The importance of enabling caring people to help
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2004:
Who gets the money you give to help animals?
As important, who doesn’t, who may be doing far more per
dollar received, under much more difficult conditions?
For fifteen years we have compiled our annual “Who gets the
money?” tables (starting on page 11 this year) to help animal
charity donors more effectively direct contributions.
Rich organizations have mostly become richer during this
time, whether or not their program service warrants great donor
enthusiasm. Poor but effective organizations are both much more
numerous and mostly still struggling.
Our perception of the basic problems in pro-animal
fundraising has evolved to include recognition that while some rich
groups and hired-gun fundraisers are inordinately greedy, many good
but poor groups do not get the support they need simply because they
do not ask enough people for help, or ask often enough–or they look
to the rich groups for crumbs, instead of developing their own donor
It is dismayingly evident that many of the hardest-working,
most honest, and most devotedly compassionate people who are doing
humane work are inhibited about making their needs known–especially
locally, where others are most able to help, as volunteers and as
donors of goods and services, even if they have no money to give.
In rich and poor communities alike, far too many animal
charity directors behave as if they themselves are feral cats and
street dogs, doomed to scavenge, ever in danger from a kick,
stoning, or impoundment if they approach anyone who might say “No.”
Many others ask for help under the illusion that fundraising
is begging, that only the rich should be asked to donate, and that
aid will only be given if the beggar seems poorer and more miserable
than everyone else on the street.
These animal charity directors are embarrassed to present a
professional image while soliciting help, and to be seen giving
their animals the best of care, because they fear others will
misinterpret this as meaning that they are rich, and do not really
need or deserve aid.
Such attitudes are not only self-defeating but dead wrong,
as evidenced by the ongoing success of the richest organizations.
The most successful fundraisers not only attract more aid from the
wealthy but also get generous help from some of the people with the
least to give.
Successful fundraising, especially in poor communities,
depends upon the fundraising institution managing to project itself
as a center of community pride, to which everyone contributes and
from which everyone derives benefit.
The most important benefit that successful charities confer
is the feeling of hope that adverse conditions can be changed.
We have seen this over and over again, all over the world.
This is the fundraising prescription that has worked for organized
religion since the dawn of time, and it works for animal protection
Fundraising is not begging. It is inviting fellow citizens
to join in voluntarily providing an essential community service. The
animal charity director who asks for help should seek money,
volunteers, supplies, and services with the same pride of purpose
that built the Vatican, Mecca, Ankor Wat, and Shaolin, among
other great temple cities.
Any community that supports a church, a school, a hospital,
or athletic activities has the wherewithal and public spirit to
support a humane society. What is required is selling the idea,
which means getting started in a manner that visibly invites
The animal charity that does not ask for help, and does not
enable others to assist in whatever way they can, is failing itself
and failing the animals it purports to aid, because it is not
empowering fellow citizens and animal lovers to respond to cruelty
and misery that is often breaking their hearts, in silence and
secrecy because they feel that no one else cares.
Thousands of people who feel just as badly on behalf of
suffering animals as the people who run animal charities are
miserable every time they see a street dog or feral cat or hear about
cruelty, not only because the animals are suffering, but also
because they feel utterly helpless and frustrated about it.
These kind people want to do something, but will never know
what to do, or how to do it, or whom to trust, until they are
shown an example of someone else helping and are asked to
participate, by giving money, food, transportation, volunteer
time, or whatever else they have to spare that can be of use.
If all a person can do is help to socialize puppies and
kittens by cuddling them for an hour, that is a positive
contribution, and needs to be invited, accepted, and welcomed.
Often this will lead to larger contributions later, sometimes in the
form of a substantial bequest.
Most people wish they could do something to combat suffering,
illness, trauma, and despair on a wider scope than just fighting
the portion that comes into their own lives, but they do not feel
strong enough. They do not feel they have the courage or resilience
or capacity for giving love without reserve that charitable work
Animal rescuers and defenders are often among their secret
heroes. Animal charities are doing what they would do, if they
could, and they will be very glad to help in whatever way they can,
if they are asked, invited to participate, and thanked.
We know this is true even in the poorest nations because it
is true everywhere.
In the U.S., approximately one household in four donates
money to animal causes, and one household in 10 feeds homeless cats
or dogs, if the residents see them.
We know this because this behavior has been studied by
pollsters and sociologists.
We also know, from some of the same studies, that while
immigrants donate much less money to animal causes, and typically
also have much lower incomes, that immigrants feed homeless animals
with even greater generosity than people who were born in the U.S.
Because the U.S. has immigrants from everywhere, studies of
immigrant behavior provide a perspective on global attitudes.
ANIMAL PEOPLE has affirmed on our frequent expeditions to
other parts of the world that people who care about animals are
everywhere. We have seen countless plastic bowls of food and water
in trash-strewn allies, plates of leftovers on rooftops, and food
waste discreetly left outside dumpsters, where dogs, cats, and
other animals can find the leavings. From Kiev to Capetown,
Calcutta to Machu Pichu, San Juan to Istanbul, Beijing to Atlanta,
scenes we have witnessed testify to broadly shared concern that only
needs organization to become a transformative movement.
The foundation of empathic transformation is giving, and
giving begins with asking in a manner that empowers the giver to help.
When to increase fundraising
As well as monitoring the institutional accountability of
established animal charities, we have had the experience of building
ANIMAL PEOPLE, starting with only personal credit, and of mentoring
countless younger animal charities through their start-up phases, in
all parts of the world.
Fifteen years ago, when we commenced “Who gets the money?”,
we were chiefly concerned about individual charity administrators who
appeared to be directing their organizations more to enrich
themselves than to prevent animal suffering.
“Who gets the money?” has focused ever since upon exposing
self-aggrandizement and helping donors to avoid exploitation by
direct mail mills and telemarketers.
These are still critical concerns.
Yet these concerns are now matched by our concern that many
small, dynamic, highly motivated charities, with excellent records
on behalf of animals, are in effect ceding resources to others that
mostly just make noise and mail appeals, by not actively and
continuously informing potential supporters of their needs.
Even advisors who try to help animal charities may at times
inadvertently reinforce the inhibitions that hold too many back. The
January/March 2004 edition of the Animal Welfare Board of India
magazine Animal Citizen featured an excellent guide to animal charity
fundraising and obtaining publicity–except for one mistake: “Too
many nonprofit organizations spend 50% of their money in order to
raise the other 50%,” the anonymous author declared. “This is bad
planning. Your entire cost should not be more than 5%.”
Holding fundraising investment to 5% of the anticipated
return is a surefire prescription for perpetually lacking the
wherewithal to grow.
The Wise Giving Alliance, the largest standard-setting
entity for U.S.-based nonprofit organizations of all types,
recommends that the combined fundraising and administrative expense
of a charity should not exceed 35% of total spending–in a nation
where postage, printing, paper, telephone service, and Internet
service (the usual mediums of fundraising) are all much less
expensive relative to personal income than in most of the rest of the
Logically, fundraising might cost more in India, not less.
Throughout the past 15 years, the average and median investment in
fundraising and administration by animal charities reviewed in “Who
gets the money?” has hovered close to 28%, as determined by our own
assessment of IRS Form 990 filings and/or balance sheets. We
evaluate the expenditures of a globally representative cross-section
of the most prominent animal charities, of every kind.
This year, as in most years, 77% of the charities whose
data we looked at were at 35% or lower. Nearly half were between 21%
and 35%. Almost three times as many charities were in the 14% to 21%
bracket as were in the 35% to 42% range.
About two-thirds of the charities with significantly low
fundraising and administrative expense are based in the U.S. or
Britain, and are rich enough to run in large part on interest–in
effect, on the momentum of past decades of fundraising success.
Typically the proceeds of their endowments finance their further
fundraising efforts, which bring in millions of dollars from
well-primed donor lists.
The other third, including about two out of three charities
outside the U.S. and Britain, most younger charities, and ANIMAL
PEOPLE in 10 of our first 12 years, appear to be significantly
under-investing in growth–and survival.
For every animal charity that spends more than 42% of budget
on fundraising and administration, or has financial reserves of more
than twice its annual program spending, two appear to be starving
themselves by not spending enough.
ANIMAL PEOPLE never intended to starve, and never intended
to discourage other young and ambitious animal charities from doing
the outreach necessary to grow into their missions. On the contrary,
we labored even before producing our first “Who gets the money?”
feature to help both donors and animal charity management to better
understand the realities of effective nonprofit fundraising and money
Since commencing “Who gets the money?” we have repeatedly
added columns of data to those included in our early editions to help
clarify the difference between money usefully raised and spent and
money merely hoarded, and to illustrate how much investment is
necessary to generate a healthy working budget.
We have added succinct explanations of the different methods
that astute donors and charity administrators use to evaluate
Eighteen months ago we added the ANIMAL PEOPLE Ethical
Standards for Animal Charities & Fundraisers, to further clarify our
own beliefs about how animal charities should operate, taking into
account the significant differences between serving animals and
serving a human constituency.
We did not expect our standards to be quickly ratified by
some of the leading fundraisers in the field, but within a few weeks
they were informally endorsed by fundraising representatives of many
of the biggest and fastest-growing animal charities, and were
included as part of a pledge to prospective clients by Paul Siegel of
Direct Mail Systems Inc.
After observing Siegel’s performance for others, and needing
to raise more money ourselves, we hired him too.
Plainly put, the ANIMAL PEOPLE charitable mission has grown
much faster than our own capacity to obtain the funds we need to
continue to send complimentary subscriptions to every animal charity
in the world, maintain probably the largest online animal news and
information archive on the Worldwide Web, and fulfill all the other
functions of an independent newspaper, nonprofit watchdog, and
facilitator of global humane education outreach.
The universe of animal charities has nearly tripled since
ANIMAL PEOPLE started, and has nearly doubled in the past five
years, with the fastest growth coming overseas, in the parts of the
world that are the poorest, most in need of help, and most
expensive to serve.
We had to get help, because ANIMAL PEOPLE’s funding needs
have overtaken our ability to devote time and effort to fundraising.
Hiring a reputable national fundraising firm will make less
sense for charities whose programs are strictly local. Hiring
outside help at all might make no sense for charities directed by
people whose expertise is in sales work or business management–but
making more extensive use of volunteers in fundraising will very
often be the right approach. The Best Friends Animal Society, the
Richmond SPCA, and the San Francisco SPCA have all achieved
exponential financial growth since we started “Who gets the money?”
by enlisting and motivating volunteers to produce a variety of events
that combine fundraising with adoption promotion.
The bottom line is the bottom line. An animal charity that
does not have adequate reserve funding to survive a briefly slumping
national economy without a crisis, and is not already spending close
to 28% of time and budget on fundraising and administration needs to
increase fundraising investment. Aiming at 28% should keep most
charities under the 35% ceiling recommended by the Wise Giving
Alliance, even in a worldwide economic downturn –but aiming any
lower is underselling the mission.
Active donors can help by increasing support to poor but
effective and efficient animal charities, while cutting donations
to direct mail mills and those that merely hoard funds.
The American Animal Hospital Association, in the same year
that ANIMAL PEOPLE first produced “Who gets the money?”, initiated
an annual “National Survey of People & Pet Relationships.” This
survey has recorded the steadily increasing awareness of Americans of
the needs and well-being of companion animals, with perhaps the most
significant finding coming in November 2004.
Since 2001, the American Animal Hospital Association
surveyors found, 53% of American pet-keeping households have
increased their spending on animals.
The increase occurred while other categories of discretionary
spending, including contributions to charity, were mostly in stasis
or slight decline.
The potential for marked further growth of the animal charity
donor base clearly exists. The animal charities that do the most
with the least must realize that they are as deserving of support as
the biggest and richest, and must get over the feeling that to be
refused is to be humiliated. No such inhibition holds back those who
do relatively little besides raise funds. Neither are they likely to
feel compelled to share the loot. The only way to ensure that
donations go where they are most needed and will be best used is for
good charities to compete to earn them.
We do not have comparable survey data from other nations,
but from the rapidly increasing interest of pet food manufacturers
and makers of accessories in developing markets in eastern Europe and
Asia, the trend and potential for increasingly successful pro-animal
fundraising is similar. The low-wage occasional donors in India,
China, Russia, and other rapidly developing nations today will be
more affluent donors in the near future, as their national economies
develop. The animal charity that hesitates to seek such donors now
will be rapidly left behind tomorrow.