Selecting Your Animal Charity
Your passion is animals. You're ready to donate. But how do you know where to give? Is there a way to determine which organization will make the best use of your hard-earned dollars? Who is doing the most to actually help animals and save lives?
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Finding a good animal charity takes time and research - but there are lots of great organizations out there. The goal of this article is to give you some of the tools you'll need to do your homework and make an informed decision. (The same criteria that apply to choosing a charity also apply to volunteering!)
- General Rules of the Road
- Narrowing the Focus to Animals
- What Do You Want Your Money To Do?
- A Word About the Complex World of Animal Welfare
- Supporting Your Local Animal Shelter
- Maddie's Giving Questionnaire
- Statistical Benchmarks
- Why Healthy, Treatable, and Unhealthy & Untreatable Matter
- Looking At No-Kill Shelters
- What Does It Mean?
- A Few More Things to Consider
There are some excellent resources on the Internet that will help get you started. The Better Business Bureau has an entire section on charities and includes information on accountability standards.
Another must see site is GuideStar. Guidestar is a searchable database that features thumbnail sketches of 640,000 U.S. nonprofits. The information is based on Internal Revenue Service 990 Forms and includes mission and programs, financials and organizational leaders.
GuideStar can take you through 990 Forms line by line so you can more easily read and understand them. (990 Forms are required of tax-exempt, public charities whose annual receipts are more than $25,000 per year. These forms are public documents that must be made available to anyone who requests them. 990s are useful for providing a quick look at the financial expenditures of an organization at a particular time.)
An invaluable resource providing information on sixty of the largest animal protection charities in the US and abroad is ANIMAL PEOPLE'S Watchdog Report on Animal Protection Charities. The report not only provides financial information on each organization's budget, assets, programs, overhead, and percentage of budget spent on fundraising, but also provides summary information on programs, campaigns or controversies affecting the various organizations. The Watchdog Report can be ordered on line for $20 at animalpeoplenews.org. And each year in the December issue of ANIMAL PEOPLE, Editor Merritt Clifton offers his annual investigative piece, "Who Gets The Money," providing information (including executive salaries) on one hundred and fifty animal charities. This piece provides the same kind of financial information as the Watchdog Report but does not include the summaries. ANIMAL PEOPLE can be ordered online at animalpeoplenews.org.
There are so many kinds of animal organizations to choose from. What kind of organization do you want to fund: An advocacy group lobbying for animal legislation? Activists working to change attitudes through protest and public awareness education? Are you interested in wildlife or exotic, farm or companion animals? Do you want to support a national group or a group that helps animals in your own community? Do you want to give to an organization that directly saves lives? For example, some of the largest and best known animal welfare organizations do not have animal shelters and aren't engaged in the day-to-day work of caring for abandoned cats and dogs. Once you figure out what you want your money to do, you can look for the organization that matches your objective.
Who does what? In the world of companion animals, there's a lot of confusion about the functions and purposes of humane societies, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA) animal control agencies, rescue groups and national animal welfare organizations. This confusion makes giving decisions all the more difficult. To clarify what these different groups are and what they do, we've included A Givers Guide to Animal Welfare Organizations.
Let's assume you've decided to look into a Asilomar Accords definitions and tables. If this is the case at the organization you're researching, you're in luck! You'll get a pretty accurate view of shelter population intake and disposition.that finds homes for abandoned cats and dogs in your own community. You can begin by requesting an Annual Report or 990 to get an overall sense of the organization's operation and financial situation. Read the members' magazine/newsletter and go to their website for more information about the agency's mission, programs and accomplishments. More and more shelters are publishing data using the
If the information listed below isn't obvious in the source material you've already reviewed, ask for it. It's a key to the organization's effectiveness in saving lives.
- How many cats and dogs were admitted last year?
- How many cats and dogs were placed in loving new homes?
- How many were transferred to other animal welfare organizations?
- Of the animals placed, how many met the definition of ?
- What percentage of the budget was spent rehabilitating animals so they could be placed in loving homes?
- How many cats and dogs were medically or behaviorally treated?
- How many cats and dogs were killed?
- Does the organization have a low-cost spay/neuter clinic? How many shelter animals were altered prior to placement? Is low-cost spay/neuter surgery offered to the general public and if so, how many public animals were altered?
Keep in mind that most shelters will tell you they don't categorize their animals or track them by healthy or treatable. They may only be able to provide statistics for intake, adoption, redemption (lost pets re-united or "redeemed" by their caregivers) and death. If they don't have healthy/treatable numbers, fill them in on the definitions (taken from the Asilomar Accords) and ask them for an educated guess. If they are reluctant to give you any of the basic information in this section, you may want to take that into account as you review various charities.
Ok, by now you should at least know how many animals were admitted, how many adopted, and how many killed. But what do the numbers mean? Are they good? Bad? Average? Let's look at some best, worst and middle of the road scenarios.
At the bottom of the ladder, there are still shelters in the United States that kill 80-85% of the animals that walk through the front door.
Many shelters are doing better. In a recent survey of eighty of the country's most widely recognized and best funded traditional animal shelters, the average death rate was 55%, with 29% adopted, 7% returned to caregiver (redeemed), 4% killed at owner request and 5% dead on arrival. (At animal control or municipal shelters, the death numbers are generally higher than they are at humane societies or societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. Average death numbers at animal control often range in the 60-75% range).
The Tompkins County SPCA in Ithaca, New York, has provided a lifesaving guarantee for all healthy feral cats and for healthy and treatable shelter dogs and cats since 2000. So far, the County's annual live release rate of 92% is the best example of what is possible.
In any community there will be a certain percentage of animals for whom re-homing is not an alternative. These animals can be categorized as unhealthy & untreatable, cats and dogs who are either a threat to public safety or have debilitating, incurable conditions that make a humane death the only option. The number of unhealthy & untreatable animals may be 10 to 15% of total impounds.
Does that mean all the rest of the animals should be saved? Ideally, yes, but that's a difficult task. Roughly 20 - 30% of animals entering shelters are considered treatable. Treatable animals need either behavioral or medical intervention before they can be adopted. These cats and dogs may be underage infants that need a few weeks of fostering; they may have a broken bone that needs setting; they may have mange, diarrhea, an upper respiratory infection, or other medical maladies. They may have any number of garden-variety behavior problems. Saving treatable animals requires resources that are frequently lacking, but the number of treatables rehabilitated and placed can be another measure for judging an organization's life-saving quotient.
That leaves healthy animals, cats and dogs who are healthy and behaviorally sound and ready for immediate placement. They may be old, blind, deformed or 3-legged but they have no impediment to adoption. At the very least, should animal shelters find homes for all of these animals? Yes.
One might conclude that a safe way to donate would be to simply give to a no-kill shelter. After all, no-kills save all healthy and treatable animals. But that's not necessarily the case. First, it's important to find out the organization's definition of no-kill. It may vary and you need to see if the definition squares with your own. (Maddie's Fund defines a no-kill shelter as one that saves all of the healthy and treatable animals in its care).
There are a few additional factors to scrutinize at no-kills. For example, what is the organization's accomplishment in relation to its fundraising and marketing effort? Is it raking in big bucks but taking in relatively few animals? How many treatable animals is it rehabilitating? How much time and money is it spending on treatables? Does it have a cooperative relationship with the municipal animal control facility to take city animals and reduce community-wide death numbers? Does the organization save more lives than it did the year before? What is the average length of stay? Animals should be leaving the facility in days or weeks, not years.
Before giving to an animal charity, donors should get a full understanding of the organization's terminology. If the shelter says it places all healthy animals, how does the shelter's definition compare with the Asilomar Accords definition of healthy? If the shelter says its goal is 100% adoption, does that mean they will publicly proclaim an adoption guarantee for all healthy animals? If there are any questions in your mind, ask for more information.
- How much of the organization's budget goes directly into animal care?
- Are the organization's activities in line with its charitable mission?
- Does the organization have annual goals and a yardstick for measuring accomplishment?
- Does the organization keep donors informed by publishing complete and accurate statistics about all the animals in its care?
- Does the organization have a track record of success?