July 10, 2007

Donations as an Investment

Posted in animal advocacy at 1:14 pm by nevavegan

I seem to have gotten into multiple discussions lately about donations to non-profit groups, so it seems only natural to blog some of my thoughts on the topic.

I want to say right up front that this is a contentious issue and when it comes up people’s feelings do get hurt. What follows are just my thoughts on donations, not some ethical playbook. I don’t judge others for donating wherever their conscience dictates. If we’re going to talk about donations I’m going to put it right out there and tell you where I would donate and where I wouldn’t. I might say it strongly; I might say it with emotion. But that doesn’t mean I’m disappointed in anyone or think any less of them should they decide their own opinion is the opposite of mine.

Make any sense?

I once believed that making donations was a moral obligation on my part. I donated to some fairly prominent groups through the years. One I donated to significantly before they even had their non-profit status because I believed so strongly in their stated mission. I didn’t feel it was my place to ask too many questions. I donated the way I volunteered. They asked me to jump, I asked how high.

I no longer feel this way. I now believe that donations are our investment in our world, our investment in how things should be, the culture we want to live in. Because I want to live in a world where animals are not ours to use, I don’t want to support organizations that send a message that it is ok to kill or use animals under certain circumstances. For this reason alone I can’t support Peta because they have given awards to slaughterhouse designers and put out a fact sheet on controlled atmosphere killing (an alternative slaughter method being promoted for chickens) in which they detailed how CAK would increase “product quality” (read that as better dead chickens for people to eat) and would save the slaughterhouses money. I can’t support HSUS because during their effort to promote a ban on dove hunting they included language that seemed to encourage the hunting of other birds instead of doves. Also HSUS seems to put more effort to promote cage-free eggs (the hens are still debeaked, live crowded in dark filthy sheds, and are slaughtered when their egg production drops) than they put into promoting veganism. And those are just examples. You will see this kind of thing with these larger groups over and over.

Does that mean I think everyone at HSUS and Peta are sell-outs or don’t care about animals? Quite the opposite. I think they are sincere, dedicated and caring. I know most work long hours and most believe the very same basic principals that I believe. But we differ on strategy. I think they believe what they are doing is the right thing. I just don’t agree with that path. So I don’t donate to them. Because I don’t give money as penance to atone for my sins, I give it as an investment in the world I want to see.

I would not invest in a poor performing for-profit company because it was run by nice people. I wouldn’t buy defective products because they’re made by nice people. I wouldn’t buy veggie burgers that taste like old underwear because the company is staffed by hard working dedicated employees. Likewise I don’t donate to groups that aren’t doing the work I want to see done, or that do and publish things I find distasteful or counterproductive.

Non-profits don’t have investors meetings where they have to justify their actions to the shareholders. The only way we have to show them we aren’t happy with their direction is to not donate and let them know why. That is our only power as the “little people” in the AR movement.

I have tried, as a donor and supporter of more than a decade to let an organization know I was not happy with some of their recent changes. I felt my questions were met with hostility and condescension, so I won’t be donating anymore. I felt cheated and deceived actually, because the only reason I gave to them through years when I slept on a piece of foam on the floor of an enclosed porch in a shared house, as I ate rice and beans most meals, was because they claimed to have an abolitionist message. When they changed to a welfarist message I had to ask why I had been supporting them. So in essence when they were abolitionist I had been “voting” for them with my donations. When they abandoned that message I felt I had to stop “voting” for them, as much as it broke my heart.

My next issue, and yet another reason I won’t donate to HSUS is the compensation issue. Most HSUS employees make very little money, and still put in long hours. But the top people at HSUS make a lot of money. Here are some salaries listed in Animal People for FY2005. More updated information was not available. Keep in mind that we are now in FY2008, for most organizations (depending on how they arrange their IRS paperwork) and so the below individuals have likely gotten significant increases since this listing.

WAYNE PACELLE President HSUS $223,328
Andrew Rowan ExecVP of Ops HSUS $213,770
Patricia Forkan EtrnAffrs HSUS $206,199
Thomas Waite III CFO HSUS $195,307
Roger Kindler GeneralCnsl HSUS $186,490
Paul Irwin FormerPresident HSUS $176,440
John Grandy SrVP wildlife HSUS $163,930
Mike Markarian VP extrnlaff HSUS $161,668
Mary Bege AsstTreasurer HSUS $135,919
Theresa Reese AsstTreas HSUS $107,162
Janet Frake Secretary HSUS $ 95,634
Patricia Gatons AsstSecty HSUS $ 73,187

I don’t believe that people who want to help animals necessarily need to take a vow of poverty. However, I think we also need to be aware that the average donor is an older woman, living alone on a fixed income. We need to be respectful that people send in donations because they want to help animals, not pay huge salaries.

When I’ve brought this up before I always run into one major objection: we need to pay competitive salaries to attract talent to these organizations. We’d rather pay higher salaries for people who can become rainmakers for the organization. They pay for themselves in the donations they bring in and the inspiration and hard work they bring to the organizations campaigns.

We also hear this to excuse the out of control executive compensation in the for-profit world. I don’t mean to compare the above salaries to other executive salaries, because they are still lower. I just don’t believe this statement. Wayne Pacelle may be well qualified and dedicated, but he’s also a lifer with HSUS. He’s been there a long time and as far as I know has not had much experience outside of the realm of animal charities. If he were paid $175, 000 instead of a quarter of a million dollars every year, are we really saying he’d quit because of the lower compensation? Would he leave and go to the American Red Cross? Likewise Mike Markarian. I knew him way back when, at that time he worked at the Fund for Animals. He’s another lifer. I don’t think he’s held much of a career except in animal rights. Where else would he go if HSUS only paid him $90,000. Would he go work at the NRA if they offered him more money? And are we honestly saying that these people would leave at the drop of a hat for a bigger paycheck?

Given all of this I can’t imagine why anyone who makes less than a quarter of a million dollars a year would ever give to HSUS. But who does give to HSUS? For one thing the grocery store cashier I run into all the time. She loves cats and sends her meager earnings in because HSUS keeps sending her fundraising mail with cats on it. I could scream, really. I could give to a smaller organization and help them achieve some wonderful goals or I can give to HSUS and pay 5 minutes of Wayne Pacelle’s salary. My choice? You already know.

And again, it goes back to investing? Am I investing in a vegan world or am I investing in bigger cages and a bigger house for Wayne Pacelle? What does the smart investor do?

Does this mean I’m a hypocrite to donate to a local animal rescue group when I say I’m not happy with HSUS’s direction? Maybe. But this to me wasn’t an issue of saying that I would only support groups that are strictly abolitionist. My donation to the local all-volunteer no-kill rescue group was specifically because they were helping me by taking in the abandoned kittens from my neighborhood who need a round of antibiotics, de-worming, disease testing, and neutering. Plus they need exposure: their pictures on the website and visits to adoption fairs. Because the group is all volunteer, my entire donation goes directly for care for homeless companion animals. Since the group is No-Kill, supporting them supports a philosophy that emphasizes the value of the lives of animals, rather than focusing on efficiency and minimizing suffering alone.

All of those reasons apparently also apply to the new rural vets program being promoted and run by HSUS. I’ve been told all the vets will be volunteers and donations restricted to that program will go directly toward care for animals. I think it’s a wonderful, necessary program, but I won’t be donating because I believe that HSUS has enough cash reserves to float the program and then some without my donation. I also know from past experience that restricting donations just means that money is shifted around elsewhere in the budget, which means that donating directly to the rural vet program might not result in any net increase in the rural vet budget. Besides which, if this program is important to HSUS should they be asking the cashier at the grocery store to donate to it, or should Wayne Pacelle and Mike Markarian chip in and demonstrate to us that the program can and will work?

Again, totally up to you, of course. I know we need mobile vets to sterilize animals, it’s vital. My quibble is who should pay for it and how.

To summarize: I view my donations as an investment in either improving my community (through local rescue and vet care) or as an investment in the world I want to see. I don’t believe I should give blindly. I don’t believe I am obligated to keep supporting organizations that I supported in the past if their mission changes (or for that matter if I change). I don’t believe that I am obligated to give to groups where employees being paid out of donations make more than I will ever make in my entire life and then some and then multiplied… I don’t think I’m obligated to donate to groups because they have one good program either.


1 Comment »

  1. Adam Kochanowicz said,

    This is a great point. People who want to help animals can be truly disillusioned. They think that PETA and HSUS is all we’ve got. They believe that the only way to really make a difference is to open their wallets so big .org’s can do it for them. While I’m not as active in animal issues as you are yet, I’m lucky enough to understand that we don’t have to settle for begging cattle industries to make slaughterhouse conditions 1% better. Every human being has a natural sense of compassion and enough of us can put an end…an end to animal slaughter.

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