Animal Charities – Not Just a Fluffy Cause


In conversations about strategic giving, animal causes are often the first to be targeted as being somehow not valuable. Why is this, and is it fair? And how can we best help animals through charitable giving?

The value that a donor places on a nonhuman animal’s life compared to a human’s life comes down to personal philosophy, with many religions holding human life to be sacred. For secular people and anyone who views humans as being one of many species of animal, the issue may feel more complicated.

The argument is often made that humans are more deserving of help because they are more intelligent, but it is important not to confuse intelligence with capacity to suffer. Do animals suffer differently from humans, and if so how? We can’t know what the subjective experience of being an animal is like, but the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness (2012) states:

“The weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals … also possess these.”

According to Lynne Sneddon of the University of Liverpool, “The scientific evidence shows that animals have the hard wiring to perceive and react to sensory pain and injury[1].”

Giving opportunities

What are the top giving opportunities for donors interested in animal causes? Animal charity evaluation is a very new field, but according to Animal Charity Evaluators, which searches for the most effective animal causes, research suggests that advocating for animals on factory farms is currently the most promising area for donors to have a big impact. It names The Humane League and Vegan Outreach as its current top charities.

This area is thought to be promising because, with around 60 billion animals, not including fish, being killed for food every year[2], the problem is vast. Animal suffering on factory farms is severe and widespread[3][4][5]. Factory farming is also a neglected cause relative to the size of the problem, as this graph shows:



Much more research is needed on this advocacy work. Initial findings suggest that Vegan Outreach helps an animal for around £0.10[6]. This strikes me as overly optimistic, but there is still a huge margin for error in comparison with many popular animal causes, for example the RSPCA advertises rehoming a dog for £500[7].

It is highly likely that in the future, the biggest breakthrough in preventing animal suffering will come from the development of lab grown meat and egg substitutes that taste just like the real thing. Hampton Creek’s work on egg substitutes has drawn support from Bill Gates and the world’s first lab grown burger was eaten last summer.

Would you eat lab grown meat or give to an animal charity? Please let us know in the comments below or contact us on twitter: @OfficialCause4.
5 Replies

5 responses to “Animal Charities – Not Just a Fluffy Cause

  1. Alice

    Thanks for the link Rosemary, the RSPCA Freedom Food scheme looks great and it’s good to see it’s having an impact on industry standards.

  2. Rosemary

    I’d suggest a couple of other points that need to be factored in.

    1) At first sight the idea of convincing people not to eat animals seems an “instant” way to prevent suffering and save life. This won’t necessarily work as intended and the UK has unintentionally tested this as a result of the horse meat scandal. This removed the market for horses which were being exported and re-imported as meat falsely labelled as beef almost overnight. We now have a situation where horses who would have been slaughtered are simply abandoned to die, causing enormous welfare issues.

    2) Choosing between promoting vegetarianism vs improvements to the way farmed animals are kept really depends on what you think are practical goals in terms of changing the behaviour of large numbers of people. If the majority are not going to change then it’s more effective to promote gradual improvement rather than revolution. The RSPCA’s spend per animal in the Freedom Food scheme is actually slightly less than the spend per animal in the Animal Charity Evaluators’ leaflet distribution study

  3. Allison Smith

    I’m the Research Manager at Animal Charity Evaluators. We’re based in the U.S. and so far haven’t had a chance to look into any programs located entirely outside the U.S., as the RSPCA’s is, though we hope to get there soon.

    None of the programs aimed at reducing demand for meat that we’ve investigated have had the fast and dramatic effects of the horse meat scandal, so we don’t think they’re generally causing animals to simply suffer in more gruesome ways. Instead, programs have the effect of making a few people (1-3%) go vegetarian, and in some cases a larger number reduce their meat consumption less drastically. So the market for a particular kind of animal product doesn’t disappear overnight, and farmers don’t abandon animals that they have been raising. They do, we think, sell them for slightly less money than they would otherwise get, and presumably some choose to transition out of the meat industry as their existing livestock are sold or choose not to expand their operations.

    Directly comparing the RSPCA’s spend per animal to the spend per animal for leaflets is a bit misleading, because the two programs don’t have the same effect on the animals they reach. The Freedom Food scheme takes a suffering animal and causes it to lead a life with less suffering, though the animal is still used for food and ultimately killed. (Additionally, probably some farms don’t have to change much about how they keep their animals to get a license in the scheme, because they were already using good practices. The farm industry, like any other, has a lot of variety.) An animal “affected” by leafleting is one which is simply never born into life on a farm. Which of these outcomes is better for the animal could be debated, but it’s certainly unlikely that they are precisely as good as one another, which is what the direct comparison would imply.

  4. Alice

    Thanks Rosemary, these are some really pertinent comments. I agree that the benefits of more people becoming vegetarian might be felt more in the long term as industry takes time to respond to reduced demand- the situation with the horses is really tragic so thanks for raising my awareness there. I get the impression that promoting vegetarianism isn’t about causing revolutionary change – maybe more about incrementally increasing the number of vegetarians or reducing how often people eat meat, in some cases curbing the growth of the meat industry or seeing a gradual decline, rather than a sudden drop off like with the horse meat scandal.

    I think the debate of promoting vegetarianism vs improvements to farming welfare standards is a really important and complex one and agree that many people will probably never be open to changing their diet, so it is essential to offer them a more ethical alternative. I wonder also how each intervention affects things like people identifying as anti-speciesist, and value changes at a societal level- these things are harder to quantify.

    I checked Animal Charity Evaluators’ website and animal welfare food labels is listed as an area not yet investigated (the organisation is very new). I’d suggest it’d be worth contacting them especially if you can make a case for the RSPCA scheme having a bigger impact per pound- as this could lead to them updating their recommendations and money being moved towards something even more effective. They would also be able to provide better-informed answers to the points you raised than I can.

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