ACE evaluates animal advocacy organizations in order to find those that are able to do the most good with additional donations. Following anti-speciesist principles, we recognize that success can take many forms, but aim to compare these different types of success by the amount of improvement they cause in the lives of animals. We use multiple criteria to identify the best organizations at each stage of our process, then review those organizations more deeply before making our recommendations.
- Our Process
- Organizations Considered
ACE seeks to evaluate organizations based on their success in improving the lives of animals. Because the many methods of improving animal lives are not directly and easily comparable, we use a variety of direct and indirect criteria for evaluating each organization’s success in this area. Additionally, because our recommendations are intended to drive increased funding to the organizations we recommend, we consider whether organizations are likely to be able to use increased funding in the short term.
Our complete list of criteria follows. Though they are not all equally important, we always consider all criteria. An organization that was sufficiently strong in some areas could receive a recommendation from us even if it performed poorly in others. Our charity evaluation template features an elaboration on the below criteria.
1. The organization has concrete room for more funding and plans for growth. It has plans that cannot be fully accomplished with the expected funding from other sources, and the barriers to accomplishing those plans are monetary, not due to time, a lack of qualified personnel, or other non-monetary issues. Receiving money from donors directed by ACE would be very likely to increase the organization’s total impact.
2. A back-of-the-envelope calculation finds the organization is cost-effective. Considering the organization’s budget and its demonstrated successes, the organization appears to be cost-effective in the goal of reducing animal suffering, relative to other organizations. If these calculations were produced with perfect information, they would be the only factor necessary to consider beyond room for more funding. However, because our calculations are necessarily estimates, corroborative evidence is required.
3. The organization is working on things that seem to have high mission effectiveness. Without considering the specific implementation, the interventions pursued by the organization are among those expected to be highly effective. Often this information will come partly from our intervention evaluation process. At the very least, the organization is working in a domain with high potential for efficiency (for instance, farm animal advocacy) or is working in another domain with methods that appear to be exceptionally cost-effective.
4. The organization possesses a robust and agile understanding of success and failure. The organization has both short and long term goals and can articulate signs that indicate whether they are moving towards or away from their goals. Regular self-assessments guide the organization’s program development. If applicable, the organization has responded appropriately in the past to signs that a program was not succeeding.
5. The organization possesses a strong track record of success. The organization has a record of successful achievement of incremental goals or of demonstrated progress towards larger goals. Note that this implies the organization has been in existence for some length of time. While very young organizations may have strong potential to return large results for small initial amounts of funding, donating to organizations without track records is inherently risky.
6. The organization has strong organizational leadership and structure. The current leaders of the organization seem competent and well-respected. The organization has structures in place to train staff and volunteers (as appropriate) and to ensure continuity through staff transitions.
7. The organization is transparent. The organization freely provides information about its activities upon request or, better, makes such information publicly available. The organization is open about past successes and failures.
We generate a list of organizations for consideration by combining existing lists of animal advocacy organizations, organizations that we are aware of for other reasons, and suggestions solicited from experts and obtained through our website. Suggestions for our next round of evaluations are welcome.
Because there are so many animal advocacy organizations, even briefly evaluating all of them would easily overwhelm our capacity: The Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are 3,500 animal shelters in the US alone, and though in some cases a single organization runs many shelters, this suggests the number of animal advocacy organizations is similarly high. Therefore, as we are compiling our list, we use heuristics to decide which organizations to include. Specifically, we strive to include all organizations focused on highly effective areas, but in areas we consider less promising, we evaluate only those groups recommended specifically to our attention. Therefore, while we hope that our evaluations cover a large percentage of groups working towards farm animal advocacy, we omit from consideration many charities focused on companion animal welfare. As we conduct future research, we may revise our opinions of which areas offer the most effective ways of improving animal lives, and we would then revise our heuristics accordingly.
For our reviews thus far, we have solely considered United States organizations. However, this decision is meant to simplify the factors we must understand and does not reflect a belief that US-based organizations are more likely to be effective than other organizations. We expect to consider international and foreign organizations in the future.
ACE’s Research Manager works with staff and qualified volunteers to conduct evaluations. We use an evaluation template to ensure that crucial factors are considered for each organization. Evaluators review the organization’s website and other materials and interview some of their employees. Evaluators also consider general evidence regarding the activities of the organization, such as the findings of our intervention evaluations. Evaluators document conversations so that sources can be provided in the final report.
Our investigations occur at three levels of intensity: shallow, medium, and deep. For a shallow investigation, evaluators visit the website of an organization and briefly review other publicly-available information about its mission, methods, and past achievements to evaluate how well it meets the criteria listed above. All organizations we evaluate have received at least a shallow investigation.
ACE conducts medium-depth investigations on those organizations that appear most promising following a shallow investigation. For a medium-depth investigation, evaluators more fully examine publicly available information and also solicit materials and interviews from people at the organization being evaluated. Evaluators may also solicit materials and interviews from others who work with the organization being evaluated, such as volunteers and partner organizations.
ACE conducts only a few deep investigations each year, on organizations which we are strongly considering for recommendations based on prior evaluations. Deep investigations are a more thorough version of medium-depth investigations, including more conversations with organization staff and volunteers, as well as with others who work with or are served by the organization, such as staff at partner organizations or program participants.
A medium or deep evaluation requires considerable staff and volunteer time from ACE and cooperation from the organization we are evaluating. If in the process of conducting an evaluation we become convinced that we will not be able to recommend the organization, we may discontinue the evaluation and write a report based on what we have already learned. If an organization fails to respond to our requests for information or explicitly declines to participate in our evaluation process, we indicate this, in lieu of writing an evaluation.
The finished product of each evaluation is a narrative report summarizing the evaluator’s research and conclusions. One component of this report is a detailed cost-effectiveness estimate, but it is important to note that such estimates are subject to many and varying sources of error and should not be used in isolation.
We publish the results of finished evaluations along with relevant supporting materials. When we have used materials that we do not have the right to reproduce, we summarize and cite the sources we have used. Before publishing an evaluation, we show it to the relevant organization for review and approval. If we are unable to produce a report that accurately reflects our views and is acceptable to the organization concerned, we indicate that the organization declined to participate in the review process.
View our organization evaluation criteria.
We revise evaluations of all organizations that we currently recommend and update our recommendations on December 1 of each year. Throughout the year, we also conduct new evaluations and revise old evaluations of organizations that we do not currently recommend. To ensure that our recommendations are solid and well-researched, we focus our attention on evaluations that we feel have the most potential to change our recommendations, rather than revising each evaluation each year.
The Humane League runs a variety of programs that advocate for farmed animals, including online veg ad and leafleting programs. Through their research program, Humane League Labs, they continually seek to optimize the impact of their activities. See our full review of THL for a detailed breakdown and analysis of their work.
Mercy For Animals primarily focuses on undercover investigations, but engages in a wide range of other advocacy tactics, including online efforts, grassroots outreach, and legal and corporate outreach. See our full review on MFA for a detailed breakdown and analysis of their work.
Humane Society of the United States' Farm Animal Protection Campaign (FAPC) advocates for farmed animals by engaging in legal, corporate, and institutional outreach, and conducting undercover investigations. Read our full review of FAPC for more information on their work.
Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM) focuses primarily on incentivized video outreach, but they also engage in a variety of other national campaigns. They also host an annual Animal Rights conference each year. Read our full review of FARM for more information on their work
We have considered 100 organizations in total. For more details, see our complete list of organizations.