Charitable Giving

photo of polar bear standing on ice float in the arctic
“Ever occur to you why some of us can be this much concerned with animals suffering?  Because government is not.  Why not?  Animals don’t vote.” Paul Harvey

Ira Fischer’s Guide to Charitable Giving for Animal Welfare Organizations

Animal welfare organizations protect, defend and provide needed services to domestic and wild animals. Charitable giving plays a vital role towards promoting the goal of kindness and compassion for animals.   There are many organizations that do critical work towards this end. Most rely almost entirely upon private institutions and individuals for financial support and, regardless of the amount, donations are essential to sustain their work. Volunteering is another terrific way to support these organizations. Regardless of whatever form of action each individual chooses, the important thing is to do something now on behalf of the animals that are in desperate need of help.

Unfortunately, there are entities that purport to be animal welfare organizations, but are not. Before giving a donation to an entity that claims to be an animal welfare organization, it is incumbent to first do some basic fact checking.

A good starting point is to see if the entity is a “charitable organization” under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3).  This is important if you wish to receive a tax deduction for a gift. However, it does not necessarily mean that the work of an organization is in line with your idea of a charitable purpose. According to the Internal Revenue Code, “The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.” As can be seen, the Code’s “exempt purposes” to qualify as a charitable organization are broad categories. Donors should be aware that simply because an organization may fit into one or more of these categories does not always translate into a model that is consistent with what an individual might consider to be a charitable purpose.

One common trap for the unwary is an entity that qualifies as a charitable organization under the heading of serving an “educational” purpose. An “educational” purpose may be no more than making available informational leaflets or placing informational signs on the cages or pens of wildlife that are held captive for exhibition purposes and are forced to perform for visitors at what is essentially an amusement park.

Another area that donors should be wary of is charitable organizations that qualify as such because they engage in research.The IRS is not a watchdog for animal welfare and the research that a charitable organization may engage in can include the infliction of diseases, trauma, pain, or any other method of cruel and inhumane physiological or psychological invasive testing on animals. Before giving a donation to an organization whose purpose is research, it is advisable to first find out if such research involves testing on animals. Animal Research Alternatives makes a compelling case that, apart from the serious ethical questions raised by subjecting animals to crude and barbaric experiments, good science suggests that modern alternative methods of research are more reliable and more cost effective than tests performed on animals.

The next step to informed giving is to check out the website of an organization. To find out whether the mission of an organization is in line with your goals of charitable giving, carefully read the details in their site and, in particular, their mission statement, as well as other information describing the work they do. For example, by carefully reading all of the details of an entity’s work, you may avoid being duped by an entity that represents its mission as “the survival of felines in nature”, when, in fact, it works with commercial exhibitors, breeders and dealers of captive wildcats.

Once you are satisfied with the mission and work of an organization, you should then obtain independent information relative to how a charity uses its donation money and their effectiveness. Charity Navigator, is a well-respected, independent, non-profit, charity evaluator whose mission  is to help donors make intelligent giving decisions. A charity evaluator enables donors to access relevant information, such as the percentage of revenues that go directly to the programs of the charity. Most charity evaluators also provide a rating of the charity, which may take into account an evaluation of its financial health, accountability, transparency and efficiency –  all factors which can provide guidance to help make an informed decision before making a donation.

Below is a list of several animal welfare organizations that are notable for their excellent work in addressing systemic causes of animal suffering and/or providing protection for threatened wildlife or abused animals.

The award-winning documentary film Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home tells the story of the emotional lives of so-called “farm animals” and the transformation of traditional farmers that were part of the system that used animals for food or other human purposes. Once the farmers recognized that such practices are cruel and inhumane they became loving caretakers of the animals they had farmed and ardent champions of what is commonly known as the farm animal reform movement.

Preview for Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home