Our Position on Charity Ratings
The Humane Society of the United States is approved by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance for meeting all 20 of its standards for charitable accountability. We were named a few years ago by Worth magazine as one of the 10 most fiscally-responsible charities in the country.
Guidestar’s Philanthropedia experts have ranked us the highest-impact animal protection organization. And The NonProfit Times named HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle to its list of the Power and Influence Top 50 executives, in recognition of the achievements under his leadership.
While we value and appreciate such affirmations, it’s unwise for any donor to rely exclusively on charity watchdog reviews of The HSUS or any other nonprofit organization. Charity evaluation is complex work, and in many cases the evaluations do not seem to account for the dynamics of social reform or the operations of advocacy organizations. They often rely on strictly numerical measures that do not capture efficiency, effectiveness or the degree of difficulty of nonprofit work.
The HSUS and Charity Navigator
That’s the case with Charity Navigator, which in 2014 issued a factually incorrect “donor advisory” concerning The HSUS. The advisory had nothing to do with financial metrics, governance, transparency or the impact of our work to protect animals. It came solely as a result of a legal settlement The HSUS and several other parties reached with the owner of Ringling Bros. circus.
Charity Navigator’s donor advisory penalizes animal welfare organizations for advancing their mission through advocacy work and for defending themselves in court against scurrilous charges. The HSUS was never a plaintiff in the case against Ringling Bros., and we essentially worked to protect ourselves from a lawsuit launched by a company with a history of violating the Animal Welfare Act and of infiltrating and fighting animal welfare groups.
For a decade, we got high marks from Charity Navigator, so it was mystifying that the charity evaluator wouldn’t understand the threats constantly leveled against The HSUS by corporations that use and cause harm to animals. In fact, less than a year after Charity Navigator issued its donor advisory, Ringling Bros. announced that it will retire its performing elephants in 2018. This positive outcome comes on the heels of cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland banning the use of bullhooks on elephants.
The HSUS and CharityWatch
Another group that gets it wrong is CharityWatch, or the American Institute of Philanthropy. The organization maintains a single-minded focus on particular financial measurements, strictly interpreting all direct mail, telemarketing and solicitation costs as separate fundraising expenses.
More sophisticated entities with more comprehensive standards, such as the Council of Better Business Bureaus, follow generally accepted accounting principles, which allow appropriate allocation of direct mail costs between program and fundraising. Our efficiency ratios exceed the standards of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, which requires that program expenses account for at least 65 percent of total expenses; in 2013, our program expenses accounted for 81 percent of total expenses.
CharityWatch appears to frown upon aggressive member recruitment efforts conducted through direct marketing. The HSUS takes a different view because, while fundraising is a major component of mail or phone solicitations, there is a great deal more to these efforts.
The HSUS direct marketing program builds a constituency of supporters and educates the organization’s members and the general public about important animal protection issues. It’s because of this large constituency and its influence that we can call on our supporters to take action, communicate with lawmakers or corporations on policy issues, raise awareness in their communities and otherwise advance our programmatic goals.
Beyond Spending Ratios
Really, more than anything, we are about driving transformational change. Many of the charity evaluators focus on spending ratios and governance, but there’s much more to the work of nonprofit organizations. A group can hit all of its marks in these areas but not get much done in the real world.
The HSUS is driving change on the biggest animal issues of our time while adhering to the highest standards in the charity sector. We are second to none in effectiveness and reach. The HSUS, Humane Society International and the rest of our family of affiliated organizations are the No. 1 provider of direct animal care and services, assisting more than 100,000 animals each year, and we are the No. 1 advocacy group taking on puppy mills, animal fighting rings, factory farms, wildlife trade and other large-scale cruelties.
The best sources of information on the work of The HSUS include our website, our annual report and Form 990, our videos and the many publications and channels in which our work is featured. We encourage you to read and view them. You can see a list of our recent accomplishments, all of which our supporters have made possible. Please contact us with any questions, and we hope you will join our work.