Did Faunalytics Save a Million Animals This Year?
Quick question: How many animals will Faunalytics save this year?
Three weeks ago we shared the exciting news that Faunalytics was designated a “standout charity” by Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE). Faunalytics is the first dedicated “meta” charity to be recognized (a meta charity is one that works for animals indirectly by helping advocates, organizations, and the movement).
In their review, ACE found that Faunalytics could make effective use of an additional $140,000 in support over the next year (please donate here).
The review covers a lot of ground and includes a discussion of what ACE believes to be our key strengths as well as areas where they think Faunalytics could improve. The review was an open and thoughtful process and we appreciate receiving the feedback. We especially appreciate the “standout charity” designation! If you want to learn more about Faunalytics, our operations, and our impact, their review is a good place to start.
Animals Saved: 400,000 or One Million?
One element of ACE’s review process is their analysis of cost-effectiveness. For nearly all of the organizations that they review, ACE calculates an estimated number of animal lives spared per dollar spent by the organization. As anyone who understands impact measurement knows, estimating cost-effectiveness without conducting primary research is a difficult task requiring lots of uncertainty and some very big assumptions. In the Faunalytics review, ACE notes:
We think this quantitative perspective is a useful component of our overall evaluation, but the estimates of equivalent animals spared per dollar should not be taken as our overall opinion of the organization’s effectiveness, especially given that we choose not to account for some less easily quantified forms of impact in this section, leaving them for our qualitative evaluation.
Using an approach that converts our programs into an estimated number of leaflets, ACE calculates that Faunalytics saves/spares 2.6 animals per dollar. If true, that would mean that Faunalytics will save an equivalent of about 416,000 animals by the end of 2015. We think that would be pretty great, and we would be proud to help that many animals this year. But for a variety of reasons, we think the ACE estimate is probably too conservative.
We came up with our own estimate using ACE’s overall analysis framework and the results indicate that Faunalytics will have saved just over a million animals in 2015 (again, if the assumptions are true). This is based on our estimate of 6.5 animal lives saved per dollar, which is a weighted average of estimates for our four main program areas:
- 7.1 animals spared per dollar for Faunalytics independent studies, which include our annual Animal Tracker and our recent study of lapsed and current veg*ns
- 6.2 animals spared per dollar for our fee-for-service projects, where we work one-on-one with animal groups and foundations to help them save more animals
- 6.1 animals spared per dollar for our website and research library, which includes summaries of several hundred research studies each year with insights for
- 6.4 animals spared per dollar for our pro bono research projects, which include our Grassroots Fund recipients as well as others that receive our free advice
Why did Faunalytics come up with our own estimate? For a few reasons: 1) The ACE analysis uses very conservative figures to estimate the impact of our independent studies and did not count any impact for our Animal Tracker; 2) The review does not provide an estimate for our fee-for-service program, which negatively affects their overall estimate of our cost-effectiveness; 3) We believe our research library is better measured based on individuals rather than a proxy of organizations impacted; and 4) The review likely underestimates the size and reach of our pro bono projects.
ACE strives to be very conservative in their reviews, which accounts for some of our differences. They also readily acknowledge the first two limitations above in their review, while the other two are subjective and certainly open to interpretation. At Faunalytics, we know how hard it is to measure impact and we appreciate ACE’s open and sincere effort to evaluate our effectiveness for animals. While we believe our own estimate is probably based on more accurate assumptions, the reality is that both calculations are undoubtedly flawed. In fact, they may both be off by an order of magnitude (or more) in either direction.
Our Thoughts on Evaluation
While evaluating the true impact of any organization is incredibly difficult, it can be even more challenging for a “meta” charity like Faunalytics. As individual staff members, we are rescuers and activists who often work directly on behalf of animals. As an organization, however, Faunalytics is usually a step removed from the animals we’re trying to help. We think it’s important to attempt to measure our impact regardless of how difficult it may be. We’ve done this ad hoc for many years, but in 2016 we’ll be formalizing the process.
This will include a variety of methods, with an emphasis on helping our fee-based and pro bono clients measure their impact. Because we spend nearly 40% of our budget serving these clients, the results will also help Faunalytics measure our own effectiveness. For our other programs, we intend to collect feedback from those who access our resources and more closely monitor usage through website and social media analytics. All of this will feed into an existing monthly dashboard that we use to track and measure our progress internally.
Eventually, Faunalytics may attempt to translate these results into an overall estimate of animals saved for each of our programs. Our approach would likely be quite different than the approach taken by ACE, but it would still require making some big assumptions and the results would still be subject to a lot of uncertainty. Our process will undoubtedly benefit from the ACE review and their thoughts on cost-effectiveness. During the coming year, we’ll update you on our plans and progress toward measuring our impact, and we welcome your feedback anytime.
The Challenges of Being “Meta”
For 15 years, Faunalytics (formerly as the Humane Research Council) has worked hard to help animals by making advocacy more effective. We’ve worked directly with dozens of organizations and thousands of individuals to turn data into results for animals. But sometimes it can be hard to understand how groups like Faunalytics improve the lives of animals. The impact of a meta organization can be large without being obvious. That’s a challenge when it comes to getting support.
In 2014, just 3% of Faunalytics’ income came from individual donations. The rest came from our fee-for-service work with animal groups and a handful of grants. We appreciate our clients, foundation supporters, and current donors very much, but we could do much more with increased support from more individual donors. For Faunalytics, being “meta” means providing the essential infrastructure that is required for a successful animal protection movement.
We’re in it for the long term, and we appreciate your support.
Be a voice for effective advocacy.