The Case for Animal Protection Funding

As some followers of this blog may recall from my post, “Giving USA 2015 Delivers Mixed News for Animal Charities,” animal protection reportedly received the lowest share of philanthropic dollars in comparison to all other major program areas. Sadly, this remains the case according to the 2017 Giving USA report as well, with Environment/Animals remaining at only 3 percent of total giving last year (see a chart from the report below) and funding intended to benefit animals specifically (as distinct from their habitats) coming in at considerably lower than that.


There is a silver lining, however. As was the case for several years prior, giving to Environment/Animals saw the largest increase in giving relative to where it had been before, totaling an all-time high of just over $11 billion and continuing its consistent and encouraging growth streak.

Also, with the recent conclusion of #GivingTuesday on November 28, 2017, the data showed that Environment/Animals ranked in the top five most-discussed areas on social media, as illustrated below.


Lastly, according to a 2017 report by Fidelity Charitable, the largest donor-advised fund in the United States, Environment/Animals outperformed all other program areas in terms of growth (18%) in the number of giving accounts that supported it in 2016 versus 2015. Charities working in the area of Environment/Animals received grant recommendations from 23% of Fidelity Charitable donors overall and 30% of its donors in San Francisco, where support for this area was strongest. The report included a top-ten list of metro areas most supportive of the Environment/Animals subsector, shown below.


This begs the question of how those of us who support animal causes can, so to speak, capitalize on this wave of interest and growth to pull animal funding out of its bottom slot in the programmatic giving hierarchy.

I see three major challenges that contribute to this state of affairs.

The first and most obvious is that there is a widespread yet misguided perception that funding directed towards animals detracts from funding that benefits humans at a time when the scope of human need is particularly great – in other words, that these two population groups are mutually exclusive.

The second is somewhat of a vicious circle: in large part due to being underfunded and deprioritized as a field, the professionalism and sophistication of fundraising in Environment/Animal Welfare — especially for small, community-based animal rescues — lags behind that of some other, more well-resourced service areas, resulting in fewer successful asks.

The third and perhaps most nuanced relates to the way the gifts that do benefit animals are captured, resulting in a potentially much larger, yet hidden, pool of animal protection giving spread across multiple other categories.

While there is no simple solution to this very complex problem, I will present a few thoughts as points of departure regarding how each of these challenges might be addressed. Have other ideas to add to mine? Post them in the Comments section below!

Animal and human welfare are intertwined

While some may see a gift to an animal program as one less that goes to humanitarian efforts, this is a false dichotomy, as there is a growing body of research supporting the life-altering benefits of the human-animal bond and the connection between animal and human well-being (including an excellent, recently issued report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Measuring What Matters: True Wellbeing for Animals and People):

  • Companion animals as members of human families: A 2015 Harris Poll shows that 95% of American pet owners — drawn from a sample spanning across age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, and household income — consider pets to be part of their family. Not merely an abstract notion, my 2015 Center for Disaster Philanthropy blog post discusses how this has been repeatedly demonstrated in major national disasters — particularly during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when people refused to evacuate without their pets even in the face of great danger, putting themselves and rescue efforts at risk. This resulted in the passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act in 2006, which helped make subsequent disaster rescue efforts of families with pets, including those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma this past fall, more effective. Also, while statistics vary among reports, it is well documented that many domestic violence survivors who share their home with a pet make a conscious choice to remain with their abusers for fear of possible harm the abuser may inflict on the animal(s) if they leave. As a result, the number of women’s shelters that accommodate pets has increased in recent years. (For more about the ways in which supporting causes benefiting companion animals helps people, see this Philanthropy New York blog post by ASPCA Grants vice president Michael Barrett from 2013 highlighting the significance of pets in people’s lives and the association between the well-being of companion animals and that of their human caretakers.)
  • Link between acts of cruelty toward animals and violent crimes toward people: Research has shown that violent acts toward animals are often a reliable predictor of violence (including child abuse, domestic violence, and elder abuse) toward other family and community members, which has led the field of law enforcement to take animal cruelty cases more seriously in recent years than it has in the past. Additional information about this is available from the National Link Coalition.
  • Physical and mental health benefits to humans from pet ownership: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web site discusses a variety of ways in which pet ownership can potentially improve human health, including lowering blood pressure, reducing isolation, and providing opportunities for exercise and time outdoors. Many individuals who have experienced trauma, including veterans and victims of or witnesses to violent crimes, as well as people with disabilities, have also greatly benefited from the presence of therapy animals in their lives.
  • Threats to human health from large-scale animal agriculture: The astronomical level of suffering imposed on billions of animals from birth until death on factory farms worldwide — which provide most of the meat in the human food supply — is extensively documented. Animals endure life sentences of extreme confinement and toxic living environments, aggressive and painful handling, gross neglect of even their most basic needs, prevention of their ability to express natural behaviors, deprivation of access to the outdoors, and destruction of their social structure. Even beyond that, factory farming also poses a variety of risks to human safety. These include abysmal hygiene and high incidences of disease at these facilities; the presence of harmful chemicals in the human food chain that remain in people’s bodies after animal products are consumed; extensive groundwater, soil, and air pollution in areas surrounding these operations; and the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Factory farms are also the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, water waste, and deforestation globally, and employees at factory farms — most of whom live in poverty — experience dangerous working conditions that compromise both physical and mental health. According to a recent joint publication of the ASPCA, Grace Communications Foundation, Food Chain Workers Alliance, and Natural Resources Defense Council, food chain work pays the lowest median hourly wage to frontline workers compared to workers in all other industries. Improving conditions on farms is imperative for people as well as animals.
  • Connection between the safety of wildlife and people: Sources such as Interpol, among many others, have established that crimes against wildlife are frequently committed by sophisticated and extensive organized crime syndicates and terrorist networks operating across international borders that use the profits to fund their incursions, civil wars, and other violent activities. As with human victims, individual animals are either brutally killed or transported alive under conditions so distressing to them physically and psychologically that they often die in transit as a result, leaving behind damaged homelands and shattered families. As summarized in an infographic from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) below, wildlife crime is committed by the same groups that deal in illegal weapons, terrorism, human trafficking, narcotics, and counterfeiting, and is the fourth-most lucrative illegal global activity, harming a wide array of species.




  • Biodiversity as an essential human benefit: The World Health Organization and U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity promote biodiversity as the foundation for human health, citing crucial benefits such as maintaining the vitality of the ecosystems on which people depend for food and fresh water; helping to mitigate climate change, floods and disease; offering recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual enrichment; and contributing to local livelihoods and economic development.
  • Prevalence of women in leadership roles and workforce at animal-focused organizations: In an ASPCApro blog post last year, I raised the point (supported by some intriguing statistics) that women comprise the majority of the leadership and workforce in the animal welfare world, especially for small, community-based organizations. A corollary of this point was that women benefit professionally when their organizations thrive and succeed. While it is widely agreed in the U.S. that investments in women (and girls) have some of the greatest positive impact and ripple effects in their communities, investments in animal welfare organizations also indirectly support the efforts of the women who serve as leaders, staff, and volunteers at those organizations.

Fundraising resources for animal protection exist, but more are needed

  • Focus on building organizational capacity as well as projects: This is aimed primarily toward funders, many of whom focus almost exclusively on funding specific projects and provide far less support for capacity building, strategic planning, general operations, and infrastructure upgrades that can position a grantee to operate more effectively over the long haul. This is commonly referred to as the “nonprofit starvation cycle,” as a result of which the projects and programs so important to funders suffer for lack of the basic resources an organization needs to remain functional and sustainable. (I explored this in a prior post, “Building the Foundations of Excellence.”) The case for providing general operating support, and avoiding the pitfalls of the “overhead myth” (discussed via a joint initiative of Guidestar, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator), is made in greater depth by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) and the Nonprofit Overhead Project. Both funders and grantseekers alike who seek to end the “nonprofit starvation cycle” may find some helpful insights and advice in this 2016 Nonprofit Quarterly article.
  • Consider subsidies for fee-based services and challenge grants that can help build organizational strength: Funders can also help nonprofits cover the cost of memberships to organizations such as the Association of Fundraising Professionals and subscriptions to foundation fundraising databases such as the Foundation Directory Online, and can offer challenge/matching grants to help facilitate the next stage of organizational growth in order to incentivize giving from the grantee’s community and expand its donor base.

Animal protection funding may be presented as something else

While more funding is needed for animal protection, more visibility is also needed for many of the animal protection grants already being made, One thorny issue that can make animal protection grants harder to spot is the way that they are classified.

There are times when grants benefitting animals are awarded by funders who serve human populations exclusively, and because those funders don’t think of themselves or their giving as animal-oriented, it may not occur to them to categorize those particular grants that way, further reinforcing the intertwined nature of animal and human welfare.

Although this provides fertile ground for funders outside the field of animal protection to make animal protection grants, those grants can be difficult to identify because of the way they are classified by the funders themselves and/or by organizations that aggregate philanthropic data such as The Giving Institute, Foundation Center, and Guidestar. Consider the examples below; where does one draw a line between the field of animal protection and the fields that lie beyond it?

  • Human services: A funder whose major area of focus is human services makes a grant to an organization that assists low-income families by providing free veterinary care and/or food for their pets, who often serve as vital sources of emotional support and would otherwise be at high risk for relinquishment to an animal shelter.
  • Women and girls: A funder dedicated to protecting women and girls from violence and creating opportunities for women’s economic advancement provides funding for a program developed by a domestic violence shelter that allows victims to bring their pets with them, thereby removing a barrier to leaving their abusers.
  • Education: A funder whose main giving priority is education awards a grant to an organization that brings pets from a shelter or rescue to local schools as part of a humane education program or for the purpose of helping create a more supportive learning environment for children with academic and/or social challenges; there are many stories from the field about struggling children who blossom in the presence of a friendly, non-judgmental dog or cat.
  • The arts: An arts funder supports a project through which local artists create a mural or other aesthetic enhancements for a community animal shelter, and/or supports an arts-related event or exhibition that promotes the human-animal bond.
  • Health and wellness: A funder supports a program that brings pets from a shelter or rescue into hospitals to boost morale and facilitate recovery; in recent years, dogs and cats have been shown to improve human health and increase longevity by lowering blood pressure and aiding in healing from physical and emotional trauma. Similarly, another funder supports a program serving the needs of active and former military personnel and/or first responders such as police officers, firefighters, and EMTs that pairs these individuals with service dogs sourced from shelters or rescues who can help them cope with high levels of stress.
  • Environment vs. Animals: Even within the Environment/Animals giving category itself, it can be tremendously challenging to separate grants that are intended primarily to benefit individual animals or specific animal population groups from those that are intended to benefit larger ecosystems, which can also include as beneficiaries people who use the land for a variety of purposes that potentially could negatively affect the animals who inhabit that space.

The National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE), developed by the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), takes us part of the way to clarifying the Environment vs. Animals distinction by breaking down its major group III – Environment and Animals into subcategory C – Environment (with its own subdivisions) and subcategory D – Animal Related (with its own subdivisions).

However, the NTEE has a couple of significant limitations — namely, that the assignment of these categories is to some extent in the eye of the beholder, (e.g., the Internal Revenue Service, NCCS, and/or Foundation Center), and that “Animal-Related” does not always translate to “Animal-Friendly” (e.g., a deplorable roadside zoo with tax-exempt status from the IRS would fall within the “Animal-Related” subcategory). Many animal-oriented funders also feel that the NTEE codes and their derivatives do not adequately capture the scope or nuances of animal protection giving.

Another all-too-common roadblock to appropriate grants classification is the shortage of information that funders provide about each of their individual grants when reporting their giving, whether on their annual IRS Form 990/990-PF or via direct reporting to the Foundation Center and other philanthropic data aggregators. Sometimes all that is available for grants classification staff to base a categorization decision on is a project title in lieu of a more detailed description, and even then, that project title can be sufficiently vague as to obscure the true intent and/or ultimate beneficiaries of a given grant. An Alliance Magazine blog post from the Foundation Center explores this issue in greater depth as it pertains to particular groups of human beneficiaries of foundation giving — specifically Hispanic and Latino populations — but many of the same principles and pitfalls also apply to non-human populations.

The challenges inherent to grants classification are extremely complex; many brilliant minds have grappled with them for decades and continue to do so. Although these challenges will not be resolved overnight, efforts to raise awareness about their nature will hopefully increase cross-sector involvement in creating more illuminating and meaningful philanthropic data.


While animal protection funding is in woefully short supply relative to other programmatic areas, there are glimmers of hope for a brighter picture in the future: the notably and steadily growing interest in and support for Environment/Animals as a field in recent years, the interconnectedness of animal and human welfare and the opportunities that presents for greater animal protection support, the availability of resources that can help animal-serving organizations fundraise more effectively (and the growth potential for these resources), and a wealth of “hidden” animal protection grants waiting to be discovered. The challenges that animal protection funding faces can also be seen as opportunities — let’s seize them in any way we can!