Effective Philanthropy

By on December 21, 2007 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

There are a staggering 1.5 million charities in the United States. There are, perhaps, about 12,000 charities devoted to helping animals, most of them local groups performing animal sheltering or rescue work. Of all charitable giving in the United States, animals attract less than 1 percent, though the total dollars directed to the cause enable a wealth of good works.

Since its earliest days, when the first anti-cruelty societies were given state charters and, eventually, tax-exempt status, organized animal protection has been a part of American philanthropy’s historic tradition. And charitable giving is as old as the nation itself. The 19th-century French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville was one of the first to take note of the vitality of American philanthropy, and to note how deeply linked it is to the ideals of American democracy.

Americans are a remarkably generous people, and they are giving extraordinary amounts to support the vast number of charities created during the last three decades. Where would we be without private citizens and their contributions of financial support and volunteer resources to the nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations which serve the public good across a wide range of areas? It is these groups that drive social service activity, public policy changes, corporate social responsibility and, as a general matter, call us to act in ways that are decent and good and other-centered.

Yellow lab and tabby cat
© iStockphoto
Charity analysts give high marks to The HSUS’s financial health
and return on donors’ investments.

When contemplating a gift to an organization, you can check out guidestar.org or charitynavigator.org to see the group’s basic information on operations and finances.

In 2006, The HSUS’s program expenses as a percentage of total expenses were 81 percent, greatly exceeding the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance standard of 65 percent or more. The HSUS also meets every financial and administrative standard set by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, which assesses the nation’s charities to determine whether they meet some 20 voluntary benchmarks on matters like finances, donation appeals, and governance. And Charity Navigator gives The HSUS a four-star rating, the highest possible rating.

While The HSUS measures up well in the assessments of these charity watchdogs, I believe the criteria set by these groups are narrow and provide an incomplete portrait of a nonprofit’s work. An organization may have good ratios of program expense to fundraising and administration, and may have regular board meetings, but it may not be particularly effective or powerful. It may look good on paper, but it may not drive social change in any meaningful way. And that’s really what most Americans want when they donate to charities.

At The HSUS, we pride ourselves on being effective advocates and demonstrating a return on donors’ investments. This year, for instance, we helped to pass 86 new state laws to protect animals—smashing the record-setting number established just a year earlier. We prevailed in the courts and helped shut down all of the U.S.-based horse slaughter plants. We helped usher in a wide range of corporate reforms, including the nation’s largest pork producer, Smithfield, agreeing to phase out gestation crates, food service giant Compass Group deciding not to purchase eggs from battery cage operators, and Wolfgang Puck implementing a range of humane reforms. We helped arrest hundreds of animal fighters. And we rescued thousands of animals from puppy mills, hoarders, and disaster zones, along with caring for thousands of animals at our network of animal sanctuaries.

In looking at charities, take a look not just at their fundraising-to-program ratios, but what kind of impact they are making. By that measure, your HSUS stands tall, and that’s why I feel confident and comfortable in asking you to support our work. Support us, and we’ll show you results.

Companion Animals

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