We are NOT the ASPCA!!!
This is an exposé (and appeal) that Beth & I really did not want to have to write, but one of our faithful & reliable donors of $8.00 per month persuaded us that we had to –– because donors like her, for the most part, are paying not only for the existence of ANIMALS 24-7, but for the existence of the entire animal protection & advocacy cause.
Millions of individual donors like her, and like you, contribute eight bucks a month, or many times more, depending on your income and ability, to dozens of animal charities each, around the U.S. and around the world.
For that eight bucks a month, or whatever you can afford, you expect hard work, dedication, and performance on a multitude of fronts: on behalf of wildlife, farmed animals, dogs and cats, horses, animals in laboratories, marine mammals, and the list could go on for quite a while.
What you expect & what you get
That’s what you get from ANIMALS 24-7, in our unique dual role of watchdogging and reporting the news about animal protection & advocacy from a caring perspective, informed by decades of experience on animal-related news beats.
You see our work almost every day. There is no mystery or mumbo-jumbo about what we do, how we do it, and what results we get.
You might also have seen our IRS Form 990 filings, posted annually.
We each worked more than full-time in recent years for $9.71 an hour in wages and benefits, serving more than 593,000 readers –– and still ended up in the hole more years than not, because, unfortunately, not enough of those readers elected to make us one of their choices to get their eight bucks a month, or whatever, mostly not through any dissatisfaction with us or the work we do.
Not many ways to cut $8.00
Rather, for most of our donors, as for most donors to every animal charity, there are just too many hard choices to be made among worthwhile-sounding organizations and projects, with not enough ways to meaningfully divide eight bucks.
Posting the ANIMALS 24-7 filing of IRS Form 990 in our leanest years was an embarrassment.
We don’t like running deficits, even after squeezing and trimming all that we can. We did not want to have to post our IRS Form 990 and then pass the hat, especially when times were hard for everyone, not just ourselves, and even tougher for animals and most of the animal charities that try to help them.
Times not so tough for the 1%
But times never seem to have been tough at all for the 1%, including at the biggest, wealthiest 1% of animal charities, and especially not in their executive offices.
A few days ago we happened to have occasion to look at the recently posted American SPCA filing of IRS Form 990 for 2020.
The ASPCA is among the oldest humane organizations in the world, founded in 1866, and has been among the richest right from the beginning, when founder Henry Bergh passed his famously deep top hat among fellow New York City investors, industrialists, and socialites to get it started.
At the end of 2020, the ASPCA claimed more than $407 million in assets. Chief executive Matthew Bershadker took home $966,004 in pay for the year, including $856,673 from the ASPCA itself and $109,331 from ASPCA subsidiaries––which most donors would consider an excellent annual income by itself.
On January 10, 2019, ANIMALS 24-7 discovered from the ASPCA filing of IRS Form 990, and promptly pointed out, that Bershadker took home $804,372 in pay for 2017, including a bonus of $276,000, and received benefits of $47,859, for total compensation of $852,231––more than any two other animal welfare executives in one year ever
A year later, at the end of 2018, the ASPCA claimed $283 million in assets. Bershadker in 2018 was paid $712,397, plus $57,129 in benefits, for total compensation of $769,526.
For 2019, when the ASPCA claimed assets of $393 million, Bershadker was paid $762,996, but that was not the slight cut it appeared to be at a glance because Bershadker also collected $80,543 in benefits.
We are singling out Matthew Bershadker as an example, because back in 2017 he became, by far, the highest paid individual for a single year in the whole history of the humane movement––and has broken his own record every year since.
His compensation from ASPCA subsidiaries alone in 2020, the year the COVID-19 crisis hit, killing a million Americans, putting many millions out of work and bankrupting hundreds of thousands, was more than the top salary paid by the majority of U.S. humane societies and animal care-and-control agencies.
But this is not to bash Bershadker himself, though we have significant differences with several ASPCA policies, all of them long predating his tenure, and question both his competence and accountability as a manager of humane programs.
Bershadker has now been at the ASPCA for 21 years. Coming from a background in finance, Bershadker previously served as the ASPCA vice president for development, meaning he was a fundraiser, and then for a time was senior vice president of anti-cruelty programs, back before the ASPCA returned responsibility for doing anti-cruelty law enforcement––the first and oldest ASPCA mission––to the New York City police department.
Bershadker ascended to the ASPCA presidency on June 1, 2013, the first ASPCA president since Sydney H. Coleman, president from 1930 until his death in 1951, to have worked for the ASPCA in any capacity before being put in charge.
Raising $57 million a year more than predecessor
As ASPCA president, Bershadker through 2020 had presided over more than doubling donated income and assets, achieving an increase in program spending of approximately 50%
The ASPCA, in short, at the end of 2020 was raising almost $180 million more per year than when Bershadker took over, so perhaps––from a strictly business perspective––he earned his nearly tripled increase in compensation over the preceding ten years.
Where did the money come from?
But why has the ASPCA been able to raise that kind of money in the first place, more than twice the combined annual budgets of every animal advocacy organization with a national presence back when we began reporting the news of the cause, back when the highest salary in the history of humane work was less than $100,000?
It is not because of anything Matthew Bershadker did, nor because of anything his predecessors did, nor because of anything his counterparts at the other big national animal charities did––certainly not by themselves.
It is because people including yourselves and ourselves, legions of eight-dollar-a-month donors and $9.70 an hour workers and volunteers, together built a movement.
Muckrakes with poop-scoops
Among the earliest voices in what came together as the animal rights movement more than 40 years ago were journalists scattered around the U.S. and the world who as concerned and sympathetic individuals, working in isolation, fought with editors for the page space in which to report the news about what was happening to animals.
A big part of that ongoing series of scoops included covering why the big animal charities that existed even then––like the ASPCA––were not managing to make much headway against the entrenched animal use industries, nor even in promoting spay/neuter and adoptions, so distracted were they with their then-focal role of killing tens of millions of cast-off and stray dogs and cats each year.
Some of those pioneering journalists, like Cleveland Amory and Ann Landers, were already big names in the field. Some, like Amory, who started the Fund for Animals, Animal Rights International founder Henry Spira, and Humane Society of the U.S. founder Fred Myer, left journalism to start animal advocacy organizations meant to help steer the old guard in more progressive and productive directions.
Building the animal news beat
A generation younger, I was among those who stayed on the animal news beat for many years with small newspapers serving small towns in rural areas, gaining first-hand knowledge of animal use industries at the same time as helping to build a growing audience for animal advocacy messages.
Later, as the audience expanded enough to sustain independent media covering the rising animal advocacy cause in breadth and depth, I served as news editor of one of the periodicals that helped to bring it all together into a movement. Then I founded and for 22 years edited a newspaper that took the message global––and, along the way, reached thousands of fellow journalists in hundreds of newsrooms, inspiring many of them to begin doing serious coverage of animal issues too.
Surviving the dodo
As electronic social media exploded in use and influence, that project went the way of the dodo and all newsprint media.
Beth & I together founded and built ANIMALS 24-7, reaching six times more people per year than any of those previous periodicals ever did.
But by now the animal cause is hundreds of times larger, served by a wealth and multitude of electronic media––and the more, the better. This expansion and diversity is what the animals have needed all along.
You are the economic foundation!
It is also what now provides the economic foundation for all of the multi-million-dollar organizations and multitude of overpaid executives, who have successfully capitalized on what was once just a small cause among many, and have turned it into a growth industry.
Millions of eight-dollar-a-month donors, and some $9.70-an-hour journalists, too, have accomplished all of this, and are continuing to accomplish quite a lot more, even as the biggest organizations make the most noise to donors, claiming most of the credit and raking in most of the donations.
We are not here to argue about what Matthew Bershadker is worth, or any other individuals––but if the top-paid individuals & organizations in animal advocacy are worth anything approaching $966,004 per year, surely we are worth a higher priority when eight-dollar-a-month donors have to choose which animal charities to help.
We are honored & grateful
We are honored by, and grateful for, the eight-dollar-a-month donors who have helped us and ANIMALS 24-7 to get this far. We only ask to have many more of them, and maybe a few who can donate more, too. Perhaps you can be among them?
We guarantee we will continue make the best possible use of every $8.00, $80, $800, or $8,000 that you send us. We always have. We always will.