Where does your donation go?

I recently wrote a paper for my course work that looked at the fundraising machines known as the Humane Society of the United States and PeTA. The assignment was to compare how they raised money and how successful they were. I didn’t feel like just looking at the fundraising tools and income those generated was sufficient, I wanted to delve a little deeper into what they DID with the money.

I’m putting the paper here since several people have asked to read it and this is a good central area to post in. Keep in mind we were limited on word count – in the future I may write an expanded version because there is a LOT more to say!

“Select two large animal welfare organizations and analyze their approach to fundraising or marketing. Discuss the pros and cons of the approach and how it does or doesn’t lead to the organization’s overall effectiveness. This paper should not be shorter than 600 words nor exceed 1,800 words.” I’ve included the original ads so you judge the effectiveness of them yourself.

HSUS – How successful/effective they are depends on your definition of success. Their ads are often compelling:

Sad puppy face, please for money, makes its point simply and boom, you’re done. Or this one:

Very sad kitty face, don’t you want to be a hero?

 How about this one:

Rescue Animals NOW!! (dot org) – if you go to RescueAnimalsNow.org you’re taken straight here:

Pretty clever, eh?

Just how good? In 2012 (the last year I could get their income tax forms) they raked in $112,833,027 in gifts, grants, contributions and membership fees. Since 2008 they’ve brought in $510,470,513, including the $50,000 ‘grant’ in 2009 from the Philadelphia Eagles for partnering with Michael Vick and saying he’s ‘reformed’. Half a billion dollars in 5 years is GOOD. That’s a lot of $19-a-month-to-save-the-sad-puppy-mill-puppies gifts, in fact 92.49% of the monies raised in 2013 was through public supported gifts etc.

If I’m going to support an organization, one of the first places I start with is Charity Navigator. What grade did HSUS get in 2011 (the last year they have info on) Oh…not so good, only around a C. So I read all 133 pages of IRS Form 990 because, you know, I’m a curious girl. Now I claim NO sort of accounting skills, no financial guru-type stuff, and the unfortunate timing of this module meant I couldn’t ask any of my tax pro friends because it’s THAT time of year. I’m all on my own here and I have to say it was FASCINATING stuff. All those puppy ads work miracles!  Let’s just pass right over the amount they pay in salaries ($32, 499, 673), or what they paid lobbyists ($2,438,529) and head straight to Advertising and Promotion – $15,009,718. Direct Response Costs came to $9,823,229. I started to lose track of the commas.


The bottom line End of Year Assets were $195,410,586. Cool huh? But what do they BUY with all of that? The REALLY interesting stuff is on the Activities Outside the United States pages – some areas scored some pretty decent grants, like Sub-Saharan Africa got $40,332 for a rabies and vaccine campaign and a rural neutering program. The Middle East and North Africa weren’t nearly as lucky, they only received $2,800 for stray animal project development. The BIG score was Central America and the Caribbean, $25,678,184! What for, you might ask? A natural disaster, something like another oil spill? Nope, Cayman Islands hedge funds. They actually put more into their executive pensions in 2009 ($2,592,272) than into supporting pet shelters ($976,775).


But let’s come back to the United States. National Outdoor Sports raised $35,801,399, kept $1,890,820 and sent $33,910,579 to the HSUS. How nice! Those cars you can donate? They brought in $399,498 so that’s good.  Under fundraising activities:

“The HSUS and its affiliated entities rely on a substantial and longstanding program of direct mail fundraising to support the full range of activities they undertake….direct mail fundraising helps create greater awareness of our campaigns and our concern, and has allowed us to build a constituency of supporters unmatched in the humane field…To complement direct mail, the HSUS relies on larger individual gifts solicited by regional fundraisers, planned giving, foundation grants, telephone solicitation, workplace giving, bequests, and most recently direct response television announcements.”
This is my all-time favorite ad:

This plea for funds came out just after Wayne Pacelle said the dogs should be KILLED “Officials from our organization have examined some of these dogs and, generally speaking, they are some of the most aggressively trained pit bulls in the country” How much money did any of the rescues that eventually took all but one of the dogs receive from HSUS? Not a penny. The bill came to slightly over $900,000 to rehab and pay for sanctuary care and that came from Vick’s estate NOT the HSUS.

The other delightful item of note here is the “The HSUS….is now overseeing the care of the 52 pitbulls seized from Vick’s property…” Bullshit. They DID NOT oversee anything except the perception of themselves in the media, and not all the dogs seized from Vick were pitbulls, so if you can’t get some very basic facts straight what ELSE is being spun?
Since I seem to like numbers here are some others – HSUS fundraised for helping animals displaced after Katrina to the tune of $34 million. To date only $7 million can be accounted for, spent assisting a handful or organization. The HSUS DOES have the  caveat on SOME of their fundraising literature “to support all our vital animal protection
programs” or something of that ilk but $28 million went elsewhere and I’m guessing the donors might want an explanation. The same tactics were used to raise funds after Hurricane Sandy, this time $1.9 million was raised and to date only 20% has been disbursed to organizations directly involved with Sandy. Gotta wonder if Mr. Pacelle isn’t a friend of Chris Christie since they seem to have the same sensibilities when it comes to relief aid.
Is the organization effective? Maybe. Do the raise a lot of money? Yes. Do the raise
awareness? To some degree. While researching them I reads LOTS of articles on Humane Watch. That is not to say I believe everything THEY say. I like to think I have better critical thinking skills than that but they did have some good points. They are, in many ways, just as crazy as HSUS and PeTA, just in a different way. They do point out that the HSUS VP, Joe Maxwell, owns Heritage Acres, a pork processing plant that was suspended by the USDA for violations of the humane slaughter/treatment regulations in 2009. For an organization that promotes a vegan lifestyle (HSUS) this might seemingly present a conundrum, “Do as I say not as I do” seems to be the message. I have no problem if they want to promote a vegan agenda, but then use farm animals to raise your funds. Using the cute and fluffy kitties and puppies is disingenuous.

They spent a lot of time during the BP oil spill talking about “gearing up” and  getting “ready to act” without doing a SINGLE thing to help out; no rolling up of sleeves, no writing of a large check (or small for that matter) to build or support a wildlife rehab facility, which they could EASILY do!

The real question is – What are they going to do for “all the helpless little puppies, kittens, dogs and cats”? Less than 1% of what they took in in 2012 went to any sort of animal shelter in this country. One Percent.

Yes, the lobby, they raise money, and the gnash their teeth over the fate of farm animals. The do some good undercover work but when you call the new media to splash tapes of your latest investigation all over the 10 o’clock news report BEFORE you call the local authorities you’re grandstanding and have lost sight of your mission.


Having to spend some time on their website was akin to falling into a pool filled with fecal matter. Compared to HSUS they are small change. They “only” bring in $30 million a year, give or take a million or two. Their 990 was ‘only’ 53 pages long and MUCH less involved than the HSUS return. While Mr. Pacelle pulled in around $400,000 (according to these documents) Ms. Newkirk only took home around $40,000. Interestingly the VP made around $85,000 and an Assistant Secretary took home a healthy $125,000. Quite a few sections are blacked out, but I can clearly see $879,418 in Federated campaigns, $720,910 in Fundraising events and $31,851,917 in “other contributions, gifts, grants and similar amounts”. The Public Support percentage for 2012 is 88%. “Campaigns involve renowned celebrities, extensive media attention, interactive social networking, web site features and blogs that reach millions of viewers, and public service announcements, which are typically placed for free in high-exposure outlets.” They spent $5,538,763 on postage, printing and direct mail on things like this:

I appreciate the message but using some blonde bimbo with most of her cleavage showing manages to piss off my feminist sensibilities. As one reviewer put it “I’m sure the nurses greatly appreciated having their profession reduced to cosplay titty porn.” This was sent to the Texas Heart Institute. Effectiveness? On a scale of 1-10 I’ll give it a -2.

As a fan of Chloris Leachman, cabbage and dresses made from natural products I really, really like this ad.  It will at least get you to their website, which seems to be the primary place for fundraising. THIS would make me want to see what else they have to say. Effectiveness? Around an 8.

Another ad that made me say “Seriously??!” Originally installed near a beach in Florida it was eventually pulled because of complaints. How much do you think THAT brought in? Effectiveness: – 1

PeTA claims 3 million members and supporters; 4500 members belong to the Augustus club, an arm of the fundraising section where people can pledge future funds through wills and trusts. They currently have just over $200,000 in endowment funds. “Permanently restricted new assets are comprised of four separate endowment funds. Under the terms of the first endowment fund, 20% of the ordinary earnings from investments are permanently restricted while 35% are available for unrestricted use and the remaining 45% are donated to other organizations. Earnings on the second, third and fourth endowment fund are unrestricted.”

Since we’re discussing effectiveness let’s look at my favorite chart:

This compares all the shelters in the area with PeTA’s shelter. Cat save rate – 9.21 %

9.21% means it doesn’t matter how many naked celebrities you have on bill boards, it doesn’t matter who thinks you’re top notch enough to leave you a legacy in their will, it doesn’t matter what you proselytize, you have FAILED at any mission you pretend is important to you.

THIS ad was pulled in Europe for being disrespectful and is NOT politically acceptable. If you use PeTA’s thinking (which is fairly reprehensible), comparing animals with humans, they fail yet again. It is estimated 1.3 people were sent to Auschwitz, the Nazi’s killed and estimated 1.1 million. Cats in PeTA’s shelter fare worse today than humans did in Auschwitz. That may be tacky, and I certainly mean no disrespect to Holocaust survivors, I grew up around them as well as survivors of Japanese internment camps BUT for an agency that promotes veganism and animal ‘rights’ and has made comparisons of animals in the farming industry to Holocaust survivors they have a convenient disconnect in understanding their OWN actions.

Effectiveness? Zero. Less than zero. Maybe -30.

I understand this project was to look at how money is raised. But unless you follow the money trail AFTER it is in an account to see who, what, where, when and why it is spent the actual fundraising isn’t the whole story, it’s only the beginning.  Neither agency is trustworthy and needs a complete management overhaul. I’m going to take a shower now and hug each and every one of my animals.



10 thoughts on “Where does your donation go?

  1. I am a major animal lover, the sad ads I see kill me. i’m so confused about whom to donate to? hard to get real facts about where the money goes to.

    can you advise or direct me to a site.

    dee adler
    949 683 3854

  2. I research every organization I give to through Guidestar.org.
    You can get their tax returns there. Good work Loran!
    I love animal charities and give to them through my private foundation and
    find that the local ones that I can check on Guidestar , are the Best!!!!
    Dont stop giving because of the creeps at he Humane society!!!
    There are plenty of hard working people helping animals in need !!!!

  3. These organizations bring a bit of exposure to the abuse of animals.
    But, the best thing you can do is change your own life. Spay neuter your own pets and help your neighbors do the same, Volunteer your time, Foster an animal for a local animal rescue group. Eat less or no meat. Thank-you Loran for caring.

  4. Thank you! This must have been upsetting to you and eyeopening. I give my money and my time to very local and lean organizations. I can see where the money is used.
    You have also inspired me to sew more and make what I love….vintage! Thank you, again, for your very kind heart.

  5. WOW. The numbers are so eye-opening! I do my best to make contributions to local organizations, because I feel more confident that the funds I’m contributing will get directly to the cause I’m supporting. It’s amazing (disturbing) that charity has become such big business.

  6. Wow – thank you for sharing your research. I’m generally a bit sceptical of charities (RedCross stories have left a bad taste in my mouth). The Humane Society is, to me now, disgusting. How dare they break my daughter’s heart with their television ads of injured animals and then put most of their money back for themselves? I’ve never had much respect for PETA because of the rediculous, childish actions of their supporters like throwing paint on people who wear fur. (I, personally, have a vintage fur that I’m nervous about wearing because of immature people like this.) The ads that you’ve shown are gross and insensitive.
    I will help animals by supporting my local shelter.

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