Finds ACE to be less engaged in “evaluation” than in funneling money to charities associated with the founder
Nearly 30 years have passed since then-trophy hunter Steve Hindi stopped in Hegins, Pennsylvania on his way to go shark fishing off Montauk Point, Long Island, to witness an internationally notorious pigeon shoot which Hindi became instrumental in stopping, after it had been held annually for 65 years.
Horrified at what he saw at Hegins, Hindi initially expected that fellow “sportsmen” would help him put an end to it, once they saw on video and heard directly from him what it involved. But Hindi found that only some of his oldest friends and family members responded.
Animal advocacy groups were no more effective
Shocked and disappointed, Hindi abandoned hunting and fishing almost overnight, became a vegetarian soon afterward, and briefly cooperated with the tactical prescriptions of the national humane organizations and animal rights groups. Those groups, unfortunately, had already demonstrated themselves manifestly incapable of accomplishing much more than staging public protests which had themselves become magnets for hundreds more “sportsmen.”
Thousands of “sportsmen” converged on Hegins each year, less to participate in the pigeon shoot than to harass and beat up protesters. The Ku Klux Klan even used the Hegins pigeon shoot as a membership recruiting venue.
SHARK succeeded where others still don’t try
Frustrated by what he saw as an emphasis on “movement-building,” meaning fundraising, instead of on getting meaningful results, Hindi in 1992 founded his own animal rights group, SHARK, initially called the Chicago Animal Rights Coalition. Within two months Hindi and SHARK had ended pigeon shoots in Illinois, through the same strategies that eventually prevailed against the Hegins pigeon shoot.
But, while the Hegins pigeon shoot ended in 1999, pigeon shoots continue in Pennsylvania, unaddressed by any organization other than SHARK, even though several of the oldest humane societies in the U.S. are headquartered within a short drive of one of the major pigeon shoot venues.
Pioneered use of video
Hindi and SHARK have of course done much more than campaigning against pigeon shoots. Hindi, always a volunteer, his partner Janet Enoch, and his handful of paid employees have pioneered practically every use of video by animal advocates, including undercover exposés from within slaughterhouses, documentation of injuries to animals used in bullfighting and rodeo, surveillance of deer culls and prairie dog shoots, and aerial video of animal use and misuse, first from ultralight aircraft and later from drones.
Hindi and SHARK have also led the way in putting undercover and aerial video before the public. SHARK vans started out offering large-screen video displays on street corners. The images grew to billboard size, then moved to YouTube, where hundreds of SHARK videos are accessible around the world and around the clock, some of them seen by millions.
“Laziness, incompetence, credit-grabbing, lying”
Yet, though far more effective per dollar spent than any of the big national organizations, many of which shamelessly claim as “victories” achievements that SHARK has done most to accomplish, SHARK has never raised very much money. Neither have many of the other small organizations SHARK has worked with on investigations raised much money, including ANIMALS 24-7.
Fumed Hindi in April 2017, “Contemporary animal protection organizations have devolved from entities of a compassionate social movement to an industry supported by mind-numbed donors.
“Laziness, incompetence, credit-grabbing, lying, and in many cases outright fraud have become commonplace among many supposed animal protection organizations,” Hindi wrote, “but no matter how many times some of these groups are exposed for bad performance and/or ethical lapses, supporters apparently incapable of independent thought continue to send money like hypnotized members of a religious cult.
“Focusing on mission should not be a liability”
“Meanwhile, groups and individuals who are busting their tails to faithfully execute their mission statements to protect animals operate at the point of bankruptcy for lack of support. It should not be a financial liability for a sincere organization to focus on its mission instead of marketing and fundraising schemes. Many productive organizations have ceased to exist for lack of funding.”
Hindi had already delivered a similar message to the Animal Rights 2016 annual conference in Los Angeles, to little avail, and as a guest column for ANIMALS 24-7, but this time he did more about it.
“SHARK has created a new web site, CharityCops.com,” Hindi announced, “which will illuminate the misdeeds of those who make money by falsely claiming to champion animal causes CharityCops.com will evaluate organizations based on several principles,” Hindi pledged, “including truthfulness, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness.”
Among the first targets of CharityCops.com is Animal Charity Evaluators, an organization which ostensibly exists to advance theories about charity assessment that How To Be Great At Doing Good author Nick Cooney articulated in 2015. In practice ACE steers a great deal of money toward charities that Cooney himself is involved with.
The core problems with ACE
Explained Hindi in preliminary correspondence with Animal Charity Evaluators executives Jon Bockman and Jonas Müller, before SHARK investigator Stuart Chaifetz produced the video SHARK exposes Animal Charity Evaluators:
“The following are the core problems with ACE:
“While giving itself the overly broad title of “Animal Charity Evaluators,” ACE has specifically chosen to primarily focus on one niche of the animal protection movement (farmed animals), which has limited it to pre-selected organizations.
“ACE has ‘fully reviewed’ only 21 animal organizations,” of about 20,000 in the U.S. alone
“Out of that niche, ACE has ‘fully reviewed’ only 21 animal organizations, therefore limiting the pool of organizations even further. Out of that tiny number, only those who have a relationship to Nick Cooney have been given Top Charity status. This represents a very significant conflict of interest, for it indicates neither science nor chance, but predetermination.
“This includes The Humane League,” for which Cooney is founder and board chair), “and Mercy For Animals,” for which Cooney is executive vice president. “More recently,” Hindi continued, “The Good Food Institute,” for which Cooney is co-founder and board chair, “was made a top charity. This last placement has been particularly disturbing, as the organization is new and certainly has done little to help animals, especially if compared to other established organizations whose sole mission is to fight for farm animals.
Millions of dollars
“In ACE’s own words,” Hindi reminded Bockman and Müller, “being a top charity can potentially be worth millions of dollars: ‘In 2015, we influenced $1.19 million in donations to our recommended charities; in 2016, we influenced over $3.5 million. We are setting a goal at $5 million for 2017.’”
The complete SHARK/ACE correspondence has been posted by CharityCops.com at:
What ACE does not do
The conflict of interest between what ACE claims to do, and the reality that it appears to exclusively favor a handful of charities in which Cooney and other people associated with ACE are personally involved, would by itself be reason to discredit ACE, if ACE took a straightforward approach to what it is doing.
For example, Cooney himself could appear in a video clip at the ACE web site explaining that the charities with which he is associated have received the top ratings because they have been structured and are operated in keeping with the ACE criteria.
Other charities, structured and operated according to other criteria, necessarily do less well.
Nick Cooney is no Bill James
This would be somewhat like baseball statistician Bill James, who has over the past several decades developed several new approaches to evaluating baseball talent, explaining that the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, 2007, and 2013, while rating extremely well in James’ favorite statistical categories, because James himself is the Red Sox statistician, and those teams were built to meet his criteria.
This would be a credible, plausible, and honest approach; but it might not have the same appeal to potential donors as the pretense ACE makes to be reviewing hundreds of charities using criteria which assess them all on a level playing field.
And Cooney isn’t an umpire
Three essential aspects of doing that would be:
- Comparing each organization’s programs, policies, mission statement, and campaign literature, to ensure that the organization is actually doing and representing what donors believe it does and represents;
- Conducting on-the-ground program verification, to ensure that claimed projects actually exist and are accomplishing what they are supposed to accomplish;
- and doing this all from an entirely external perspective, as an umpire whose work is clearly visible to the fans, not from inside a team’s dugout or executive suites.
ACE allows subjects to censor reviews
From the point of view of accountability and transparency, the most disturbing finding of many that SHARK made in reviewing Animal Charity Evaluators may be one that Chaifetz did not include in SHARK exposes Animal Charity Evaluators.
Wrote Hindi to Bockman and Müller, “The [ACE] board meeting minutes for November 30, 2014 state that you reviewed a group called the Humane Slaughter Association ‘for a shallow review, but were not allowed to publish it.’
“How can you claim to be an objective evaluation company if you allow companies you evaluate to censor the publication of those evaluations? Clearly there is a public interest in finding out what a group called the ‘Humane Slaughter Association’ is up to, but by burying such information, you give the appearance that you are not held to the truth, but the whims of those you evaluate.”
ACE: “We don’t require groups to allow us to publish our reviews”
Responded Bockman, “We don’t require groups to allow us to publish our reviews so that they will be open and transparent with us. Our reviews are based on much more than publicly available information, and require groups to be involved in the evaluation process. If we required publication, then many groups would decide to not have a conversation with us at all.”
Would anyone trust a journalist who allowed subjects and sources of coverage to review reportage before publication, let alone a journalist who allowed subjects and sources to veto publication if displeased?
Of what value is it to donors if the subjects of ACE review are “open and transparent” with ACE, if the information thus obtained is not disclosed?
“Give us your money and trust us”
Basically ACE is telling donors “give us your money and trust us.”
The only practical difference that ANIMALS 24-7 sees between this and the fundraising done directly by animal charities themselves is that the ACE approach allows ACE to hold the money, redistribute it as it wishes, and take a cut.
SHARK exposes Animal Charity Evaluators concludes with three demands:
“1. ACE must reject and remove all recommendations for any organization related to Nick Cooney, and any/all organizations who were represented on the Advisory Board.
“2. ACE must make a public statement acknowledging the existence of, and apologizing for the unfair method in which organizations were chosen, and hereafter offer fair, proper and timely evaluations for any group that makes such a request. SHARK will not apply for such an evaluation to avoid any conflict of interest.
“If ACE is unable or unwilling to do that, then the organization should return any remaining funds in its possession to donors and shut down immediately, as ACE either cannot or will not fulfill its stated mission to function as a proper, unaffiliated, and unbiased evaluator.”
Accountability is first casualty of fundraising
All of this, unfortunately, is unlikely to occur, even in part, because accountability is in truth among the least of the considerations of most of the animal charity donor base.
For nearly 45 years I have done accountability reporting and donor education about nonprofit organizations. For more than 30 years I have done accountability reporting specifically focused on animal charities, including 25 years as editor of a series of annual reports initially titled “Who gets the money?”
The first edition covered two dozen major animal charities Within five years it covered about 100. Retitled The Watchdog Report on Animal Charities in 1999, the report expanded up to the production of 15 editions of a handbook which reviewed the budgets, assets, spending patterns, programs, policies, leadership transitions, and any other controversial issues associated with more than 170 animal charities.
Animal charity donors didn’t give a damn, or any $$, for watchdogging
Producing such a comprehensive volume annually eventually became economically unviable, even with my wife Beth having done much of the preliminary research to produce an electronic edition in 2014 that we could not complete due to lack of resources.
Bluntly put, insufficient numbers of animal charity donors seemed to give enough of a damn where they throw their money to spend $25 a year making sure it really goes where their donations are most likely to achieve whatever it is they want most to accomplish.
The Watchdog Report on Animal Charities always focused on encouraging donors to pick their own goals, then donate in a manner consistent with achieving those goals, whatever they were.
Refused to do “thumbs up, thumbs down”
During the 15 years that I produced it, I learned, to my disillusionment, but in affirmation of much psychological research, that most donors want to respond blindly to appeals in a manner that makes them feel good, at least transiently.
I was asked much more often for simple “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” decisions, which I always refused to make, than for serious discussion of anything that should be part of a rational decision about supporting a charity.
Most of the time, moreover, the questioner only wanted affirmation of a choice already made.
ACE & the Pepsi Challenge
Animal Charity Evaluators appears to have successfully tapped into the desire of many donors to not have to think, while affording them the façade of donating carefully and responsibility, even when they have not.
The Animal Charity Evaluators assessments, in our estimation, have approximately the same value as the outcomes of the Pepsi Challenge and the Miller Beer “less filling” vs. “tastes great” face-offs.
This sort of thing may be entertainment, and may be profitable for the sponsors, but regrettably it is not the serious analysis of animal charities that it purports to be.