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October 21, 2010

A Number of Measures of Success

Some weeks ago The HSUS submitted its Form 990, a financial filing required by the Internal Revenue Service to ensure transparency, good governance, and accountability. Today, we’re posting it on our website, as we do every year after it is submitted to the federal government.

The form provides just one view or perspective on the work of this complex and remarkable organization. As you would expect, the numbers in our Form 990 convey a great deal about the scope and magnitude of The HSUS and its work. However, for a full understanding of the depth and breadth of our programs, it’s also important to review our 2009 Annual Report, All Animals magazine, humanesociety.org, my blog, and news accounts of our work, together with our Form 990.

Our 2009 Form 990 is longer than ever, not least because there’s so much activity at The HSUS. We have the top professionals in the field of animal protection in our employ, and we believe that the support provided to us by donors is best used when we conduct the work ourselves. Still, we are proud to provide assistance to some other organizations in distress or to complement our work, although our purpose has never been as a pass-through granting agency.

Egg-laying hens in battery cage
Compassion Over Killing

Our adversaries in the fields of agribusiness, the fur trade, the trophy hunting lobby, the cockfighting world, and the puppy mill industry want to tie the hands of our extraordinary staff and de-fund The HSUS. They hate the fact that we work on big, systemic change, challenging institutionalized cruelty of almost every type. They don’t want us to file lawsuits against factory farms or puppy mills; they don’t want us to work with law enforcement to bust dogfighters or puppy millers; they don’t want us to lobby to ban the most extreme confinement methods on factory farms through ballot initiatives, they don’t want us to work with regulatory agencies in the United States or Europe to phase out animal testing, they don’t want us to pressure corporations to wring out animal cruelty from their supply chain, whether it is food or fur from factory farms; they don’t want us to do a thousand other things that we do every day to make the big changes for animals that are so desperately needed.

Those involved with animal abuse have something to hide, and they have skated by for too long, cloaking their mistreatment of animals in some high-minded rationalizations, and fully exercising their political connections to deflect change and stymie reform. They want a free pass, and the last thing they want to see on the horizon is a determined group as effective and savvy as The HSUS—one that confronts their misuse of power and their unrelenting cruelty to helpless animals.

These groups know that the public won’t stop supporting our work. So their latest gimmick is to say that we should be giving the bulk of the money we raise to local shelters, as if that’s the only legitimate way of spending animal welfare dollars. In truth these people don’t care about shelters, and they really just want to steer attention away from our confronting the primary causes that put animals in crisis. These detractors readily take a number or a quote out of context in order to paint their false pictures of The HSUS. They are always on the lookout for ways to demagogue, to magnify or shrink the numbers they like or dislike, or to make gross claims about one item or other.

One critic of The HSUS is a front group that manages to siphon off 92 percent of its donations for the benefit of a for-profit PR firm that enriches its founder. That’s according to that group’s Form 990, ironically enough. Readers of my blog will know who I’m talking about. These hirelings have no credibility, and never had it, existing only to attack groups that work in the public interest and drawing its funding from corporations that hide behind the phony organization with the civic-minded name.

A traditional measure of charitable performance has been the ratio of program to fundraising. On that score, The HSUS does very well indeed—with 76 percent of all funds going to program (the Better Business Bureau standard is 65 percent). This ratio is a strong indicator of organizational health and efficiency, but it is also, like the Form 990, insufficient in itself as a yardstick of the work of a nonprofit organization. These measures of performance and financial status must be framed within a broader evaluation of overall effectiveness and impact, one that draws on other portraits of our work.

From our perspective, the numbers that matter most are animals rescued from crisis and animals not harmed because we prevented cruelty in the first place. To get at this, one might look at the number of deployments to save animals in crisis, the number of animals housed at our animal-care facilities, or the effect of laws passed or the number of lawsuits won. Or one might look at how we influenced corporations to change their ways or how many millions of people we’ve educated through our television advertising, public lectures, materials, or videos on social media sites. Our annual report provides a compact picture of this work to protect all animals.

At the end of the day, The HSUS has no rival in the field of animal protection. That’s why our political opponents, when they are not taking swings at us, refer to us as the savviest and smartest of the organizations. From Wes Jamison, animal agribusiness spokesperson, in the Jan. 8 Meatingplace magazine: “HSUS is clearly the nine-million-pound gorilla. They are powerful, sophisticated and rich and they are good at what they do. They are good at building the agenda, good at framing issues; they know how to talk about issues, which is why they are effective.”

Our detractors will have no quarter. If they’re involved in cruelty, or defending it, they can count on one thing. The HSUS will carry the fight to them, on behalf of animals and the people who care about them, with a relentless focus and determination.

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