If you care about animals and want to reduce their suffering, but aren’t sure exactly how, Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) is an organization that might be able to help.
The California-based nonprofit puts out an annual guide for recommended animal charities, and it just released its list for this year. (Disclosure: ACE helped fund some of Future Perfect’s work in 2020, 2021, and 2022.)
Most of the top charities focus on improving conditions on factory farms, which makes sense, given that they’re sites of suffering on a massive scale. It’s not just the death that takes place there — in the US, factory farming kills about 10 billion land animals each year — but the suffering that animals are forced to endure while they’re alive. Hens, calves, and pigs are often confined in spaces so small they can barely move, and conditions are so galling that “ag-gag” laws exist to hide the cruelty from the public.
When we hear about some of these conditions — like the fact that chickens are forced to produce eggs at such a fast rate that their intestines sometimes partially fall out under the strain — we may want to put a stop to them. But it can be hard to know which charities will actually make good use of our dollars.
ACE researches and promotes the most high-impact, effective ways to help animals. The group uses three main criteria when deciding whether to recommend an organization:
- Charities must be “likely to produce the greatest gains for animals” — that is, they’re doing high-impact work and they’ve got the evidence to back it up.
- Charities must “actively evaluate and improve their programs” — they’re constantly trying to figure out the most effective way to advocate for animals (which may change over time) and adjusting their programming accordingly.
- Charities must “have a demonstrated need for more funding” — they actually need more money on hand in order to reach everyone they know how to reach (which is not the case for every charity).
With this in mind, ACE has selected its recommended charities for 2023:
1) The Good Food Institute: This organization works to make alternative proteins (think plant-based burgers or cell-cultivated meat) competitive with conventional proteins like beef, which could help reduce livestock consumption. It engages in scientific research, industry partnerships, and government advocacy that improves the odds of alternative proteins going mainstream.
The charity evaluator Giving Green also recommends this organization as one of the best climate charities of 2023, so if you want to donate to helping the climate as well as helping animals, here’s your two-for-one deal.
2) Faunalytics: This US-based nonprofit is a bit meta in its approach to animal advocacy: It conducts and publishes independent research, mostly related to farmed animals, in an effort to make other animal advocates more impactful and evidence-based.
For example, it examines social psychology data on how to influence public opinion about animals in a way that actually leads to behavior change. ACE notes that advocacy research is a neglected intervention, writing, “Faunalytics’ programs support the animal advocacy movement by examining effective advocacy strategies, problem areas, and tactics, and by providing advocates with a curated database of academic research summaries.”
3) The Humane League: Founded in 2005, this organization operates in the US, the UK, and Japan. It runs successful campaigns urging corporations to adopt higher animal welfare standards. It has worked to end the use of battery cages internationally and improve conditions for chickens raised for meat. It also conducts grassroots legislative advocacy. Importantly, The Humane League has an evidence-driven outlook, collecting and using data to guide its approach, and testing new ways to improve its programs.
4) Wild Animal Initiative: As my colleague Dylan Matthews has documented, this group is doing something unique: researching and advocating for ways to help wild animals. Instead of focusing on the welfare of animals in factory farms, it’s focused on the welfare of free-ranging animals from birds to raccoons to insects. It studies questions like: Which animals are capable of subjective experiences? What is the quality of their lives like in the wild? How can we safely and sustainably help them?
5) Legal Impact for Chickens: This group works to enforce laws against animal cruelty in the US, filing lawsuits for farmed animals and suing companies that violate commitments to animal welfare. The overall strategy is to make it a liability to treat animals cruelly on factory farms. The first lawsuit, in 2022, tackled Costco’s executives and the company’s treatment of chickens.
6) New Roots Institute: This organization wants to empower young people in the US to end factory farming, so it focuses on education. Its outreach program in schools tries to build critical thinking and highlight connections between factory farming, climate change, and public health. Students have the option to participate in a yearlong fellowship, where they’re trained in organizing and leadership skills.
7) Shrimp Welfare Project: This organization does exactly what its name suggests — it focuses on improving welfare standards for shrimp, which it sees as a neglected yet tractable issue. It does that by raising awareness, doing corporate outreach, and collaborating with producers and retailers. It also runs the Sustainable Shrimp Farmers of India, which helps farmers make life better for shrimp on Indian farms.
8) Çiftlik Hayvanlarını Koruma Derneği: ÇHKD, an organization based in Turkey, is working to achieve three main goals: ban cages from the country’s egg industry, improve welfare standards for farmed fish, and help build the Turkish animal protection movement. Organizations advocating for farmed animals are underfunded in general, but especially so in the Middle East and Africa, so support for groups like ÇHKD — which also goes by Kafessiz Türkiye, Turkish for “Turkey Without Cages” — could go a long way.
9) Dansk Vegetarisk Forening: Operating in Denmark, this group makes plant-based food more accessible by working with grocery stores, food companies, school cafeterias, and more to expand their meat-free offerings. It also works to change government policy, and this year it scored two big wins: the Danish parliament passed a law to create a 90 million Euro fund to advance the country’s plant-based industry, and Denmark’s agriculture minister launched an “action plan” to help the nation transition its food and farming sectors to be more plant-based.
10) Sinergia Animal: Industrialized meat production is growing rapidly across Latin America and Asia, and Sinergia Animal — which was founded only five years ago in 2018 — has quickly become a leader in fighting back against it. The group has investigated conditions at numerous farms, persuaded dozens of food companies in the Global South to commit to higher animal welfare standards, and worked with school cafeterias to serve more plant-based meals.
11) Fish Welfare Initiative: Aquaculture, or fish farming, is the fastest-growing food sector in the world. The conditions faced by fish on these “underwater factory farms” are similar to the conditions faced by farmed land animals — they’re bred to grow big and fast, and live in overcrowded, unsanitary environments. Fish Welfare Initiative is one of a small but growing cohort of organizations improving conditions for farmed fish by working with farmers and, increasingly, governments and corporations, to influence this rapidly growing industry.
If you donate to one of the charities above, you can be reasonably confident that your money will be used effectively to minimize animal suffering. And if you’re not sure which of them you’d like to donate to, you can give to the Recommended Charity Fund and leave it up to ACE to distribute the money based on what their research suggests is most effective at the time.
Is it misguided to worry about animals when so many humans are suffering?
Americans are increasingly concerned with animal welfare. The incredibly rapid embrace of plant-based meat products like Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat is, in part, attributable to a growing sense that we can and should be inflicting far less suffering on animals.
A 2015 Gallup poll found that 62 percent of Americans said animals deserve some legal protections. Another 32 percent — nearly one-third — expressed an even stronger pro-animal stance, saying they believe animals should get the same rights as people. In 2008, only 25 percent voiced that view.
It seems more and more Americans are coming to see animals as part of our moral circle, the imaginary boundary we draw around those we consider worthy of ethical consideration.
Some people, however, react to this with a bout of “whataboutism”: What about urgent human problems like poverty? Underlying this objection is typically a sense that we can’t afford to “waste” compassion on animal suffering, because every bit of caring we devote to that cause means we have less to devote to human suffering.
But as Ezra Klein has written, research from Harvard’s Yon Soo Park and Dartmouth’s Benjamin Valentino showed that concern for human suffering and concern for animal suffering is not zero-sum — in fact, where you find one, you tend to find the other:
In one half of the study, they used General Social Survey data to see whether people who supported animal rights were likelier to support a variety of human rights, a test of whether abstract compassion is zero-sum. Then they compared how strong animal treatment laws were in individual states to how strong laws were protecting human beings, a test of whether political activism is zero-sum.
The answer, in both cases, is that compassion seems to beget compassion. People who strongly favored government help for the sick “were over 80 percent more likely to support animal rights than those who strongly opposed it,” the authors write. The finding held even after controlling for factors like political ideology. Support for animal rights was also correlated — though the size of the effect was smaller — with support for LGBT individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, unauthorized immigrants, and low-income people.
Similarly, states that did the most to protect animal rights also did the most to protect and expand human rights. States with strong laws protecting LGBT residents, strong protections against hate crimes, and inclusive policies for undocumented immigrants were much likelier to have strong protections for animals.
The question of why these correlations exist is up for debate, but the bottom line is that we’d better hope our society takes action on animal suffering: If it does, we’re more likely to see it taking action on human suffering, too.
Update, November 2023: This story was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for 2023.