once wore fur can choose to give
it up. Most people over age 40 who grew up in
families with pets can remember giving away an
accidental litter.
The animal cause is about teaching,
learning, and growing, not about fighting.
Every time someone forgets that and resorts to
battling instead of persuasion, most especially
by setting a positive example, the result tends
to become a defeat.
In some instances “war” imagery may be
appropriate, when it is actually necessary to
politically defeat a committed opponent, not
just to persuade skeptics, or appeal to long
buried compassion for animals in the apathetic
majority of people. Much more often, “war”
imagery will be used simply because it makes you
more inclined to send money.
A “war” appeal emphasizes a threat:
“Send money or they will kill Fluffy!”
The typical approach of a “war” appeal on
behalf of a short-sighted and self-defeating
campaign precedes that message with, “Help us
fight to save Fluffy! No one else cares.”
The appeal may be phenomenally successful
at raising money. If “Send money or they will
kill Fluffy” and “Help us fightŠno one else
cares” did not raise money, fundraisers would
not use these formulas.
There is a tendency in the animal cause,
driven by fundraising needs, to celebrate
“victories.” Yet the “victories” declared in
appeal letters are almost always illusory. The
real test of a “victory” is not whether a bill
passes, a perpetrator of cruelty to animals is
convicted, or a policy changed, but rather
whether the bill is funded and enforced, the
offender does not repeat the offense, and/or the
new policy works.
This requires time to assess.
When we hear about a “victory,” the
first thing we do is think about what might
actually be gained against whatever might be
lost, how the outcome will be monitored and
measured, and whether the hullabaloo about the
“victory” might be likely to invigorate the
opposition into retaliating.
Some of the worst setbacks in animal
protection history have occurred because victory
was declared before the fundamental problems were
addressed, with the campaigning groups turning
away too soon to begin preparing for their next
“win.”
This is why the Atlantic Canadian seal
hunt was revived, after a 10-year suspension of
offshore sealing, and why more seals are being
slaughtered now than at the height of protest in
the early 1980s.
This is why fur is popular again after
U.S. retail fur sales were cut in half in just
three years, 1988-1991.
This is why the dog meat industry still
exists in Korea after the big multinational
animal groups declared “victory” and turned away
when South Korea passed an unenforceable animal
welfare law in 1991.

Driving the wedge

Formulas that extract money while
isolating and dividing are in political terms
part-and-parcel of “driving the wedge,”
splitting the most responsive fundraising base
away from everyone else who may be on a mailing
list, and then playing to the donor’s sense of
urgency and embattled isolation to take every
dollar possible.
That sounds like the Republican
fundraising strategy of recent decades because it
is. Despite the attention paid during the 2004
election campaign to John Kerry as Vietnam
veteran and antiwar protester, and George W.
Bush as reservist who escaped combat, the most
important event of 1969 in setting up the
Republican sweep of the Presidency, the Senate,
and the House of Representatives was the
privatization of the U.S. postal service,
bringing the first bulk mail presort discounts.
Democrats, at the time, were fixated on
television as the medium of the future, after
televised debates helped John F. Kennedy win the
Presidency over Richard Nixon in 1960, TV attack
ads helped early TV station owner Lyndon Johnson
to beat Barry Goldwater in 1964, and video
footage from Vietnam caused Johnson to not seek
re-election in 1968.
Realizing that TV ads do not offer
viewers a way to donate without at least calling
a telethon hotline, Republican fundraisers built
the modern direct mail industry. Repeated
saturation mailings identified the donor base for
promoting the conservative agenda, cultivated
feelings of being besieged and desperate, raised
increasingly large campaign budgets for each
ensuing election, and thereby gave the voting
strategists the tools they needed to win five of
the last eight presidential elections, losing
two others only by narrow margins.
Most of the fundraisers dominating
animal-related direct mailing since the mid-1980s
learned their methods in the Republican machine.
Some left Republican causes and now represent
only animal charities. Some still represent
both, even when the interests of animals and the
fundraisers’ other clients conflict. Their
appeal styles vary, and so do their ethics.
Some entirely meet the ANIMAL PEOPLE ethical
standards for fundraisers, accessible at our web
site, published in our May and December 2003
editions and in the 2004 Watchdog Report. Others
appear to flunk every standard. The common
denominator is simply that Republican fundraising
was the “university” from which they earned their
credentials.
Animal-related direct mail works the same
way as political mailings, but the money has
been spent quite differently. Since 1989 the
first 28¢ of every dollar raised for animals has
gone toward fundraising and administrative costs.
Barely more than half the norm in political
fundraising, this indicates the appeal of
animals to donors. The biggest share of each
dollar has gone into direct animal care,
followed by the expense of maintaining
infrastructure. Mere pennies have been invested
in change-oriented outreach to non-donors.
This difference in priorities is part of
why aggrieved social conservatives are now
politically all-powerful, while animals as yet
barely have a political voice. The other part is
the difference between what social conservatives
and animal advocates want. Conservatives seek to
preserve cultural norms; animal advocates seek
to change them.
The cumulative effect of Republican “us”
against “them” fundraising was to create a
reflexively donating reactionary strike force.
The cumulative effect of “us” against
“them” pro-animal fundraising has been to
reinforce the divide between local animal care
charities and national animal advocacy groups
which have become favorite reactionary targets.
Example: animal advocates have not tried to ban
hunting in any U.S. state since the 19th century,
yet “right to hunt” amendments have now been
added to at least 10 state constitutions.
Local animal care charities could be
likened to churches, while the national animal
advocacy groups could cumulatively be likened to
a political party. Yet Republican leadership
salutes grassroots moral values. By contrast,
most national animal advocacy groups have been
appallingly slow to help empower the no-kill
movement, rising from the grassroots, which in
turn created openings for the Best Friends Animal
Society to rise from near invisibility to become
bigger than PETA in only 10 years, for Alley Cat
Allies to become a national force, and for the
North Shore Animal League to become the North
Shore Animal League America, with national
programs and an international division.
Conversely, getting little tangible help
from the national groups, local animal care
charities are reluctant to back campaigns started
by the nationals, at possible risk to the
community goodwill they are building by visibly
saving animals.
If national groups want local animal care
charities to actively oppose meat-eating,
hunting, wearing fur, and laboratory use of
animals, they will have to frame the issues in
ways that allow the locals to introduce, share,
and educate, not become caught up in
cross-cultural “war” with their friends and
neighbors. There are no “victories” in bringing
about lifestyle change that should be celebrated
with gloating. The effective and decent response
is to reward the change with positive
reinforcement.
Some Republican-schooled direct mailers
may deliberately move animal care charities away
from challenging societal norms, and
deliberately isolate the animal advocacy groups
they represent. Others, however, sincerely try
to help animals on all fronts by using the
language that in their experience brings the best
return for the investment. Their job is raising
money for their individual clients, not doing
longterm strategic thinking for the cause.
There is an inherent conflict of interest
between the need to raise money and the mandate
of animal charities to fundamentally change the
worldview that accepts the use and abuse of
animals under the guise of “dominion.” This is
why we believe that regardless of what may be
their sincere interest in helping animals,
professional fundraisers should not be setting
policy for animal welfare organizations.
Neither should policy be decided by staff or
board members whose primary professional interest
lies in protecting the organization against
litigation or in building an investment portfolio.
Campaigns to help animals should not be
chosen based on donor appeal or maintenance of
institutional security. Such considerations
should be part of planning how to pursue a goal,
but if they dictate the choice of goals, goals
will never set beyond saving Fluffy, and the
conditions putting Fluffy at risk will never be
addressed, let alone changed.
Nor should animal charities send mailings
about a particular issue just because other
groups are successfully raising funds around it.
Campaigns, and supporting mailings, should be
undertaken as a matter of pursuing the issues
that an organization believes it can most
effectively address, with strategies designed to
achieve measurable longterm progress.
Unfortunately, short-term fundraising
success tends to be what makes a topic hot–or
cold. For example, except for PETA and Friends
of Animals, the major national and international
groups abandoned anti-fur campaigning nearly 15
years ago because the revenue from anti-fur
fundraising appeals was declining.
Donor fatigue was a factor, but so was
the naivete of donors who saw less fur on the
streets and assumed that the fur industry had
been conquered. Instead of trying to make
donors understand the need to continue to
campaign against fur until no one tried any more
to sell it, the big groups picked trendier
issues–such as the Premarin industry, which
none had noticed until ANIMAL PEOPLE exposed it
in April 1993. Most of the organizations that
then jumped on the bandwagon about Premarin did
little or nothing to actually help the horses,
but that did not stop them from designing
fundraising campaigns and brochures on the
subject, or keep donors from responding.
We consider this our biggest challenge:
to persuade readers of the value of taking the
long view, thinking ahead, spending the time to
understand issues in depth so as build a humane
future on secure foundations–regardless of the
fundraising considerations.
We realize that much of this may
contradict the motivating instincts of many
animal people, as well as the message of most of
the direct mail you receive.
You hear a cry, and want to respond now,
make the hurt go away, and have everyone feel
better. That’s fine, but more has to be done to
make the source of the crying and the hurting
stop, and bandage-and-kiss solutions don’t
change the deeply-ingrained social, economic,
political, and cultural attitudes and
institutions that harm animals and break the
hearts of animal people.

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