The State Of Animal Advocacy In The U.S. & Canada: Experiences & Turnover
This study examined the experiences of advocates in the United States and Canada, with most respondents coming from the U.S. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt at a comprehensive survey of animal advocates in English-speaking North America. The main purpose was to determine why animal advocates leave the movement or move from organization to organization. Our central research questions were:
- Why do animal advocates leave the movement?
- Why do animal advocates leave organizations?
- When do animal advocates leave an organization (after how many years)?
- What experiences do animal advocates have in the movement?
- Most animal advocates are satisfied with most aspects of their work, but there is room for improvement in a number of areas. Across almost all measures, the majority of advocates felt satisfied and supported in most aspects of their work for animals. At the same time, there are several areas where changes would likely improve advocates’ experiences and increase retention, as described below.
- Advocates left animal advocacy organizations for a variety of reasons, staying a median of 2.3 years with each. The most common reasons included problems with leadership (40%), finding a better opportunity (35%), not wanting to do a particular type of advocacy anymore (27%), and burnout (21%). Overall, 85% of respondents in our sample had left at least one animal advocacy role in the past, including 11% who had left the animal protection movement altogether.
- To retain paid animal advocates in the movement, we need to provide a rewarding professional environment with reasonable demands and strong leadership. The following were the strongest determinants of paid advocates’ intentions to stay (in descending order):
- How reasonable the demands of their advocacy role were,
- How well their skills and values fit with their organization’s,
- How satisfied they were with the resources, support, and opportunities available to them,
- How satisfied they were with their organization’s leadership,
- How much of a difference they felt they were making,
- How satisfied they were with their pay and benefits, and
- Whether they were experiencing burnout.
- The majority of paid advocates are satisfied with each of the above domains, but there is room for improvement on all of them. In particular, as many as one-third of paid advocates were not satisfied with aspects of their organizations’ leadership, up to one quarter are experiencing compassion fatigue (burnout and traumatic stress) and/or overly demanding work, and more than one-third were not happy with their rate of pay or opportunities for career advancement and training. These are all areas where organizations may want to focus attention on measuring and, if necessary, improving their own performance.
- To retain unpaid animal advocates in the movement, we need to provide strong leadership, connection with other advocates, and a safe environment. The following were the strongest determinants of unpaid advocates’ intentions to stay (in descending order):
- How satisfied they were with their organization’s leadership,
- How much they identified with other animal advocates, and
- Whether they had experienced harassment.
- Most unpaid advocates were satisfied with their organizations’ leadership and felt a strong sense of identification with advocacy, while 13% had experienced at least one incident of harassment, bullying, or abuse from other advocates or members of the public. There was more room for improvement in certain aspects of the support or resources available to unpaid advocates: About a quarter did not feel understood by their supervisors, a third did not feel that they received enough training to do their job well, and more than half did not feel that they received enough support for career advancement.
- Finally, a substantial proportion of advocates had experienced one or more instances of discrimination or harassment in the past five years, and advocates who are members of marginalized groups were disproportionately impacted. Overall, 49% of paid advocates and 28% of unpaid advocates had experienced discrimination or harassment. This included 50% of advocates with disabilities, 33% of female and non-binary advocates, 29% of advocates of color, and 14% of LGBTQ+ advocates who reported having experienced discrimination, unfair treatment, harassment, bullying, or abuse based on their group membership. (Though note that sample sizes for some of these groups were very small so the findings may not generalize well.)
Additional details and recommendations can be found on the Conclusions tab, or by reading the full Method & Results.
A Note On Interpretation
This study, like all research, is imperfect. In particular, because there is no other study describing the animal advocate population, we have no comparison for the results. We used a sampling method designed to minimize bias and conducted an analysis to identify and address potential sources of bias in the results, but still ran into some difficulties. These are described briefly here, and in more detail in the Method Overview and Caveats & Limitations.
This sample isn’t as representative of the U.S./Canadian movement as we’d like it to be. Most notably, Black advocates are underrepresented, and several other demographics are likely overrepresented: paid advocates, those with household incomes over $100,000 a year, and those with top-down advocacy groups (versus grassroots). In other words, these results are likely more representative of the experiences of privileged advocates, so we recommend interpreting them as somewhat biased toward positivity.
Although this survey provides a first look at retention issues and experiences in animal advocacy, our recruitment difficulties highlight how much work we have to do as a community. It shows how privileged advocates may be disconnected from those who are marginalized in one or more ways.
This project was the collective effort of many Faunalytics staff and volunteers, including Jo Anderson, Tom Beggs, Joy McLeod, Liliia Lisina, Susan Macary, Julia Dauksza, Seamus McKinsey, and Barbara Reed. We are also grateful to our donors for funding this work, Encompass for their feedback and support of this work, and all our survey respondents for taking the time to provide feedback to improve the animal protection movement as a whole.
This project examined the experiences of current and former animal advocates in the U.S. and Canada. Specifically, anyone who had volunteered in an animal advocacy role, worked for an animal advocacy organization, or had undertaken substantial independent advocacy for the protection, rights, or welfare of animals. It did not include people whose advocacy was restricted to donating money, signing petitions, or forwarding emails, because our primary interest was in understanding the advocates who put the most time and energy into the movement.
Participants were recruited using the respondent-driven sampling (RDS) method for hard-to-reach populations. This is similar to snowball sampling in that it starts with a group of “seed” participants and relies on peer-to-peer recruitment, but it limits the number of people each individual can recruit in order to prevent bias being introduced by a few highly-connected individuals.
Our final survey sample included 161 people. Seven others who started the survey were screened out because they did not meet the criteria or indicated at the end that they did not want their data used. The full survey instrument is available on the Open Science Framework.
The RDS sampling method, if it had worked as intended, would have produced a sample that could be used to represent the entire population of advocates in the U.S. and Canada. Unfortunately, despite ongoing efforts to encourage recruitment, we fell short of this goal (more details are available on the Supplementary Materials tab). As a result, this sample isn’t as representative of the U.S./Canadian movement as we’d like it to be.
Limitations are discussed on the Conclusions tab of this report, but of particular note, we failed to recruit a substantial proportion of Black advocates and other people of color (POC), making it difficult to draw conclusions about how being a POC influences the advocacy experience. We were able to include results for marginalized advocates more generally—an analysis that included advocates who self-identify as POC, having a disability, LGBTQ+, or another marginalized status—but this overlooks the unique challenges that each of these groups experiences.
At the same time, as noted on the Key Findings tab, we suspect that several other demographics are overrepresented in the sample: paid advocates, those with combined household incomes over $100,000 a year, and those working with top-down advocacy groups (versus grassroots). Therefore, these results are likely more representative of the experiences of privileged advocates than those who are marginalized or less privileged in other ways. This also seems plausible from the standpoint that more privileged advocates would have more time to devote to a survey, and perhaps more faith in one’s answers having weight—because privilege means a history of one’s opinions and experiences being given weight and acted upon, while lack of privilege means the exact opposite. Given this probable issue, we recommend that the reader consider these findings likely to be somewhat biased in a positive direction.
We cannot prove or disprove these suspicions, though we did our best to investigate sources of bias, as described in the Supplementary Materials. No reference data for the demographics of all animal advocates exists, so unlike a general population survey, the data cannot be stratified or weighted, which is why we had used the RDS method to attempt representativeness. The overrepresentation of paid advocates was easily handled by presenting separate results for paid and unpaid advocates, but other imbalances are harder to detect and account for.
If we want to understand the experiences of marginalized advocates, we will need to focus specifically on engaging marginalized researchers, participants, and communities. Although this survey provides a first look at retention issues and experiences in animal advocacy, our recruitment difficulties highlight how much work we have to do as a community. It shows how privileged advocates may be disconnected from those who are marginalized in one or more ways.
This study’s preregistration, analysis code, and anonymized data are available on the Open Science Framework. Data anonymization details are provided on the Supplementary Materials tab.
For graphs with error bars, the error bars represent the 95% confidence intervals.
Who Are The Animal Advocates?
To understand animal advocates and the conditions that contribute to whether they stay in the movement, it is important to consider the key distinction between paid and unpaid advocates. (These groups are sometimes referred to as ‘professional’ and ‘volunteer’ advocates, but we prefer paid/unpaid to avoid potentially misleading connotations of expertise.) Deciding whether or not to leave an advocacy role may be a very different decision for a person who is paid for their work than one who is not.
Throughout this report, we present the results for paid and unpaid advocates separately. This is important because there are significant differences between the two groups in many cases, and also because paid advocates were likely overrepresented in our sample. 67% (n = 108) of respondents were paid advocates, versus 33% unpaid advocates (n = 53). By considering them separately, there is no concern about an incorrect ratio biasing the results.
The table below shows the basic demographic characteristics of our sample. All respondents indicated that their advocacy is based mostly in the U.S. (92.5%) or Canada (7.5%), which was required to participate in this study.
As shown, the animal advocates who participated in this survey tend to be young (almost half are under 35) and female. A few differences between paid and unpaid advocates emerged, as described in the table footnotes.
Table 1: Basic Demographics
Additional demographics are shown below.
Table 2: Additional Demographics
Finally, the following tables show additional demographics pertaining to employment and education. Paid advocates tended to be more educated than unpaid advocates, and were less likely to hold other employment outside of animal advocacy. Paid and unpaid advocates’ annual household income did not differ, though of course a substantially greater proportion of that income came from advocacy for paid advocates.
The final table below—showing additional financial considerations for advocates—is particularly notable. Although some (or many) of the differences may be explained by the younger average age of paid advocates, it is important to note several strains upon them. Compared to unpaid advocates, paid advocates were significantly more likely to have student debt and other kinds of debt, and less likely to say they were financially secure. This was not the result of having more dependents, as the groups were equally likely to say they were financially supporting children or other dependents.
Table 3: Employment & Education
Advocates’ Roles And Tasks
Advocates work on a wide range of tasks, all dedicated to protecting animals and advancing their welfare or rights. As you can see in the first table below, paid and unpaid advocates were about equally likely to advocate for farmed animals, but unpaid advocates were more likely to work with most other species: animals regarded as pets, animals used in research, wild or captive animals, and animals used for work or entertainment.
Because this question allowed respondents to select all that applied, this pattern of results reflects a tendency for paid advocates’ work to be more focused on farmed animals than unpaid advocates’ work is. Unpaid advocates indicated 2.3 types of animals on average, versus 1.5 for paid advocates.
The second table below shows the tasks advocates perform in their work. As indicated in the table, some differed substantially between groups, but overall, advocates clearly undertake a wide range of tasks.
The bottom two tables show additional differences between paid and unpaid advocates: Paid advocates spend more hours per week on advocacy and are more likely to work remotely.
Table 4: Advocacy Basics
The next set of tables shows the characteristics of the organizations advocates work for. Most advocates, paid and unpaid, work with advocacy organizations—most often with traditional “top-down” organizations like the Humane Society, Vegan Outreach, or Faunalytics. Grassroots organizations like SAVE or Anonymous for the Voiceless were more often selected by unpaid advocates.
Table 5: Advocacy Within Organizations
This section provides descriptive data about advocates’ impactful experiences: from belonging to burnout to discrimination. As in the previous section, the results are shown separately for paid and unpaid advocates.
We also examined whether each of these experiences differed, on average, for advocates who identify as members of a minoritized group. Specifically, we compared average scores for advocates of marginalized genders (female and non-binary) versus male advocates, and members versus non-members of minoritized groups. Those groups were people of color, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities, but the analyses are not broken down by group because the numbers for each were so small. Any differences are described at the end of each section below.
Belonging: Identification With Animal Advocates
Every person is part of a great many groups in life, most of them informal. Groups you are a part of include people of your generation, people who share your favorite hobby, people who advocate for animals, and many more. How much you identify with the group can determine whether you feel like you belong. And for something like advocacy, that can impact whether you stick with it or not (Cameron, 2004).
We measured animal advocates’ sense of identification with other animal advocates using a six-item scale adapted from Cameron (2004). Higher scores on this scale indicate stronger identification with other animal advocates. The table below shows advocates’ agreement with each of the six statements. Their overall level of identification is provided at the bottom, representing the average of the six scale items (after reverse-coding the negatively-worded items).
As you can see from the table, overall identification with other animal advocates was strong—in the agree to strongly agree range—and did not differ for paid versus unpaid advocates.
Table 6: Identification With Animal Advocates
For advocates who work with an organization, feeling a sense of “fit” with that organization is also very important. We measured person-organization fit with a three-item scale adapted from Uysal Irak (2010). As shown below, the majority of advocates felt that their skills and values fit fairly well with their organizations. The difference between paid and unpaid advocates was not statistically significant.
Table 7: Person-Organization Fit
Neither advocates of marginalized genders nor minoritized groups (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+) differed significantly from non-marginalized advocates in their average levels of identification with other advocates or their person-organization fit (all ts < |1.34|, ps > .18).
Using a single item, we asked animal advocates about their ability to balance their advocacy work with other parts of their life. Higher scores indicate more ability to achieve that balance. As shown below, paid advocates indicated significantly less agreement with this statement, which likely reflects the greater number of hours they put toward advocacy.
As pointed out by several participants, achieving balance is not a goal that all advocates share—some prefer to integrate advocacy with other aspects of their life. As shown in a later section (“Advocate Experiences and Intentions to Leave the Movement”), although people who scored higher on this work-life balance measure are less likely to say they intend to leave the movement, the correlation is fairly small and only marginally significant, suggesting it is not an important factor for everyone.
Table 8: Work-Life Balance
Neither advocates of marginalized genders nor minoritized groups (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+) differed significantly from non-marginalized advocates in their average ability to balance their advocacy with other aspects of their lives (ts < |0.40|, ps > .69).
Making a Difference: Compassion Satisfaction
Compassion satisfaction refers to the positive feelings derived from being able to do your advocacy work well. In other words, higher scores on this scale indicate more satisfaction with one’s effectiveness as an animal advocate. We measured compassion satisfaction, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress (described below) using a version of the Professional Quality of Life (PROQOL) scale for people who work in helping professions like nursing (PROQOL Manual, 2005, p. 5). We adapted it to be shorter and refer to animals/advocacy rather than people/helping professions.
As shown in the table below, most advocates—both paid and unpaid—experience high levels of compassion satisfaction, though it is notable that about 30% of advocates did not feel like their work makes a difference most or all of the time.
(Note that these questions were part of a block about experiences in animal advocacy—so it was clear that “work” referred to one’s animal advocacy efforts.)
Table 9: Compassion Satisfaction
Neither advocates of marginalized genders nor minoritized groups (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+) differed significantly from non-marginalized advocates in their average levels of compassion satisfaction (ts < |1.58|, ps > .11).
Compassion Fatigue: Burnout & Secondary Traumatic Stress
Many advocates may be familiar with the concept of compassion fatigue — the emotional cost of caring for those we try to help. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with others such as burnout, vicarious trauma, and secondary traumatic stress. Regardless of what it is called, it is a serious and frequent issue among animal advocates (e.g., Dauksza, 2019; Lopresti-Goodman & Rising, 2019; Young & Thompson, 2019).
In the clinical measurement tool we used, compassion fatigue includes burnout and secondary traumatic stress as two distinct components (PROQOL Manual, 2005). Here, burnout specifically refers to feelings of hopelessness and difficulties dealing with advocacy or advocating effectively. Secondary traumatic stress refers to secondary exposure to extremely stressful events—for instance, via slaughterhouse footage. It is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.
In short, higher scores on the burnout and secondary traumatic stress scales indicate that advocates are experiencing more compassion fatigue than those with lower scores.
As you can see in the tables below, about a quarter of paid advocates expressed agreement with statements like “I feel overwhelmed by my work as an animal advocate” that are indicative of burnout. On average, burnout was significantly higher among paid than unpaid advocates.
Similar numbers (20 to 23%) of advocates expressed agreement with statements indicative of secondary traumatic stress, such as “Because of my animal advocacy, I feel ‘on edge’ about various things.” As with burnout, paid advocates reported significantly more secondary traumatic stress than unpaid advocates.
Table 10: Burnout & Secondary Traumatic Stress
Advocates of marginalized genders did not differ from non-marginalized advocates in their average levels of burnout or secondary traumatic stress (ts < |1.60|, ps > .11).
Advocates who were members of minoritized groups (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+) did not differ significantly from non-minoritized advocates in their average levels of secondary traumatic stress (t(115.3) = 0.39, ps > .69). However, in this sample, average levels of burnout were significantly lower in minoritized than non-minoritized advocates (t(116.9) = 2.07, p = .04). Members of minoritized groups had an average burnout score of 2.51, versus other members’ average score of 2.75, indicating slightly lower levels of burnout.
This could occur for several reasons. Members of minoritized groups who are experiencing high levels of burnout may have been less likely to participate in the survey—for instance, we saw that very few Black advocates participated. This may also be the result of selective attrition—if burnout has more of an impact on members of minoritized groups than other advocates, they may be more likely to leave the movement, leaving only those with lower levels of burnout. More focused research is needed to better understand the experiences of minoritized advocates.
Satisfaction With Organizational Leadership
Paid and unpaid advocates who worked with an animal advocacy organization indicated their level of satisfaction with organizational leadership using a four-item scale adapted from Bremner & Budgell (2017), as shown in the table below. Higher scores on this scale indicate more satisfaction with the leadership of one’s organization.
Substantial proportions of paid and unpaid advocates were not satisfied with all aspects of their organizations’ leadership. Professional conduct, fairness and transparency, goal support, and communication were all problematic for varying proportions of advocates.
On average, paid advocates were marginally less satisfied with leadership than unpaid advocates, but the biggest difference was evident in their perceptions of fairness and transparency.
Table 11: Satisfaction with Organizational Leadership
Neither advocates of marginalized genders nor minoritized groups (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+) differed significantly from non-marginalized advocates in their average levels of satisfaction with leadership (ts < |0.91|, ps > .36).
Satisfaction With Organizational Pay & Benefits
We measured animal advocates’ satisfaction with pay and benefits with three items created for this survey. Only paid advocates who worked with an organization saw these items. Higher scores on this scale indicate more satisfaction with pay and benefits. As is clear from the table, many advocates are not satisfied with their rate of pay, particularly when it is directly compared to similar jobs outside of animal advocacy.
Table 12: Satisfaction with Pay and Benefits
Neither advocates of marginalized genders nor minoritized groups (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+) differed significantly from non-marginalized advocates in their average levels of satisfaction with pay and benefits (ts < |1.01|, ps > .31).
We included a measure of three “job demands,” referred to in the academic literature as role ambiguity, role overload, and role conflict. These items were adapted from the Occupational Strain Inventory (Osipow, Doty, & Spokane, 1985). Higher scores on this scale indicate more difficulty with these issues.
From the table below, it appears that role ambiguity (lack of clear priorities) may be a problem for up to a third of advocates—paid and unpaid alike. Role overload (being expected to do an unreasonable amount) may be problematic for up to 27% and role conflict (more than one boss) for up to 22%. Paid advocates reported significantly higher job demands than unpaid advocates, on average—a difference that appears to be accounted for by differences in how many people struggle with role overload and role conflict.
Table 13: Job Demands
Neither advocates of marginalized genders nor minoritized groups (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+) differed significantly from non-marginalized advocates in their average levels of satisfaction with job demands (ts < |1.08|, ps > .28).
The “job resources” scale included six items representing four different concepts: support from peers (adapted from the Leiden Quality of Work Questionnaire; Van der Doef & Maes, 1999), support from supervisor (adapted from the Work Climate Questionnaire; Baard, Deci, & Ryan, 2004), training sufficiency (newly created item), and career advancement sufficiency (adapted from the Experiences and Evaluation of Work Questionnaire; van Veldhoven et al., 2002). Higher scores on this scale indicate more satisfaction with job resources.
As you can see from the table, most advocates felt supported by their peers and supervisor, though it is important to think about those who did not — particularly unpaid advocates, a third of whom appeared to feel unheard by their supervisors. A third of advocates—paid and unpaid—did not agree that they received enough training to do their work well, and 44% of paid advocates and 59% of unpaid advocates did not agree that they received sufficient support for career advancement.
Table 14: Job Resources
Neither advocates of marginalized genders nor minoritized groups (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+) differed significantly from non-marginalized advocates in their average levels of job resources (ts < |1.07|, ps > .29).
Discrimination & Harassment
This section of the survey asked about experiences with discrimination, harassment, bullying, and abuse in an animal advocacy environment in the past five years (since 2014). This cut-off was chosen to ensure that the results would be relevant to decision-makers, as earlier events may have taken place under different organizational policies or leadership.
The survey included separate questions about verbal and physical abuse experiences, but the incidence rate of physical abuse was too low (n = 2) to be considered separately. Therefore, where we refer to “abuse” in this report, it includes both verbal and physical abuse experiences.
Overall, 48.6% of paid advocates and 28.3% of unpaid advocates reported having experienced discrimination, unfair treatment, harassment, bullying, or abuse in an animal advocacy context in the past five years. This includes experiences with other advocates as well as members of the public.
More specifically, about 45% of paid advocates and 23% of unpaid advocates reported discrimination or unfair treatment, as shown in the figure below. This difference between paid and unpaid is significant (𝜒2 = 5.08, p < .03), but further analysis revealed that it can be explained by the greater number of hours worked by paid advocates — unpaid advocates are not less susceptible to discrimination, they are just less exposed to opportunities for it.
Methodological note: Specifically, we regressed a binary indicator of discrimination on paid/unpaid status, hours per week, and tasks. Hours per week was a strong predictor (B = 0.04, SE = 0.01, z = 2.61, p < .01), while the other variables—including paid/unpaid status—were non-significant when hours was in the model (ps > .35).
Figure 1: Experiences of Discrimination or Unfair Treatment by Paid and Unpaid Advocates
Additionally, 27% of paid advocates and 13% of unpaid advocates reported having experienced harassment, bullying, or abuse (including sexual and non-sexual types). This difference was marginally significant (𝜒2 = 3.07, p < .09) and cannot be explained by hours worked.
Figure 2: Experiences of Harassment, Bullying, Or Abuse by Paid and Unpaid Advocates
The remainder of the results in this section of the report are not broken down by paid versus unpaid status because the number of advocates who had experienced discrimination, harassment, bullying or abuse was too low for reliable subgroup analyses.
Bases Of Discrimination And Harassment
Advocates indicated the bases on which they had been discriminated against, treated unfairly, harassed, bullied, or abused. Although this is not always clear, many advocates were able to speculate based on their specific circumstances.
The figure below shows the proportions of each subgroup who had (to the best of their knowledge) experienced discrimination or harassment on the basis of their group membership. We have broken down marginalized groups further here than in the rest of the report because of the importance of understanding the prevalence of these experiences, but it is important to note how wide the 95% confidence intervals are because the samples for some of these groups were very small.
Figure 3: Discrimination & Harassment By Group Membership
More Details About Discrimination
For significance testing, we again included all minoritized advocates (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+) in a single group because of the small sample sizes.
As shown in the figures below, minoritized advocates were significantly more likely to have experienced discrimination than non-minoritized advocates. The same was true for advocates of marginalized (female and non-binary) genders.
Figure 4: Experiences of Discrimination or Unfair Treatment by Marginalized and Non-Marginalized Advocates
Circumstances Of Discrimination
The figure below shows the circumstances described by advocates who indicated that they had experienced discrimination (“In what types of animal advocacy situations have you experienced discrimination or been treated unfairly in the past 5 years?”). Many of the responses were write-in answers indicating everyday situations such as “in conversation” or “on social media.”
Figure 5: Circumstances of Discrimination
More Details About Harassment, Bullying, & Abuse
Neither advocates of marginalized genders nor minoritized groups (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+) differed significantly from non-marginalized advocates in their likelihood of having experienced harassment, bullying, or abuse (𝜒2s < 0.40, ps > .52).
Sources Of Harassment, Bullying, & Abuse
Respondents who had experienced harassment, bullying, or abuse were asked to indicate the source(s). In case there were differences between sexual and non-sexual forms, we asked separately about sources of sexual and non-sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse, though the results were similar.
The most common sources were supervisors/managers, members of the public, colleagues or peers, and advocates from other organizations.
Figure 6: Sources of Harassment and Abuse (Non-Sexual)
Figure 7: Sources of Harassment and Abuse (Sexual)
We also asked more specifically about sexualized forms of harassment and abuse. Again, the sample of advocates who had experience sexual harassment or abuse was small (n = 12), so the confidence intervals are large, which means the results may not generalize well.
Sexist, sexual, or gendered comments were the most common, having been experienced by 75.0% of those who reported sexual harassment or abuse experiences. 25.0% reported someone following them without permission, touching, or brushing up against them in a sexual way. Finally, 16.7% reported someone repeatedly asking for a date or phone number or repeatedly texting or calling in a harassing way.
Why (And When) Do Advocates Leave?
The central goal of this research project was to identify why advocates leave — whether that’s leaving the movement or just an organization. Leaving the movement may be the most detrimental overall, but turnover comes with major costs as well, in time spent hiring and retraining as well as lost institutional knowledge.
85% of respondents indicated that they had left at least one animal advocacy organization in the past. In fact, most had left multiple organizations. The full range of responses is shown in the figure below.
Figure 8: Number Of Past Animal Advocacy Organizations
The median amount of time animal advocates spent with each animal advocacy organization they had worked with was 2.3 years. (To obtain this estimate, we calculated a per-person average by dividing the length of time they had been an advocate by the number of organizations they had worked with.)
Intentions To Leave Current Role
We asked advocates who work with an animal advocacy group about their intention to leave within the next year. As shown in the graph below, the average for both paid and unpaid advocates fell between very unlikely to leave (1) and somewhat unlikely to leave (2), but paid advocates were marginally more likely to say they might leave their current role within the next year.
Figure 9: Intentions To Leave Role
Reasons For Leaving Past Roles
This section of the report is not broken down by paid/unpaid status because it would not be a meaningful distinction: advocates’ past roles were not necessarily the same status as their current ones.
We asked advocates who had left at least one past animal advocacy organization why they had left any or all of those times. Their responses, collapsed into categories, are shown below. Respondents were asked to select everything that had a substantial impact. The full set of responses for all 32 individual response options is provided in the Supplementary Materials.
As shown, almost 40% of advocates reported problems with organizational leadership as a contributing factor in why they had left a previous organization. Most commonly, these problems included unfairness or lack of transparency (22.1%) or a lack of professionalism (21.3%)
34.6% of advocates had left a role for a better opportunity somewhere else. Those opportunities are considered in more detail below.
The third most common reason for leaving, reported by about a third of advocates, was dissatisfaction with the type of advocacy one was doing, or its impact. More specifically, 26.5% said they had left because it wasn’t the type of advocacy they wanted to do anymore, and 16.9% because the work wasn’t making enough of a difference.
Figure 10: Reasons For Leaving Past Roles With Advocacy Organizations
As shown in the graph above, 34.6% of advocates had left a role for a better opportunity somewhere else. Knowing what those opportunities entail is important for understanding where positions within the movement may need to improve. The table below shows additional specifics for those better opportunities.
Table 15: Reasons For Leaving: Better Opportunities
There were two significant differences in the reasons female/non-binary advocates had left past roles relative to male advocates, as shown in the first table below. Specifically, while male advocates were more likely to have left a role for a better opportunity, female and non-binary advocates were more likely to have left due to a lack of opportunity for career advancement.
There were also several significant differences in the reasons given by advocates who were members of minoritized groups (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+), as shown in the lower table.
Table 16: Significant Differences in Reasons for Leaving
Why Did Former Advocates Leave The Movement?
Many advocates leave positions in the movement, but most of the time, they don’t leave the movement altogether. To understand the difference, we asked former advocates why they didn’t take another role in the movement. The majority (60%) said their reasons for not taking another role in the movement were the same reasons they left the position.
The table below lists former advocates’ reasons for leaving the movement: all reasons listed by at least one former advocate, by rough category.
Table 17: Reasons Former Advocates Left The Movement
Looking For A New Position
Many advocates were interested in a new position in the movement. The first figure below shows current advocates’ likelihood of looking for a new paid position. There was no significant difference between paid and unpaid advocates: both averaged just above somewhat unlikely to look (2) for a new paid position.
Figure 11: Likelihood of Looking For a Paid Position
The next figure shows current advocates’ likelihood of looking for a new volunteer position. Averages for both paid and unpaid advocates fell between somewhat unlikely to look (2) and neither likely nor unlikely to look (3), with no significant difference between them.
Figure 12: Likelihood of Looking For a Volunteer Position
Neither advocates of marginalized genders nor minoritized groups (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+) differed significantly from non-marginalized advocates in their average intentions to find another paid or volunteer role in the movement (ts < |1.44|, ps > .15).
Advocate Experiences & Intentions To Leave The Movement
In addition to asking people directly, we also examined which experiences were statistically associated with self-reported likelihood of leaving the movement. Overall intentions to leave the movement were significantly higher for paid than unpaid advocates (t(130.6) = -2.91, p < .01). However, it is important to remember that selection bias may play a role here, as unpaid advocates are likely underrepresented in our sample. Unpaid advocates who are thinking more about leaving may also have been less likely to participate in the study.
The figure below shows the bivariate correlations between experiences and self-reported intentions of leaving the movement for paid advocates.
Negative correlations indicate that higher scores on the experience measure (e.g., satisfaction with pay/benefits) are related to lower intentions to leave the movement, while positive correlations indicate that higher scores on the experience measure (e.g., job demands) are related to stronger intentions to leave the movement.
As you can see in the figure, many of paid advocates’ experiences were associated with intentions to leave the movement.
Caveat: Although experiences of discrimination and harassment were not significantly associated with leave intentions, this may be a statistical anomaly — the proportion of advocates who have experienced harassment or discrimination is relatively low, as is the proportion who intend to leave the movement. This leaves few data points from which a significant correlation could emerge.
Figure 13: Paid Advocates’ Experiences & Intentions To Leave The Movement
The next figure shows the correlations between experiences and self-reported intentions of leaving the movement for unpaid advocates. As shown, several of unpaid advocates’ experiences were associated with intentions to leave the movement. For unpaid advocates, satisfaction with leadership and identification with other advocates appeared to be particularly important for retention. Harassment experiences were also significantly correlated with leave intentions, and burnout was marginally correlated with them.
Caveat: Although fewer correlations were significant overall, the smaller sample of unpaid advocates may be partially responsible.
Figure 14: Unpaid Advocates’ Experiences & Intentions To Leave The Movement
We examined whether advocates of marginalized genders or minoritized groups (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+) differed in their average intentions to leave the movement — they did not (ts < |0.59|, ps > .56).
We also examined whether any of the associations between advocate experiences and intentions to leave the movement differed for advocates of marginalized genders or minoritized groups (by regressing intentions to leave the movement on each advocate experience measure one at a time, with paid/unpaid status, gender and minoritized group status, and the two-way interaction terms as predictors).
Most of the associations didn’t differ for marginalized advocates, but there were two exceptions to consider.
First, the impact of experiencing discrimination on intentions to leave depended on whether or not advocates were members of a minoritized group (race, disability, or LGBTQ+ status). Having experienced discrimination was associated with significantly more likelihood of leaving the movement for minoritized advocates than non-minoritized advocates. This pattern is shown in the figure below.
Figure 15: Intentions to Leave as a Function of Minoritized Group Status & Discrimination
And second, the impact of work-life balance on intentions to leave was marginally affected by advocates’ gender. Poorer work-life balance was associated with marginally more likelihood of leaving the movement for male advocates than female/non-binary advocates. This pattern is shown in the figure below.
Figure 16: Intentions to Leave as a Function of Gender & Work-Life Balance
This study was the first that we know of to attempt a comprehensive examination of animal advocates’ experiences. It suggests several areas where we can improve as a movement and, in the process, reduce turnover.
Turnover was most often attributed to problems with leadership, finding better opportunities, not wanting to do a particular type of advocacy anymore, and burnout. And overall, 85.0% of survey respondents had left at least one animal advocacy role in the past, including 10.6% who had left the animal protection movement altogether. Next, we consider each of these general categories in turn.
Problems with Leadership
The most common contributor to leaving a past advocacy organization was problems with leadership, which was cited by 39.7% of advocates. Most often, these problems included unfairness or lack of transparency (22.1%) or a lack of professionalism (21.3%). Correlational findings also showed that for current advocates, satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with leadership was a significant predictor of intentions to leave the movement.
These findings demonstrate the importance of strong leadership in the movement. For those looking for evidence-based recommendations, transformational leadership is often touted as one of the best models for leaders—it emphasizes leadership through inspiration, relationship-building, and role modeling (e.g., Bass & Avolio, 1993; or see Wikipedia overview).
However, there are many ways of describing positive leadership behaviors (see Day et al., 2014 for a longer discussion) and regardless of the model, animal advocacy organizations, like all organizations, must pay attention to their leadership style and address shortcomings proactively. This likely indicates leadership training for those in positions of authority, as well as regularly soliciting feedback from employees and volunteers, including via opportunities for anonymous feedback.
34.6% of advocates surveyed had left a previous animal advocacy role because they found a better opportunity. It was common for that to mean a better fit for their skills or interests, but career-related reasons were also frequently cited: better pay, a higher-level position, or more opportunities for career advancement. A better workplace (colleagues, leaders, etc.) was also cited by a substantial proportion of these advocates, which may be related to the points above about leadership.
These results align with the correlational findings as well: being dissatisfied with pay, career options, or organizational leadership were all associated with stronger intentions to leave the movement. This is important because many paid advocates were not satisfied with their pay and benefits—particularly when compared with similar jobs outside of animal advocacy, and sizeable proportions of both paid and unpaid advocates did not feel they received sufficient support for their career advancement.
All of these factors contribute to advocates’ perceptions that there are better opportunities elsewhere — sometimes outside the movement altogether.
There were also important differences between marginalized and non-marginalized advocates. Leaving a role for a better opportunity was cited more often by male advocates, while female and non-binary advocates were more likely to have left due to a lack of opportunity for career advancement. Similarly, minoritized advocates (race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+) were more likely than non-minoritized advocates to have left a role due to insufficient pay and/or benefits.
Better opportunities for non-marginalized groups, lack of opportunities for marginalized groups: These are two sides of the same coin. This pattern of results demonstrates a clear need for animal advocates to pay attention to and actively work to improve how opportunities and rewards are allocated.
Dissatisfaction With Type Or Impact Of Advocacy
33.1% of advocates surveyed had left a previous animal advocacy role because it wasn’t the kind of advocacy they wanted to do anymore (26.5%) and/or because they didn’t feel that the work was making enough of a difference (16.9%). Correlational findings also support the idea that poor fit between oneself and one’s organization are likely to produce attrition: person-organization fit was strongly correlated with intentions to leave the movement for paid advocates and slightly (but non-significantly) correlated for unpaid advocates with intentions to leave.
In considering this reason for leaving a role, it is necessary to distinguish between “good” and “bad” turnover (Johnson, Griffeth, & Griffin, 2000). Advocates leaving an organization because their values or goals have changed is not necessarily problematic, as they may no longer perform well in the context of the organization’s goals. However, it would be useful to know whether this type of turnover is more likely in some types of organizations than others, or whether advocates tend to follow a particular trajectory in their values: for instance, from a more abolitionist to a more incrementalist viewpoint. Because the survey assessed reasons for leaving all previous roles in one question, this is not something we can answer with these data.
Burnout & Secondary Traumatic Stress
22.8% of advocates surveyed had left a previous animal advocacy role in part because of burnout (20.6%) and/or traumatic stress of the work itself (8.8%). Similarly, our correlational analysis found that burnout was significantly associated with paid advocates’ intentions to leave the movement, and marginally associated with unpaid advocates’ intentions. Secondary traumatic stress was also associated with paid advocates’ intentions to leave the movement.
Burnout is a difficult and multifaceted issue to address, that ties into all the other problems mentioned by advocates on this survey. We recommend reading more about it in articles like this blog post/review (2019) by former Faunalytics team member Julia Dauksza, or others like Gorski and colleagues’ (2019) study of those who define their primary life’s work around various forms of animal activism.
Paid and unpaid advocates have different experiences in the movement. Relative to unpaid advocates, paid advocates were experiencing more burnout and secondary traumatic stress on average, and had poorer work-life balance. Paid advocates were also more affected by problematic job demands, more likely to have experienced discrimination, marginally more likely to have experienced harassment, and marginally less satisfied with organizational leadership. At the same time, many of the differences were small and it is important to remember that substantial proportions of both groups have experienced all of these problems. The differences that do emerge are likely due to the greater number of hours paid advocates tend to put into advocacy.
Discrimination & Harassment
Although they were not among the most frequent reasons for leaving an organization or the movement, experiences of discrimination and harassment were unfortunately common. Overall, 49% of paid advocates and 28% of unpaid advocates had experienced discrimination or harassment. This included 50% of advocates with disabilities, 33% of female and non-binary advocates, 29% of advocates of color, and 14% of LGBTQ+ advocates who reported having experienced discrimination, unfair treatment, harassment, bullying, or abuse based on their group membership. (Though some of the sample sizes for these groups were very small so they may not generalize well.)
It is clear that, as a movement, we need better monitoring and accountability for harassment and discrimination from within, and support for advocates who are targeted by members of the public. In the wake of the MeToo movement, many organizations have added discrimination and harassment policies, and some have taken additional steps to prevent occurrences. However, these results serve as a clear reminder that policy without action will not be enough. Harassing or discriminatory comments were the most frequently reported incidents — these would be easy to overlook if a cultural shift does not occur.
It is also important not to overlook the impact of harassment, bullying, or abuse directed at advocates by members of the public. One third of those who reported harassment, bullying, or abuse had experienced this type, which may be just as impactful on wellbeing and retention as other forms. Notably, whether or not unpaid advocates had experienced harassment was one of the key predictors of their likelihood of staying in the movement.
Caveats & Limitations
As with all studies, this one has some important caveats and limitations to bear in mind.
Small Numbers Of Minoritized Advocates
First, it may come as a surprise to some readers—as it did to us—that there were not more differences between minoritized and non-minoritized advocates. However, the sample included a fairly small number of minoritized advocates. With just 15 respondents who identified as people of color, 12 with disabilities, and 30 as LGBTQ+, our statistical power was low so we had to combine all three groups together to have a reasonable chance of finding small differences, but this may have washed out differences between the groups. We strongly recommend that additional research focus on the experiences of minoritized advocates.
Difficulties With Recruitment
Second, we do not know how representative this study is of the entire U.S. and Canadian animal advocacy population. We used the respondent-driven sampling (RDS) method to try and produce strong estimates for this difficult-to-quantify population, but it was only partially successful. Despite trying several different incentive structures, many participants did not choose to share the survey, and many of those who received invitations did not choose to participate. This may indicate that we were unable to fully convey the value of the research or our own objectivity and ability to complete it, or that our incentives were not high enough to make it worth advocates’ time. This problem will require serious consideration and consultation when conducting future research.
Due to these limitations, we did not use the statistical methods specific to respondent-driven sampling to analyze the data, as we feared that it could introduce more bias than it resolved. However, using this method still helped in two ways: First, it limited the tendency of snowball samples to be biased toward the characteristics of advocates with large social networks by capping the number of recruits at 5 per person. And second, the use of anonymous recruiter/recruitee ID numbers allowed us to track recruitment chains, which provides substantially more information about recruitment patterns than a basic snowball sample would have.
Of the 161 participants in the final sample, 67 (42%) were “seed participants” — that is, recruited directly by Faunalytics staff. This is several times more than the ideal for a respondent-driven sample, but was our only option when recruitment chains dried up. That said, we strove to recruit from a wide range of sources, including those very dissimilar to ourselves: we contacted groups like Anonymous for the Voiceless and posted in animal advocacy Facebook groups to recruit additional participants from a range of backgrounds.
It is difficult to quantify the likelihood of bias introduced by this departure from the ideal RDS method, but we examined the metrics available to us. Most notably, RDS provides the ability to look at homophily: the tendency of participants to recruit other participants who are like themselves on a given characteristic.
We do not know whether we over- or under-recruited certain groups of advocates as seed participants because no population-level data for animal advocates exists. However, we can cautiously assume that bias is more likely to occur if participants tend to recruit others like themselves, because any biases that we inadvertently introduced during seed recruitment would perpetuate themselves throughout the recruitment chain. On the other hand, if homophily is low for a given characteristic, it means that advocates were as likely to recruit others who differ from them as to recruit similar others, so bias in the seed sample should have become diluted over the waves of the recruitment chain.
Testing For Bias Due To Recruitment
The following table shows the homophily estimates for potentially important demographic and personal characteristics. It indicates whether people differentially recruit others similar to themselves. Using paid/unpaid status as an example, the homophily estimate is the ratio of the number of recruits that have the same paid/unpaid status as their recruiter to the number we would expect if there was no homophily on paid/unpaid status. A score of exactly 1 would therefore indicate no homophily. The score of 1.29 for paid/unpaid status indicates that recruited participants are 29% more likely to have the same paid/unpaid status as the person who recruited them than we would expect by chance.
Table 18: Homophily Estimates
The results shown in the table indicate that the top six factors listed may be a source of bias in the study if they were overrepresented in the seed sample. We reduced the impact of this potential bias as much as possible by splitting the results throughout this report by paid/unpaid status. If all advocates were averaged together, paid advocates would have too much weight on the estimates, but this approach removes that factor as a source of bias.
It also helps reduce the impact of several other factors. As is covered in tables throughout the report, paid/unpaid status was associated with age and top-down vs. bottom-up organization type, and marginally associated with having experienced harassment, so splitting by paid/unpaid reduces the potential for bias from those factors as well.
Paid/unpaid status was not associated with abolitionist vs. incrementalist organization type or gender, leaving those as potentially larger sources of bias in the study. Advocates who work with primarily abolitionist organizations may be overrepresented in the dataset (or underrepresented, but that seems less plausible). It is also possible that the gender ratio is imbalanced.
Although these are legitimate concerns about the data and should be borne in mind, they should not stop advocates from using the results. For one thing, note the many ways in which bias did not propagate through differential recruitment — including the fact that advocates who are more likely to leave a role or the movement were not particularly likely to recruit one another. Given the focus of this study on retention and attrition, this is very important to know.
As with any study, be cautious not to assume that the data from this sample perfectly describe reality, but we believe that they provide a good starting point for making changes to improve advocates’ experiences and retention.
Participants for this study were recruited using respondent-driven sampling (RDS), a modern method designed for hard-to-reach populations. RDS is similar to snowball sampling in that it starts with a group of “seed” participants and relies on peer-to-peer recruitment, but corrects for the bias introduced by snowball sampling (for a full explanation, see http://www.respondentdrivensampling.org/). Its ability to reproduce unbiased point estimates of the population has been validated using known populations (Wejnert, 2009).
The goal of RDS is to create long recruitment chains so that participant recruitment is several removes away from the researchers, because “if recruitment chains are sufficiently long, an equilibrium is reached where the sample composition stabilizes and becomes independent of seeds” (Heckathorn, 2002). In other words, this method is meant to eliminate the bias that arises from convenience and snowball samples, when the sample tends to be biased toward respondents who are demographically and/or ideologically similar to the initial seed participants and, often, the researchers themselves.
It is intended to achieve this goal in two main ways:
- By incentivizing direct peer-to-peer recruitment, which encourages recruitment chains to form, and
- By limiting the number of peers that each participant can recruit, which prevents the sample being disproportionately recruited by a few individuals with large social networks.
Wejnert (2009) found that four to nine waves (average 6.2) were required to reach equilibrium for a range of variables.
This study was the first time, to our knowledge, that the RDS method has been used to survey members of an advocacy population, and recruitment was an ongoing challenge. We made a number of adjustments throughout the fielding period in an effort to increase peer-to-peer recruitment, but had to continually re-seed because the recruitment chains died out repeatedly.
We began with a small number of seed participants, giving them $5 for completing the survey and another $3 for each person they recruited who also participated (with up to 5 recruits, this equates to between $5 and $20 incentive per participant). Participants were able to take their incentives as an Amazon gift card or donate it to an animal advocacy charity.
This was the method recommended in the RDS literature, but as noted, it did not work well. We increased the per-recruit amount to $5 but observed no difference, so we then changed it to a flat rate of $10 for completing the survey (with no recruitment bonus). Again, this made little difference and re-seeding was necessary, so in the final phase of the study we doubled it to $20 per participant. This appeared to increase participation somewhat but not dramatically.
If we want to use the RDS method for future research—which seems likely in the absence of a known population frame for animal advocates—we will need to consider other ways of improving participation. The incentive rate seems fair for a survey that took a median of 21 minutes to complete. It is possible that the time estimate we provided participants (20 to 30 minutes) turned people away despite the incentive, though we also emphasized the value of the study to the animal protection movement.
Our final sample, as noted, included 161 participants, of whom approximately 58% were recruited peer-to-peer. Our longest recruitment chain was nine peer-to-peer recruitments, but the majority had four or fewer.
As noted elsewhere, we analyzed the data with standard inferential statistics rather than the RDS method. Because this was an exploratory or foundational study, we did not apply post hoc corrections and used the traditional alpha level of p < .05 to determine significance, though we also reported marginal effects, .05 < p < .10. Statistical tests used in this study included:
- t-tests for comparing group means (e.g., paid versus unpaid advocates’ levels of burnout). The two groups’ variances were fairly unequal in some cases—either due to the substantially different group sizes or differences in heterogeneity—so we used the unpooled variance for all t-tests, with the Welch approximation for degrees of freedom;
- Chi-squared tests for comparing proportions (e.g., how many paid and unpaid advocates had experienced discrimination);
- Bivariate correlations for examining the pairwise associations between intentions to leave the movement and each of the advocate experiences we measured. We computed these separately for paid and unpaid advocates; and
- Linear regression analyses for examining whether any of the associations between advocate experiences and intentions to leave the movement differed for marginalized advocates. We regressed intentions to leave the movement on each advocate experience measure (e.g., burnout, discrimination) one at a time, with paid/unpaid status, either gender or minoritized group status, and the two-way interaction terms as predictors. The three-way interaction term was not included given the very small subgroup ns when broken down that far and because we did not have any predictions about it.
The R code used for analyses is provided on the Open Science Framework.
We followed a rigorous anonymization process to ensure the privacy of participants’ data in this sensitive domain.
The dataset was not made open access until it met the criteria for 3-anonymity (Samarati & Sweeney, 1998; Sweeney, 2002), meaning each distinct pattern of key (sensitive/semi-identifiable) variables is possessed by at least 3 participant records in the sample. We did this across a broad list of variables (full list below).
The steps of attaining this level of anonymity were as follows:
- Before anything else, we removed the most sensitive variables from the dataset entirely. Specifically, we retained only the broadest yes/no information about whether participants have experienced harassment or discimination. The rest of the questions about discrimination, harassment, and abuse were removed.
- We recoded many of the sensitive/semi-identifiable variables into broader categories. Variables like age and region were recoded to reduce identifiability for small groups. Age was collapsed into range categories (18-24, 25-34, etc.). U.S. states were collapsed into four regions (Northeast, Midwest, South, West) and all Canadian provinces were excluded, so that region = Canada.
- Where unique combinations of key variables still remained, we used local data suppression to anonymize further. This entails introducing missing values in place of individual data points until each case matches at least 2 others on the key variables. For instance, if “minoritized race” were still too identifying for a particular participant in conjunction with other pieces of information, race information could be deleted from that record and two others to make each of them non-unique.
- Finally, if any unique combinations remained, we removed additional variables from the dataset until anonymity is achieved.
In short, we followed these steps until anonymity was attained. For further reading, we recommend this primer on Statistical Disclosure Control.
Full List of Key Questions (Alphabetical)
We ensured that participants could not be uniquely identified using any combination of information from the questions on this list. It includes all questions about demographics and personal characteristics, as well as potentially sensitive survey topics (discrimination/harassment/abuse and work as an investigator).
Key questions were handled as needed: collapsed, recoded, suppressed, or removed if needed for anonymization.
- Companion animal(s) in household
- Country where you live
- Country where your organization is
- Disability status
- Education, highest level
- Education, degree
- Employment outside of animal advocacy
- Financial situation
- First language
- Harassment, bullying, or verbal abuse
- Investigation work (role description)
- Latinx status
- LGBTQ+ status
- Minoritized group status
- Person of color status
- Position in organization (e.g., board member, staff, intern)
- Relationship status
- Romantic partner’s advocacy
- Sexual harassment or sexual violence
- State (U.S.)
- Student status
- Year of first involvement with animal advocacy
Reasons For Leaving Previous Organizations: Full List
The figure below shows the full set of reasons for leaving previous animal advocacy organizations that were selected by participants. The version in the body of the report simply collapsed related reasons together to improve interpretation.
Figure 17: Reasons For Leaving Past Roles With Advocacy Organizations (Full List)