If you’re considering paid work or volunteering opportunities for animals, it’s important to ask critically which animal advocacy groups help animals the most. In other words, what is the most effective animal activism?
If you’re passionate about reducing animal suffering, then it takes willpower to not just grab at whatever opportunity comes your way first, and to pause to think carefully about effective ways to help animals.
But it’s vital that you do, because the most effective animal advocacy groups can help a far greater number of animals than some others, even with the same amount of time or resources.
Consider, for example, some estimates by SoGive, an organisation that does charity evaluation in the United Kingdom. They expect that it costs The Donkey Sanctuary about £3,400 to provide a home for one donkey, while it only costs The Humane League UK about £0.01 to improve the animal welfare of one factory farmed chicken. That’s a massive difference!
And there’s a fantastic community of people making exactly this sort of tough call.
Jenna Riedi had worked at animal shelters in the past, and her heart had long been set on pursuing this kind of work. For various reasons, Jenna ended up taking some time out of animal protection to work at other nonprofit organisations, but when she started reapplying to animal advocacy groups, she was actually offered a position as Executive Director at an animal shelter.
In many ways, this seemed like a dream job! But Jenna came to the conclusion that this kind of work was not going to have as high an impact as some other opportunities she could potentially pursue. So she turned down the offer.
After doing some Googling to find high-impact opportunities, she came across our animal advocacy job board, where she found a role at Faunalytics. Faunalytics have been rated as a top charity by Animal Charity Evaluators, an organisation that carries out evaluation of animal nonprofits. Jenna applied for and was offered the job, so now works as Faunalytics’ Communications Manager.
So how can you decide what the most effective animal activism actually is, and which organisations to work with? We’ll cover some of the key considerations in this post. But if you’re short on time, you can skip to the “cheat mode” section below.
Pick the most effective cause
If you’re like us, you probably hate the idea of animals being tested on in laboratories, stray animals going hungry, circus animals being abused, and farmed animals being kept in horrific conditions. You want to help animals as much as possible. So it would be great if you could help all different types of animals.
But the sad reality is you can’t do everything. If you try to make a substantial contribution to helping each of these types of animals, you’ll probably spread yourself too thinly — you won’t be able to understand the problems deeply enough or specialise your skills and contributions enough to do a lot of good. So most people have to narrow their focus a bit more.
And this decision is possibly the most important decision you’ll make when it comes to identifying the most effective ways to help animals.
Consider the following comparison:
Do you think it would be easier to solve the problem of factory farming or the problem of animal testing? You might be able to think of arguments one way or another, but neither one seems to be very substantially easier or harder than the other; the range of tactics that can be used is similar, and both of these problems are pretty deeply entrenched in most people’s daily lives (part of the production processes of food and medicine, respectively).
So we can assume that the most efficient animal advocacy groups would solve a roughly equal proportion of whichever of these two problems they chose to focus on.
But these two problems are actually very different in size and scope. There are estimated to be about 150 billion farmed (vertebrate) animals, compared to at least 100 million lab animals. The exact numbers are unclear, but it seems likely that there are well over 100 times as many farmed animals as lab animals, perhaps over 1,000 times as many.
Given that neither problem seems notably more easily solvable than the other, by working for the most effective animal advocacy groups tackling factory farming, you might achieve 100 or 1,000 times as much for animals as you would by working for the most effective groups tackling animal testing.
Obviously, we’re simplifying the comparison between these two cause areas down quite a lot. Once you consider indirect effects of working at either — like promoting the norm of caring a lot about animals in general — the true difference between the two options probably isn’t as wide as this quick comparison first suggests.
But hopefully it still demonstrates the basic idea that this kind of cause prioritisation is an important component of “effective altruism”, which asks the question: “how can I do the most good?” People aspiring to be effective altruists often use the framework of asking how big a problem is, how neglected it is, and how solvable it is; the first full session of our online course puts this framework into action, moving beyond just the number of animals involved in each problem for a more careful and detailed comparison.
There’s lots of room for reasonable disagreement on this question. For example, at AAC, we’re pretty unsure whether working to help wild animals in a very targeted and careful manner could be even more impactful than work on farmed animal welfare. Either way, the type of animals you choose to focus on is important for deciding which animal advocacy groups you should work with if you’re really trying to help animals as much as possible.
Pick the most effective animal activism tactics
Let’s say you’ve picked a general area of animal advocacy that seems especially promising. That’s still a bit too general. For example, there are literally thousands of different charities around the world fighting factory farming, plus thousands more companies creating animal product alternatives. So what’s next?
A good way to narrow down further is to focus on organisations that pursue the types of tactics that seem to achieve the most for the animals they focus on.
There are plenty of interventions that can be used to help animals. Consider these examples for the farmed animal movement:
Video stalls and 3d headsets
Op-eds and newspaper articles
Factory farming investigations
Corporate welfare campaigns
Corporate/institutional veg campaigns
Cultivated meat and cellular agriculture
Plus probably many more. And there are plenty of broad strategic decisions that we might face as well:
Animal protection vs. environmental vs. human health focus
Broad vs. animal focus
Confrontation vs. nonconfrontation
Consistent vs. varying messaging
Controversial publicity stunts vs. other tactics
Individual vs. institutional interventions and messaging
Influencer vs. mass outreach
Left-wing vs. nonpartisan focus
Momentum vs. complacency from welfare reforms
Reducetarianism vs. veganism
Social change vs. food technology
We won’t try to walk you through these here, partly because that would make a very long blog post. But again, our online course has some considerations to get you started on the process and recommends further reading if you want to dig deeper into these questions.
The logic for this consideration being important is similar to the logic for cause prioritisation; it seems like there might be quite big differences between different tactics, so picking the best options might matter a lot. Ideally, you should try to build up a view on which specific interventions or tactics will be most effective and then try to work for specific organisations that implement them.
Pick the best specific animal advocacy groups
So are the best animal advocacy groups just those working on important problems and using promising-seeming approaches? Well, those are key considerations, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
In a lot of ways, the process for working out which animal advocacy groups are best to work with — at least in terms of thinking about which groups help animals the most — is similar to the process for working out which animal advocacy groups are best to donate to. So we can take inspiration from the charity evaluation criteria of Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE), who conduct animal charity reviews to identify high-impact donation opportunities.
Their first criterion is to see if the organisations’ “programs” seem likely to be highly effective in principle, which is similar to the ideas we’ve covered so far of picking the most effective causes and most effective animal activism tactics.
But beyond this generic level of consideration, they also ask questions about the specific organisation to understand “how well it has made use of its available resources.” They:
…take a more in-depth look at the charity’s use of resources over the past 18 months and compare that to the outputs they have achieved in each of their main programs during that time. [They] seek to understand whether each charity has been successful at implementing their programs in the recent past and whether past successes were achieved at a reasonable cost.
It wouldn’t be a great idea to work for an organisation that wasn’t very good at actually carrying out its tactics, unless you thought you had a good chance of turning the organisation around and making it work more cost-effectively.
ACE also investigates whether the organisations they evaluate have “strong leadership and a healthy organisationalorganizational culture.” This matters for your own personal satisfaction of working there, of course, but it also affects how much you’re able to help animals. For example, will you be supported and enabled to actually pursue promising projects, or will you be stifled by a poor internal structure? Will you be supported, encouraged, and motivated to keep helping animals, or will you be overworked and quickly burn out?
Finally, ACE also evaluates animal charities’ “room for more funding.” This consideration isn’t directly relevant to deciding whether it’s a good idea for you to work at the organisation.
Cheat mode: Following AAC’s recommendations
So in an ideal world, you would:
Work out the most effective cause area, then, once you’ve come to a conclusion…
Work out the most effective animal activism tactics, identify organisations that implement those tactics, then…
Find out how well individual organisations have made use of their available resources when implementing those tactics, and finally…
Work out if promising-seeming individual organisations have a healthy internal culture.
That’s quite a lot of work to create a shortlist of promising-seeming organisations to work with! So is there a “cheat mode” where you can skip ahead on this process a little?
The best answer that we know of is to find organisations that are listed on our skilled volunteering board or job board, depending on whether you’re looking for volunteering opportunities or paid work in effective animal advocacy.
We don’t make explicit charity recommendations in the way ACE does, but we do select organisations in a similar way. We include:
Any organisation that is currently or was formerly a standout or top charity according to ACE. Yes, we include organisations that are no longer recommended, but we note this clearly on the job board with a comment about “Animal Charity Evaluators Review” status.
A number of other organisations that we believe focus on promising tactics to help farmed or wild animals (the areas of animal advocacy we expect are most important to focus additional time or resources on), and that seem to approach their work carefully to be as impactful for animals as possible. Usually, these are organisations that have been reviewed and received money from impact-focused grantmakers like Effective Altruism Funds or Open Philanthropy, though there are a few exceptions based on our own judgement. We mark these organisations as having “AAC searches” as their “source” on the job board.
Finally, we accept individual requests from other organisations for our job board (but not our skilled volunteering board). Sometimes these organisations have been evaluated by others, but not always. We tend to be less confident about the usefulness of taking roles at organisation not marked as identified through “AAC searches”.
We think it’s important to not rely solely on ACE’s recommendations, for a handful of reasons:
The “room for more funding” criterion in ACE’s evaluations is not relevant to whether it would be impactful to work there or not.
ACE tends to only review a small number of relatively established organisations, so we like to provide opportunities to work at newer and smaller organisations who seem promising.
There is room for reasonable disagreement with ACE’s charity recommendations, and we want to give job seekers a little more choice.
That said, we don’t attempt to vet organisations’ leadership and culture ourselves, which is partly why we provide a comment on each organisation’s ACE review status.
We think it’s really important that people try to develop their own views about what works best to help animals. It’s not a good idea if the animal advocacy movement develops too narrow a set of views; AAC might be wrong! And thinking critically about which tactics, actions, and organisations help animals the most is pretty useful training for thinking how to do animal advocacy work well anyway.
So even though it’s not always a good idea to put your job search on hold until you’ve come to some conclusions on these topics, we strongly encourage you to start exploring them as soon as you can. Our animal advocacy online course is a good option for getting this process started.
And even if you use AAC’s “cheat mode”, there are a few other considerations worth bearing in mind…
Don’t pick too narrowly
In this post, we’ve mostly talked about nonprofits. But these are not the only opportunities for helping animals; there are a wide range of other vegan jobs, such as in animal product alternatives companies, governments, or academic institutions. And of course, it’s also entirely possible that the best option for you to help animals is actually to work in something seemingly unrelated to animal protection, instead focusing on earning money that you can then donate to the cause.
We note some relevant considerations in our post about whether “animal charity jobs” are a good fit for you, but for a fuller exploration of your options, we recommend working through our online course.
Don’t pick naively
So far, we’ve been exploring the question of which animal advocacy groups you should work with primarily from the perspective of working out which groups overall have the highest impact potential. But this is not the only relevant consideration when you’re trying to work out which specific role type or career path you should work in. We cover a number of other considerations relevant to this sort of career strategy in our “glossary of terms” page, and explore these ideas further in our online course.