A mix of disappointment and optimism. On the one hand, I have for years been disappointed that so much of the money that goes toward helping animals is, you could say, wasted. Not wasted in the sense that it does no good whatsoever. Rather, wasted in the sense that it could help far, far more animals that it does, if the money were put into more carefully-chosen programs and causes. It’s very sad to think about how many hundreds of millions more animals that we in the animal protection movement could be sparing right now, if only we would make more calculated charity choices.
On the hand, I’m incredibly optimistic when I look at how much good each one of us can do for animals. Each one of us has the ability to help hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of animals over the course of our lifetime, and it doesn’t require a huge bank account or endless hours of spare time. All it involves is making very smart, rigorous decisions about how to use the limited time and money we have in a way that does the most good for animals. I wrote How To Be Great At Doing Good to help animal advocates (as well as those involved with other charitable causes) be able to make those smart decisions.
What are the key messages you want readers to take away with them after reading your book?
In a nutshell, it’s this. If our main goal as animal advocates is not to feel good, or to express our beliefs, or to do something we’re passionate about, but rather to plainly and simply help animals, than we should direct our time and money toward the causes and the programs that will spare the greatest number of animals from the greatest amount of suffering. In general, protecting 100 animals is better than protecting 10. So when deciding where to put our time and money, we should make those decisions based on what will do the most good for the most animals.
It sounds painfully obvious, but most animal advocates – even paid staffers at many animal protection organizations – don’t think or act in that way.
What are the strategies of the most effective charities?
In general, taking that “most good for the greatest number” approach to deciding which issues to work on, and which programs to run. When it comes to farmed animal advocacy and vegan advocacy, I would point to the sort of programs run by groups like Mercy For Animals, The Humane League, Animal Equality, The Humane Society of the U.S.’s Farm Animal Protection department, Vegan Outreach, and a few international groups as good examples.
The data shows or strongly suggests that programs like conducting and publicizing factory farm investigations, promoting veg eating through ads, videos, and booklets, driving companies to improve their animal welfare policies, passing state bans on factory farming practices, and inspiring school districts to implement Meatless Monday policies in their cafeterias are all programs that, when done well, can spare millions of animals from a lifetime of misery at a cost of less than $1 per animal.
For more on that and which charities will do the most good with your donation dollar, I highly recommend checking out http://www.AnimalCharityEvaluators.org .
You talk about perceived vs actual motivation in your book. What is the difference between our perceived motivations and our actual motivations for being charitable? How do we tap into our actual motivations and ‘get real’ with ourselves?
If you ask any of us why we advocate for animals or promote vegan eating, we’d probably say that we do so because we care about animals and want to protect them from cruelty. And certainly, that’s part of our motivation and that’s probably what got us involved in the first place. But on a day-to-day basis, many of our decisions about how to help animals get strongly influenced by things other than pure compassion. Most of us put our time and money towards causes based on how those causes relate to us. We donate to issues we feel passionate about (like say, animal experimentation). We volunteer at places that are working in our community (like say, the local cat and dog shelter). We support charities that make us feel good (like say, an animal sanctuary). We get involved with causes that our friends are involved with, or that we read a lot about online.
All of that is understandable, but doing what makes us feel good, what we’re passionate about, what’s popular, what our friends are doing, and so forth is very different from doing what will produce the most good for the most animals. If we truly care about animals, we have to be very careful that when we make decisions of where to spend our time and money, we’re not guided by our own preferences or biases. Rather, we should make sure that every decision is based on the answer to this question: “Which choices will do the most good for the greatest number of animals?”
What are the key things to look for when we are interested in volunteering for a non-profit organisation, in order to make the best use of our time and energy?
Most people would tell you to do what you’re passionate about, or to do what you’re good at. If your goal is doing as much good for animals as you can though, then following your passion or doing what you’re good at are bad ideas.
Instead, decide where to volunteer based on how many animals you’ll help with each hour of your time. Will you do more good for animals by spending an hour leafleting, or an hour walking dogs at your local shelter?
Even if you are the world’s very best dog walker, and even if you are so passionate about shelter dogs and care nothing about farm animals, it’s still the case that spending an hour of your time leafleting will likely spare dozens of animals from a lifetime of misery, whereas walking dogs will provide a few animals with just one hour of happiness.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
For anyone interested in thinking more critically about their animal advocacy decisions, the website for How To Be Great At Doing Good is http://www.NickCooney.com. There are some free chapters there to read, so you can check out more even if you’re not sure you want to commit to reading a whole book.