Why do animal charities receive so few dollars? It has to do with the fundraising.
I’m focusing this blog on the animal welfare/advocacy sector as these missions speak to my own philanthropic passion. I’m a volunteer, donor, and consultant to animal welfare organizations and I understand fundraising for this sector from both the donor’s experience and from the “inside”. The latest 2020 Giving USA report gave me pause when thinking of this sector and has prompted me to specify what I see as easily remedied fundraising practices for animal charities.
The 2020 Giving USA report lumps environmental and animal causes together (a pain point for me) and the stats were heralded as overwhelming positive for the sector. Adjusted for inflation, in 2019 environment and animal charities’ funding grew 9.4%, marking the sixth consecutive year of growth. This is indeed great news! However, only 3% of the $449.64 billion given to charity in 2019 went to environment and animal charities. Granted, the numbers from Giving USA are skewed to include the mega gifts given last year to private foundations and select organizations as well as gifts given by foundations and corporations - and I’m unclear (maybe someone will answer this for me) whether the billions include giving to donor-advised funds – and if it does, we know much of that money isn’t going to charity in 2019. That being said, the numbers are still startling for animal charities.
Faunalytics underwent an insightful study in 2019 examining the donors who are passionate about animal welfare. Some interesting findings:
· Most animal-cause donors give to companion animal charities, often exclusively. Two
thirds of donors did not give money to any other type of animal charity.
· 91% of those who give to animal charities give to other types of charities, generally
focusing on vulnerable animal and human populations.
· Preference for companion animal charities is often based on familiarity, not
· 12% of the US population gave to an animal charity in the last 12 months (keeping in
mind that animal charities receive less than 3% of all donations)
· The typical donor gave $100 to animal charities in the 12 months and it represented
30% of their donations.
· 6% of respondents gave $1000 or more and made up 47% of total donations to animal
These last three data points, combined with the 2020 Giving USA data should tell us this: animal charities have loyal donors, but they don’t have their fair share of major donors.
Why is that? My experience as a donor and consultant for this sector has led me to a few conclusions.
Firstly, there’s a lot of competition for animal charity’s audience and dollars. Animal charity donors have a plethora of options when it comes to focusing their passion into impact, ranging from ASPCA to local shelters and humane societies, to advocacy groups, to sanctuaries, to zoos, and to foster organizations (and this is not exclusive), and furthermore causes range from companion animals, to farm animals, to wildlife. Competition is real within this sector.
Secondly, and from my perspective more importantly, is that in general animal welfare organizations have visionary leaders and passionate missions, but are missing critical development operations such as fundraising plans, cases of support, and functioning major giving programs. Often animal charities are running so bare boned, they don’t have the resources to devote to development and therefore, development best practices are missing. Except for the larger organizations with major giving focuses, the small to medium-sized animal charity is banking on small, loyal donors – over-asking – and focused on expanding donor bases as opposed to cultivating larger gifts from existing donors.
Is this true for all animal charities? NO. Some of them are extremely successful, but operationally I see these organizations devoting 10%-20% on administration, with a healthy percentage going to development alone, and they also have major and planned giving structures in place. They understand the 90/10 rule applies to all nonprofits, regardless of the issue and implement best practices accordingly.
Over-asking is also commonplace for animal charities. Animal charities know their donors respond to the call for need, are emotionally driven to help animals, and therefore rely on fairly constant asks for individual animals, new rescues, and emergencies. Solicitation fatigue leads to poor donor retention, the inability to cultivate for large gifts, and takes space away from communications to demonstrate the impact of gifts (aka stewardship).
Is this endemic only to animal charities? Certainly not, but it is prevalent within the sector. When organizations are not consistently communicating the impact the organization has had (mission fulfillment) and not communicating the impact existing funds have had (donor impact), donors drift away. The 2018 Burk Donor Survey (among many other sources) provides real data on this. Over-solicitation (58%) remains a key reason why donors stop giving or give less and 61% of respondents said they are more likely now than they were five years ago to reduce or eliminate support to nonprofits that over-solicit.
Anecdotally, I’ve seen this play out as a donor. I’ve given major gifts to a handful of animal charities and not once was I asked to give an additional stretch commitment afterwards. I was sent thank yous and even visited by a development officer once, but I’ve never received any communications from those organizations that demonstrated the impact of my gift or the impact of the organization (other than an impact report from one and the occasional newsletter). I did however, receive numerous appeals afterwards. All the organizations I’ve given to in a major gift capacity were small and medium-sized nonprofits.
I’ve also received light pushback as a consultant on the need for animal charities to invest in major gift programs as they see their cohorts surviving (yet not thriving) on constant asks, broadening donors bases, keeping fundraising events despite slim revenues, and keeping unsustainable operating margins. A lesson for me in the consulting space has been that educating these nonprofits on best fundraising practices is crucial and there is a need to explain why they apply to animal charities – even if they’re not commonplace in the sector.
My hope with this blog is that it resonates with anyone who works within this sector. The missions are compelling, the passion is real with your donors, but there is a reason the sector receives such a small portion of the charitable pie and most importantly, it can be remedied with best practices.