Donating to Animal Charities … Take a Reasoned Approach

Are animal-related charities on your donation list this year?

After Katrina struck, I gave money to two nonprofit organizations – one a large, national one that was a part of the matched giving program at my job; the other a grassroots one. I later learned that both were under investigation for misuse of the funds.

I felt really burned.

Meanwhile, the local organization where I volunteered was making better use of resources — flying animals in and readying them for adoptions or reunifications. I had the opportunity to meet a litter of Catahoula puppies; a 14-year-old Corgi, already dying from a terminal illness, pulled from the flood waters to live out her last weeks in a home in San Francisco; and numerous dogs treated for heartworm. Another local organization and many individuals went to volunteer on the scene.

This experience has left me guarded against the typical marketing approaches of animal charities – the appeal to outrage bolstered by stories and photos of cruelty and neglect, the appeal to pity supported by shots of elderly or otherwise evidently needy animals, and the awwwww….approach — luscious puppies and kittens.

So – my tips. Before writing the check, think about what you want to contribute to, and whether the organization making the appeal can be trusted to use your money for that purpose:

1 – Geographic scope: Do you want to help the animals in your own community, or does helping animals in need around the country (or the globe) appeal to you?
2 – Kinds of animals: wildlife, dogs and cats, a specific breed, all companion animals, “food animals”?
3 – Precisely which problem is the organization attempting to solve: helping people take care of their own companion animals, effecting legislation, saving homeless animals, educating people, prosecuting cruelty cases, conducting research on diseases that affect animals, training service or therapy animals that will help people?
4 – Managerial effectiveness: It can be hard to get good information, and even harder to evaluate it. As best you can, try to get a sense of whether the organization is competent, innovative, and financially intelligent.
5 – Philosophy – The language can get confusing and contentious – “No-Kill”, “adoptable”, and so on. Judge for yourself – What does the organization actually do with its difficult cases? What are its relationships with the larger community, the press, the clients, the animals, the local government?

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