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EFFECTIVE ANIMAL ADVOCACY BOTTLENECKS SURVEYS


Abstract

A better understanding of the problems that limit the efficiency and total effects of the animal advocacy movement is useful for advocates, movement-builders, and individuals making decisions about careers that help animals. We therefore ran a survey of leadership and hiring managers at effective animal advocacy nonprofits and a survey of researchers, grant-makers, plus others working on “meta” and movement-building services for the movement. Lack of funding was identified as a key bottleneck in both surveys, with lack of (qualified and capable) applicants for paid roles not far behind. Other results suggest that a high threshold is required for individuals to help animals more by choosing careers focused on donating money to nonprofits rather than donating time and labour. Organisations face the most substantial hiring difficulties for roles focusing on leadership or senior management, fundraising or development, and government, policy, lobbying, or legal tasks. There are few differences by role type in terms of retaining staff, though fundraising and development stands out as slightly more difficult than average. Headhunting and training for current staff of animal advocacy organisations were commonly suggested as possible solutions to talent bottlenecks. Some differences emerge when comparing responses from organisations based in the global South to those based in the global North, organisations operating primarily in Asia to those operating primarily elsewhere, or with large numbers of employees to those with small numbers of employees.


Introduction

Shortly after founding AAC, we conducted a brief survey about talent bottlenecks. That survey substantially informed the work that we carried out in 2020, so we were keen to improve the question wording, seek input from a wider variety of stakeholders, and update the results.


We therefore ran two surveys with partly overlapping questions:

  • A survey of leadership and hiring managers at effective animal advocacy nonprofits (hereafter the “direct work” survey).

  • A survey of researchers, grant-makers, plus others working on “meta” and movement-building services for animal advocacy (hereafter the “meta” survey).


The questions wordings were optimised for usefulness in AAC’s own decision-making.[1] However, we hope that the results can also be useful to:

  • Others thinking about providing various meta and movement-building services for the animal advocacy and effective altruism communities.

  • Participating organisations, who may better understand which difficulties are common and which unusual, so that they can better coordinate with other organisations and understand where it would be helpful to seek or offer advice.

  • Individuals making decisions about careers that help animals, who may gain a better understanding of various factors that would affect their own career strategy, such as the impact potential of different career paths and where their comparative advantage lies.


Methodology

For the direct work survey, we contacted organisations that met the following inclusion criteria:

  • Currently or formerly recommended (“standout” or “top”) by Animal Charity Evaluators at the time that we sent out the survey (16 contacted),

  • Not recommended by ACE but granted $50,000 or more by the “Farm Animal Welfare” focus area of Open Philanthropy at the time that we sent out the survey (35 contacted),

  • Neither of the above two criteria but very high alignment with the ideals of effective animal advocacy, i.e. the overlap of the effective altruism and animal advocacy movements (5 contacted).


We also applied the following exclusion criteria:

  • If their work primarily focused on “meta” services to other nonprofits,[2]

  • If effective animal advocacy was a low focus of the organisation,[3]


For the direct work survey, we contacted 56 organisations and received 39 responses from 39 different organisations (70% response rate).[4] We asked for one representative response from each surveyed organisation, noting that this “should be filled out by someone in a top-level leadership role (e.g. CEO, ED, COO, VP) or a hiring manager/human resources staff member.” All except three respondents identified themselves as being in a “leadership (e.g. CEO, ED, COO, VP)” role.[5] You can see the questions used in this survey here.


We conducted subgroup analyses for nonprofits with each of the following focuses:

  • Corporate/producer welfare campaigns (n = 21),

  • Political campaigns or engagement (n = 15),

  • Individual diet change (n = 12),

  • Institutional/corporate animal product alternatives outreach (n = 11),

  • Groups that focused on animal product alternatives capacity-building (n = 3),[6]

  • Other actions (n = 22).[7]


Most groups were included in more than one category. A group was only included if it seemed to spend a substantial amount of resources on this type of action.[8] This involved some subjective judgement calls; certain organisations did not clearly report their spending by intervention type.


We conducted several other subgroup analyses:

  • Organisations based in the global South (n = 6) compared to those based in the global North (n = 33).[9]

  • Organisations that work primarily in Asia (n = 9) compared to those that work primarily elsewhere (n = 30).

  • Organisations that mostly target one country (n = 17) compared to those that work more internationally (n = 22).

  • Organisations ever recommended (“standout” or “top”) by Animal Charity Evaluators (n = 14) at the time that we received the responses[10] compared to those not yet recommended (n = 25).

  • Small organisations that told us that they had 10 or fewer “full-time equivalent, paid staff”[11] (n = 17) compared to medium-sized organisations that told us they had 11 to 50 (n = 14) and large organisations that told us they had 51 or more (n = 8).


Given the small sample sizes involved and very large number of comparisons being made, we decided not to conduct formal significance tests to check whether the differences between subgroups were statistically significant. The results of the various subgroup analyses can be seen on this spreadsheet. That spreadsheet also includes a column where we treat nonresponses to a question as the lowest possible score (0, 1, or no selection) rather than just excluding non-responses from the analysis.


The main results reported below are either the mean score from respondents (for quantitative questions) or the percentage of respondents that selected a particular option. We were concerned that treating all responses to the survey equally (taking the mean of responses without any adjustment) might present an unrealistic account of the movement’s needs and bottlenecks. To address this concern, we also tried several weighting systems for quantitative questions:

  • “Weighting 1” accounted for the size of the organisations.[12]

  • “Weighting 2” and “weighting 3” accounted for both size and ACE recommended status; weighting 2 placed twice as much weight on ACE Top Charities as charities that have never been recommended by ACE, whereas weighting 3 placed 10 times as much weight on them.[13]


These weighting systems made surprisingly little difference to most questions.[14] Hence, we decided to only include these weighting systems on the subgroup analyses spreadsheet, rather than including them in the main results tables below, as we had initially intended.


For the meta survey, we used less formal inclusion or exclusion criteria, contacting organisations working on research, grant-making, and other movement-building services whose input we expected to be useful. We did not suggest that we were hoping for the response to be representative of their organisation, though in most cases we still only asked for one response from each organisation, to reduce the time spent filling out the survey. We contacted 21 organisations and received 16 responses from 13 different organisations (62% response rate). You can see the questions used in this survey here. Given the small sample size, we did not conduct any subgroup analyses or apply any weightings.


Since a key goal of the surveys was to see how respondents’ answers differed from our expectations, we did not include our own responses in either survey; instead we jotted down predictions and rough notes and compared the results to those. We did not formally pre-register our analysis plans, but did informally plan most of our analysis in advance.[16] We decided not to provide the full dataset, in order to protect the anonymity of participants, though we are open to requests to conduct additional analyses.


Results and discussion

In the writeup below, we include qualitative comments about differences between subgroups or weighting systems that we thought were noteworthy, though you may prefer to ignore these and look at the results of the subgroup analyses for yourself. As well as a list of general limitations at the end, we note limitations that apply to particular questions as we go along. A single asterisk (*) signifies that this was a concern we had written down before seeing the results. Two asterisks (**) signify limitations that we had not necessarily thought of but that were highlighted by respondents to the questions themselves.[17]


The importance of different bottlenecks

We asked direct work respondents the following question: “To what extent does each item below limit your organisation’s efficiency or impact?” We asked meta respondents the same question but replaced “your organisation’s” with “the EAA community’s,” which was defined as “the group of people and organisations who are focused on maximising their positive impact for animals.”[18] We offered them the following options: “1 Not at all”, “2”, “3 Somewhat”, “4”, “5 Very much”.


Here are the average scores:

Differences by subgroups and weightings:

  • Under the weighting systems, “Difficulties with internal culture” and “Difficulties coordinating internally” became more important as limitations, whereas “Unfavourable attitudes among targets of your advocacy, e.g. companies, government, consumers” became less important.

  • The average rating of items was higher for organisations working primarily in Asia (3.0) than elsewhere (2.5). The largest increases were for “Lack of (qualified and capable) activists and volunteers,” “Lack of (qualified and capable) applicants for paid roles,” and “Lack of public awareness of key issues,” which were rated as the most substantial limitations on organisations’ efficiency or impact (4.2, 3.9, and 3.8, respectively, compared to 3.7 for “Lack of funding”).

  • Among organisations focusing on corporate/producer welfare campaigns, funding was slightly less important as a limitation and was narrowly overtaken by “Lack of (qualified and capable) applicants for paid roles,” “Lack of (qualified and capable) activists and volunteers,” “Lack of public awareness of key issues, e.g. knowledge about factory farming,” and “Unfavourable attitudes among targets of your advocacy, e.g. companies, government, consumers).”[20]

  • The average score for bottlenecks was higher for organisations focusing on “Individual diet change” (2.9) than for the whole sample (2.6). The greatest increases were for “Lack of funding”[21] and “Lack of public awareness of key issues, e.g. knowledge about factory farming.”

  • Among organisations focusing on institutional/corporate animal product alternatives outreach, “Unfavourable attitudes among targets of your advocacy” were rated as less important limitations.

  • Surprisingly, the ranking of items from most to least limiting was similar for both the global North and the global South.[22]

  • There were a number of differences between organisations working mostly in one country and organisations working internationally. For example, organisations working in one country reported being more limited by funding, lack of (qualified and capable) applicants, and “Unfavourable attitudes among targets of your advocacy,” but less limited by “Difficulties coordinating internally.”


The following limitations should be borne in mind:

  • **Several respondents suggested additional factors that we did not ask about.[23]

  • *Some of the options are especially ambiguous or broad. For example, several respondents noted that they were unsure how to interpret “difficulties with internal culture.”

  • *Logically, “Unfavourable attitudes among targets of advocacy, e.g. companies, government, consumers)” should presumably be rated highly by everyone; if the targets of advocacy have favourable attitudes, then in most cases, no advocacy would actually be needed.[24] Although this was one of the highest-rated factors, the fact that it was not rated as much higher than other factors should encourage some scepticism of the results.

  • **Several meta respondents noted that their answers would vary for different regions of the world.

  • Some responses could reflect temporary conditions rather than medium-term problems, such as coordination or decision-making difficulties arising from COVID-19.

The value of donations relative to high-quality direct work

As the above results show, there are clearly many different types of bottlenecks that can affect the animal advocacy movement. However, one particularly salient tradeoff in many decisions — both for organisations’ leaders and for individuals seeking to maximise their positive impact for animals over the course of their careers — is the value of donations relative to high-quality direct work.


We asked direct work respondents the following question: “Imagine that someone has been working for 10 years building up experience and expertise that would make them an excellent candidate for one of the roles that is *hardest to hire for* in your organisation. Would you be more excited about that person applying for one of those roles at your organisation, or donating money to your organisation that was the equivalent of 50% of the salary of that role?” We then asked them the same question again but replaced “one of the roles that is *hardest to hire for* in your organisation” with “*a campaigns, corporate engagement, or volunteer management* role in your organisation.”[25]


For both questions, we offered them the following options: “Much more excited about them applying” (coded as 1), “Somewhat more excited about them applying” (2), “Roughly similarly excited either way” (3), “Somewhat more excited about them donating” (4), and “Much more excited about them donating” (5).


Here are the average scores:

These results seem like a vote in favour of careers in direct work in general, even for role types that are not necessarily “hardest to hire for.” We note below that the average salary seems to be around $50,000 or so in animal advocacy nonprofits in the global North, though the average salary might be higher for roles that are “hardest to hire for,” such as leadership and senior management roles. So you could interpret these results as suggesting that organisations would rather receive one additional very-high quality applicant for the roles that are hardest to hire for than receive $25,000 or more (each year for the length of time that the applicant might otherwise have been employed for).


The following limitations should be borne in mind:

  • The needs of the community are likely to change substantially in 10 years, so if someone were to pick an option based partly on these results, they might find that, with hindsight, this was the wrong decision.

  • *A lot of people won’t have good personal fit with earning to give or with the various roles in nonprofits that are available to them, or they may have already developed expertise relevant to one of these paths. In no case should a career decision depend solely on the relative need for funding or high-quality candidates of a particular role type.

  • *Someone with 10 years’ worth of relevant experience to a role type that is “hardest to hire for” is probably pretty close to the ideal candidate for a hire.

  • Donating 50% of a salary is not the peak of achievement that we might reasonably expect from a relatively competent and privileged individual whose main career goal is to earn to donate as much money as possible. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics lists many occupations with an “annual mean wage” well over $100,000 per year,[27] which compares to average salaries at animal advocacy nonprofits in the global North being around 50% of that (see below).

  • *Given that the respondents have all themselves chosen to focus on direct work rather than on earning to give, we might expect that they would be more likely to overvalue direct work.

  • *Respondents might not think that much about replaceability, so they might see a good candidate as contributing 100% of what a good candidate does, which would be misleading.

  • *Respondents might not have thought about the many ways in which money could be transferred into higher talent (e.g. training, different kinds of recruiting, higher salaries).

  • *Helping animals directly seems likely to be associated with kindness, altruism, and other positive characteristics, whereas earning lots of money doesn’t, even if it actually does a lot to help animals.

  • **If individual donations are not an important stream of income for an organisation (e.g. because they rely on grants), then those organisations may have given a lower rating than they otherwise would.

  • **Some respondents may have interpreted the question as referring to a one-time donation; our intention was for the question to refer to ongoing donations (equivalent to the length of time that they might otherwise have been employed for, for the sake of comparability), but this was not specified, for the sake of brevity.


As another way of understanding this trade-off, we asked meta respondents the following question: “Imagine an individual who is skilled and motivated enough to be a good (but not outstanding) candidate for roles in effective animal advocacy nonprofits. I.e., after a few applications, they are likely to secure a role, but they are not likely to be substantially better than the next best candidate, at least in their first paid role. How much money would you estimate that that person would have to be able to donate per year, on average, to effective animal advocacy nonprofits, to be indifferent (from an impact perspective) between focusing on a career “earning to give” vs. a career in animal advocacy nonprofits?”[28] The average answer given was $28,200, with a range from $100 to $90,000.[29]


The following limitations should be borne in mind:

  • *This question seems especially vulnerable to minor changes in wording. For example, removing “but not outstanding” might have changed the answers quite a lot.

  • *Two respondents explicitly noted that the question was difficult to understand. Other respondents probably also struggled or misunderstood our intentions but just didn’t tell us (or realise).

  • *This is a very complex tradeoff with many relevant factors involved. Survey respondents may answer survey questions quickly and substitute complex questions for simpler questions that they can answer more easily.

  • *Given the complexity of this question and the other questions that we wanted to ask the direct work respondents, we only asked this question to the meta respondents. These answers therefore reflect a narrow group of stakeholders with relevant perspectives on this question and come from a small sample size.

  • Given the large range in the responses (three orders of magnitude), the answer to this question seems especially uncertain.

The importance of different talent bottlenecks

We asked direct work respondents: “How difficult is it to *hire* high-quality candidates for the following categories of roles or types of expertise?” We then asked them the same question again, where “*hire*” was replaced with “*retain*”. We offered them the following options: “1 Not at all”, “2”, “3 Somewhat”, “4”, “5 Very much”.


Here are the average scores:

Differences by subgroups and weightings:

  • Under the weighting systems, “Fundraising or development” and “Government, policy, lobbying, or legal” became more important as hiring difficulties, with similar scores to “Leadership or senior managers.” Meanwhile, “Natural sciences,” “Research,” and “Middle or junior managers” became less important.

  • Under the weighting systems that reflect ACE recommendations, “Fundraising or development” stands out more from the other categories as being notably more difficult to retain staff in.

  • Counting non-responses as 1s rather than excluding them reduces the apparent importance of difficulties hiring and retaining “Natural sciences” roles.[30]

  • Among organisations focusing on “Corporate/producer welfare campaigns” and “Political campaigns or engagement,” roles in “Campaigns, corporate engagement, or volunteer management” and “Government, policy, lobbying, or legal” became more important as hiring difficulties.[31]

  • Organisations focusing on “Individual diet change” reported higher difficulties in both hiring and retention with “Leadership or senior managers,” “Marketing or communications,” and “Government, policy, lobbying, or legal” roles.

  • Animal product alternatives capacity-building nonprofits gave especially low average scores for retention difficulties (average 1.2 across all categories). “Fundraising or development” stood out as causing the largest hiring difficulties.

  • Compared to the respondents in the global North, those from the global South reported greater difficulties in both hiring and retaining staff in “Leadership or senior managers,” “Marketing or communications,” and “Fundraising or development” roles.[32]

  • The average rating of difficulties in both hiring and retention was substantially higher for organisations working primarily in Asia (3.6 and 3.2) than elsewhere (2.6 and 2.0).[33] The only categories that did not increase substantially were “Operations, administration, or HR” and “Other technical skills.”

  • Similarly, organisations working in one country reported larger hiring difficulties than organisations working internationally across many role types. This partly reflects the substantial overlap between the category for organisations working primarily in one country and the category for those working primarily in Asia. Again, operations and “other technical” roles did not have much higher scores; this time, research and “Fundraising and development” were also exceptions.

  • Across the three size categories, there were few consistent trends in terms of particular categories of role becoming more or less difficult to hire and retain. Middle or junior managers seemed to become less difficult to hire and slightly less difficult to retain as an organisation’s size increases.


The following limitations should be borne in mind:

  • **We provided the guidance “Feel free to skip any items that do not apply to your organisation,” but respondents still seem to have taken very different approaches when they had (so far) had no experience with hiring or retaining someone in that type of expertise.[34] This will introduce additional random noise to the data that makes the responses more difficult to interpret.

  • **Three respondents offered comments that suggested that particular sub-categories of roles were especially difficult to hire for or retain.[35]

  • **Two respondents offered comments noting that the difficulties vary by region because campaign tactics are less socially accepted in some countries than others.[36]


We didn’t explicitly ask respondents whether they saw hiring or retention as more of an issue, but the survey provides some evidence that respondents see hiring as more of an issue.[37]<