In mid-April 2003, the Wise Giving Alliance formally
introduced the new standards for charities that it has been
developing for several years now to update and replace the standards
of the former National Charities Information Bureau and Council of
Better Business Bureaus, which merged to form the Wise Giving
Alliance. A few weeks earlier, the Animal Centers of Excellence
introduced the most thorough code of ethics proposed so far to govern
the operation of animal sanctuaries.
ANIMAL PEOPLE meanwhile has been obliged since July 2002 to
defend in court our efforts to monitor the accountability of animal
charities and fundraisers. During depositions in connection with
that case, which is still underway, we were asked if we had ever
listed the standards that we believe ethical animal charities and
fundraisers should observe.
In view of the awkwardness of some of the Wise Giving
Alliance standards when applied to animal charities, we realized
that now would be a good time to spell out precisely which of those
standards and which others we consider most important in evaluating
whether a charity and the fundraisers it hires, if any, are working
in an ethical manner
Expecting people and institutions to observe ethical
standards must be recognized as expecting something more than mere
obedience to laws. Laws set the foundation for ethical conduct, but
only at the level that lawmakers deem essential to enable society to
function. Much that remains legal is nonetheless neither ethical nor
Thus institutions other than law-making bodies, ranging from
professional accreditation panels to individual watchdogs, recommend
codes of ethics which are meant to inspire adherence to higher
standards than laws alone require.
Subscription to a code of ethics is usually voluntary, but
must be essential in order to earn the endorsement or approval of
whoever recommends it.
Many organizations and individuals offer ethical standards
that apply in various ways to animal-related charities, yet there is
no single widely recognized code of ethics that addresses the
spectrum of animal-related charitable purposes, nor even a single
standard for the ethical operation of nonprofit organizations which
ANIMAL PEOPLE believes is fully appropriate to the unique aspects of
The existing standards for the ethical operation of
charities, over and above the requirements of law, tend to
presuppose that the charities are serving a constituency (such as the
membership of a church, patients and staff of a hospital, or the
students and faculty of a school) who are capable of substantial
self-governance and self-protection from corruption and exploitation.
Animal-related charities serve a far more vulnerable
constituency. This in turn requires a different approach to
The standards established for the governance of charities by
the Wise Giving Alliance and similar organizations tend to assume
that mismanagement and misuse of donated funds are most likely to
result from corruption among hired staff at the program management
level. The Wise Giving Alliance et al are primarily concerned with
abuses that may be committed by "hired gun" administrators, who are
motivated more by the rewards they may obtain from managing a charity
than by the charitable work itself. Therefore, they seek to
minimize the influence of program service staff on boards of
directors, whose duties are usually defined as policymaking,
oversight, and fundraising. This approach is backward, however,
in application to charities managed by the founders or other people
who have worked their way into authority after starting as volunteers
or low-paid program service staff--as is often the case with small
charities and charities in causes such as animal protection, which
usually employ just a few professionals, if any, recruited on a
competitive basis from highly paid fields such as medicine and law.
Founders and others motivated enough by the charitable
mission to work for low wages, or none, are relatively unlikely to
steal or otherwise seek excessive benefits from the organizations
Adhering to the board structure recommendations of the Wise
Giving Alliance therefore tends to increase rather than decrease the
possibilities for conflict of interest and self-dealing within small
charities and animal charities. Attempting to prevent highly paid
professionals from operating charities in a self-interested manner,
the Wise Giving Alliance standards all but exclude paid personnel
from having any responsibility for policymaking, oversight, and
fundraising, even if they are the founders and earn just a
fraction of what their skills might fetch in the for-profit sector.
ANIMAL PEOPLE has observed and documented over many years
that within animal protection, corruption and other unethical
conduct proceeds far more often from the activities of detached
boards and hired fundraisers than from the work of founders and key
ANIMAL PEOPLE accordingly offers the following 10 standards
for the operation of animal charities, and 10 parallel standards for
fundraisers employed by animal charities.
Animal charities and their fundraisers are at liberty to
pursue whatever policies the law allows.
These standards, however, define what ANIMAL PEOPLE
believes to be ethical and moral conduct by animal-related charities
and fundraisers. To be considered ethical by ANIMAL PEOPLE, a
charity or fundraiser must actively strive to meet them.
1) The activities of an animal protection charity should
verifiably endeavor to help animals, committing the overwhelming
volume of resources raised to animal protection work other than
fundraising, administration, and the maintenance of reserve funds.
a) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that all fundraising and
program literature distributed by an ethical animal protection
organization should be truthful, accurate, and up-to-date, and
should be amended or withdrawn, as is appropriate, when
circumstances change or new information emerges. If a project,
campaign, or program is announced but fails to be developed, for
whatever reason, donors should be informed as to what happened and
what was done instead with the resources raised in the name of that
project, campaign, or program.
b) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that under all except the
most unusual circumstances, which should be clearly, fully, and
prominently explained to donors with solicitations for funds, an
ethical animal protection charity should hold fundraising and
administrative expense to less than 35% of total expenditures within
a calendar or fiscal year. ANIMAL PEOPLE considers "fundraising
expenses" to include any use of telemarketing to solicit funds, as
well as any direct mailings which solicit funds, include envelopes
for the return of donations, and would probably not have been mailed
if postal rules forbade the inclusion of the donation envelopes.
(This standard parallels the guidelines of the Wise Giving Alliance.)
c) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes under all except the most
extraordinary circumstances, which should be clearly, fully, and
prominently explained to donors with solicitations for funds, an
ethical animal protection charity should avoid keeping more than
twice the annual operating budget of the charity in economic
reserves, including investment accounts and the reserved assets of
subsidiaries. (This is also consistent with the recommendations of
the Wise Giving Alliance.)
2) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that the charitable activities of
an animal protection charity should be clearly visible to donors,
news media, and the public. This includes filling out IRS Form 990
fully and accurately, and filing it in a timely manner. Donors,
news media, and the public should have appropriate opportunity to
personally verify the charitable program.
3) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that animal care charities should
go beyond meeting the minimal animal care standards enforced by
government agencies such as the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection
Service under the U.S. Animal Welfare Act, and should endeavor to
meet or exceed the "best practice" recommendations of the major
supervisory and/or accreditation organizations, if any, overseeing
their specialties. Because the purposes of animal care charities
vary widely, the "best practice" recommendations appropriate for
them to follow are also widely varied.
Examples of supervisory and/or accreditation organizations
whose animal care standards we may expect charities to follow
include, but are not limited to, the National Animal Control
Association, if an organization holds animal control contracts; the
American Zoo Association and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks &
Aquariums, if the organization exhibits animals or manages
zoological conservation programs; and for animal sanctuaries, the
standards of the Animal Centers of Excellence, The Association of
Sanctuaries, and the American Sanctuary Association.
Similar organizations set comparable standards for animal
care in many nations, with variations suited to their circumstances.
Where no national or regional organization has established
standards appropriate for the operation of animal care charities,
ANIMAL PEOPLE finds generally applicable the "best practice"
recommendations in the instructional pamphlet series authored by Sri.
Maneka Gandhi for distribution by the Animal Welfare Board of India.
These recommendations were developed for use under highly adverse
conditions with limited resources, yet aspire to a very high level
of animal well-being.
4) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that an ethical animal protection
charity should behave in a manner which takes into consideration the
welfare of all animals, not only those under the direct auspices of
the charitable programs. Just as it would be unethical for a human
welfare charity to sacrifice the well-being of some people in order
to benefit a chosen few, so ANIMAL PEOPLE believes it is inherently
unethical to cause some animals to suffer on behalf of other animals.
a) Policies which promote the well-being of some
animals by encouraging the killing of predators or competitor species
are to ANIMAL PEOPLE inherently unethical--as are policies which
encourage the release or return of animals to habitat where the
animals are unwelcome and may be at high risk of enduring human
cruelty or extermination.
b) ANIMAL PEOPLE recommends that all food served
for human consumption by or on behalf of animal protection
organizations should be vegetarian or, better, vegan.
5) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that an ethical animal-related
charity should behave in a manner which takes into consideration the
well-being of the whole of the animal-related nonprofit sector.
a) Fundraising may be competitive, as
organizations strive to develop the most effective programs within
their specialties, but ANIMAL PEOPLE views as inherently unethical
any practice which tends to increase the fundraising costs as opposed
to program expenditures of the animal protection sector in general.
b) ANIMAL PEOPLE views as inherently unethical the
involvement of an animal protection charity, or the officers,
directors, and other management of the charity, in any form of
crime except for occasional acts of open civil disobedience
undertaken in connection with nonviolent protest. ANIMAL PEOPLE
believes that animal protection charities should not be directed or
managed by persons of felonious criminal history involving theft,
fraud, or violence against either humans or nonhuman animals.
6) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that even beyond the requirements
of law, an ethical animal protection organization must discourage
racism, sexism, sexual predation, discrimination, and harassment.
Humans are animals too, and must not be subjected to any practice
which would be considered cruel or inappropriate if done to the
nonhuman animals who are the intended beneficiaries of the work of an
7) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that even beyond the requirements
of law, an ethical animal protection organization must endeavor to
maintain facilities which are safe, clean, and physically and
emotionally healthy for animals, visitors, and staff.
8) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that if and when an ethical
animal protection organization finds itself to be in violation of any
of the above standards, however accidentally and unintentionally,
it must set to work immediately to resolve the problems.
9) ANIMAL PEOPLE views as inherently unethical the use of
legal action to attempt to silence criticism. ANIMAL PEOPLE believes
that all nonprofit charities and their officers, directors, and
management should view themselves as operating under public scrutiny,
for the public benefit, and as being therefore public figures
subject to the same kinds of observation, criticism, commentary,
and satire as elected officials, candidates for public office, and
celebrities. This is a somewhat more stringent requirement than is
recommended by other codes of ethics recommended for nonprofit
organizations. It replaces the expectation implied within the
standards developed with human service institutions in mind that the
constituency of the charity shall be able to monitor the work and
intervene if necessary to ensure that the duties of the church,
school, hospital, or other type of charity are properly fulfilled.
10) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that an ethical animal-related
charity, if it employs an outside fundraiser, should hire only
fundraisers with no conflicts of interest, such as simultaneously
representing organizations or political candidates with goals opposed
to those of the animal-related charity, and follows ANIMAL PEOPLE's
"Standards for Professional Fundraisers," listed below.
Standards for Professional Fundraisers
F-1) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that an ethical fundraiser for
an animal protection charity is one who endeavors to help the client
charity to meet all of the ten standards enumerated above.
F-2) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes it is inherently unethical for
a fundraiser to undertake telemarketing, direct mailing, or any
other kind of activity at a level or in a manner which results in
combined fundraising and administrative cost exceeding 35% of the
total expenditures of the charity during the fiscal or calendar year.
F-3) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes it is inherently unethical for
a fundraiser to make claims in telemarketing, direct mailing, or
other fundraising activity which are not factually substantiated.
F-4) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes it is incumbent upon a
fundraiser to ascertain that all claims made in telemarketing,
direct mailing, or other fundraising activity are factual. As with
the failure of an animal protection charity to meet basic animal care
standards, ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that ignorance is no excuse.
F-5) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes it is incumbent upon a
fundraiser to ensure that all nonprofit organizations represented
fill out and promptly file a complete and accurate IRS Form 990, if
operating in the U.S., including complete disclosure of all
telemarketing and direct mailing expenses, and that an ethical
fundraiser should sever ties with any charity which fails to do so.
Similar financial disclosures should be required of charities
F-6) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes it is incumbent upon a
fundraiser for animal care charities to ensure that all applicable
animal care standards are consistently met. Though an ethical
fundraiser may represent an animal care charity which is raising
funds to achieve compliance with applicable standards that it
temporarily falls short of meeting, ANIMAL PEOPLE believes the need
to raise an exceptional amount of money for capital improvements does
not justify an investment in fundraising so high that fundraising and
administration cost more than 35% of the total expenditures of the
charity during the fiscal or calendar year. ANIMAL PEOPLE believes
an ethical fundraiser for animal care charities should not represent
an organization which is so far derelict in meeting the applicable
animal care standards, especially those of the U.S. Animal Welfare
Act, that adequate funds to make improvements cannot be raised
while staying under the 35% limit.
F-7) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes it is inherently unethical for
a fundraiser to represent an animal protection charity which is
involved in any kind of crime other than civil disobedience
undertaken in connection with nonviolent protest, or whose officers,
directors, and other management are involved in crime other than
civil disobedience as nonviolent protest, or whose officers,
directors, and other management have felonious criminal records
involving theft, fraud, or violence against either humans or
nonhuman animals. ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that it is incumbent upon a
fundraiser to ascertain whether the key personnel of client charities
have criminal history.
F-8) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes it is inherently unethical for
a fundraiser for animal protection charities to simultaneously
represent organizations or political candidates whose activities or
goals conflict with the interests of animals. For example, ANIMAL
PEOPLE believes it is inherently unethical for a fundraiser for
animal protection charities to simultaneously represent, including
through technically separate companies, any organizations or
political candidates whose activities or goals include weakening or
repealing animal protection laws.
F-9) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes it is inherently unethical for
a fundraiser to use lawsuits, or the threat of lawsuits, to try to
silence criticism, or to try to compel a charity to adhere to a
fundraising contract which the charity has determined is
disadvantageous. If a charity finds that it erred in signing a
contract which is so disadvantageous that the activities undertaken
in the name of the charity are not chiefly benefiting the charitable
work, the charity should be allowed to break or amend that contract
without further allocation or diversion of resources away from the
charitable work that it was incorporated to do. An ethical
fundraiser should accordingly discourage client charities from
incurring debts to the fundraiser so large as to require additional
fundraising activity after the initial contracted telemarketing or
F-10) ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that fundraisers for charities
should view themselves as operating as ex-officio officers of their
client charities, under mandate to represent the best interests of
the client charities, and under public scrutiny, for the public
benefit, which makes them therefore public figures subject to the
same kinds of observation, criticism, commentary, and satire as
elected officials, candidates for public office, and celebrities.
Similar standards already apply to the conduct of lawyers
employed by charities in some states, recognizing the privileged
position of a lawyer relative to the governance of a charity, yet a
hired fundraiser often has equal or greater influence on how a
charity operates because fundraising along with policymaking and
oversight is among the generally recognized duties of a nonprofit
board of directors.
(These standards were published in the May 2003 edition of ANIMAL