Sunday, December 1, 2013

Where Do Your Donations Really Go?

I have a real problem with Nonhuman Animal advocacy organizations who equate activism with donating.  First of all, it is really disempowering and elitist.  The presumption is that only those who can afford it can help Nonhuman Animals (when there are actually many ways to help that are low-cost or conducive to one's specific talents, skills, and resources).  The other presumption is that only organizations (run mostly by middle-class white people) can manage those resources properly.  Secondly, the best thing to help other animals is not to donate, but to go vegan and get active.

Check out this prime example of "activism=donating" from Vegan Outreach:

The above graph -- with the green being donations during the fiscal year, and the blue bars the distribution of booklets for the year -- shows that whatever money comes in goes right back out in booklets! 
In other words: however much money is contributed determines how many new people learn the truth.
Learn what truth, exactly?  Because according to Vegan Outreach, veganism is a pretty terrible thing.  Vegan Outreach spends a lot of time trashing on veganism and promoting reductionist solutions instead.  Indeed, sometimes veganism is ignored altogether, as demonstrated in a second post that promotes this graph.  In that post, veganism was never mentioned (except as part of the organization's title), but vegetarianism was referenced ten times.

For that matter, this chart is deceptive.  According to their 2011-2012 financial statement, Vegan Outreach raked in $914,099.  Only $824,246 of that was put toward expenses (which means they held on to $89,853).   Furthermore, 11%  ($90,668) of those funds were put toward expenses that actually went to support services and more fundraising.  So, out of almost a million dollars raised, they are left with $733,578, which go towards unspecified "programs." I tried to find their tax documents, which would state exactly what programs were being supported, but unlike PETA, Vegan Outreach keeps that information tucked away.   I really wonder how much of their anti-vegan campaigning is actually included in those "programs."

Regardless, it's deceitful to suggest that "whatever money comes in goes right back out in booklets."  Really, what does that graph even mean?  So, leafleting, in general, increases with available funding.  Well, that's common sense.  But, there's no weight:  how do we know exactly how much a leaflet costs to create and distribute?  How do we know that the rise in donations is not just being put to other junk (like anti-vegan propaganda)?

Leaflets are cheap to produce (11 cents a pop for Vegan Outreach), and most of their distributors (as far as I'm aware) are volunteers.  When you leaflet on college campuses (as Vegan Outreach does), leafleting goes really quickly.  I've done for my own student groups, I know how it works.  Does it really cost over seven hundred thousand dollars to distribute 2.5 million leaflets with mostly volunteer labor?  Incidentally 2.5 million leaflets at eleven cents each adds up to $275,000, a difference of $458,578, nearly half a million dollars.  Wait, aren't they volunteer-based?  I know they pay some folks to leaflet, but half a million bucks?  Where'd that money go? And why no mention of the nearly $200,000 of those donations (going towards fundraising, services, and savings) that they admit in their financial statement don't even go to leafleting?  That's a whopping $639,099 (or about 70% of their total income) that goes to something other than producing leaflets, despite their conflicting claim.  Bad graphs serve one purpose:  To manipulate the viewer.  Vegan Outreach is trying to tell a story, and that story is: "If you care about animals, give us money."  Bad logic has the same effect.  For instance, with this graph, they claim:
Your donation = more vegetarians = more animals spared!
First, they have very little research to support that their leaflets actually produce more vegetarians, and what research they do have suffers from bad methodology.  One major flaw is that people will tell you what they think you want to hear when they participate in research.  They surveyed students who had been exposed to the leaflets in the past and asked them if they'd since reduced their Nonhuman Animal product intake.  Hm, big surprise, a lot of people said yes.  People are notoriously bad at self-assessment, especially when there are value judgments associated.  Most of us think we are eating way less than we actually are.  We all think ourselves healthier and more conscientious.  Interestingly, only 2% reported actually going vegetarian!  It's worth noting research that finds a lot of people who identify as vegetarian aren't really vegetarian at all.  In fact, one study showed that people identifying as vegetarians actually ate more Nonhuman Animal flesh.  Given Vegan Outreach's confusing and vague message about reducing intake, I wonder how much behavioral change is really  happening.

Second, vegetarianism doesn't exactly "spare" much.  Hens raised for eggs still suffer horrendously and go to slaughter when they're "spent."  Dairy cows endure 4-5 years of torture before they're killed as well (when they live around 20 years naturally).  Oh, and the "byproduct" boy calves produced by the millions so vegetarians can have their cheese?  Veal crates.  And "byproduct" boy chicks produced by the billions so vegetarians can have their eggs?  Ground alive.

Vegan Outreach is able to keep the donations flowing because they promote a compromised message.  Most of us like to think we inflict less harm on other animals, so with Vegan Outreach's help, we can self-identify as "animal lovers" or "vegetarians" without really doing anything.  Oh and you better believe the big foundations who amassed their fortunes from speciesist industries (that non-profits beg for money) love that compromised message, too.  Compromised message, compromised results.  If Vegan Outreach, the face of "animal rights" invested as much energy into a clear vegan message as they do into fundraising, I think that pitiful 2% response would see a sizable increase.

If you want to help Nonhuman Animals, you don't need to fork over your money to organizations.  You need to go vegan.  If you want to do more, there's plenty of creative ways you can make a difference.  Don't presume the big groups do it best.  They answer to the people who send them grant money, and those are the people with conservative elite interests.  And, really, if you think leafleting is a great advocacy tool, you can easily do it yourself using abolitionist vegan-centric literature.  You don't have to pay someone else to do it for you who will only take a big cut from your money for "support services" and promote welfarist compromises.  Looking for nice looking abolitionist leaflets?  Check out the Boston Vegan Association, who provides booklets to abolitionist advocates free of cost.