Heart, head, and hands are the keys to effective philanthropy. When it comes to animals, the heart is easy: but how do we also use our heads?

One of my best friends has been an animal rights advocate and activist her entire life, and a really effective one. The funny thing is, she doesn’t like animals, and never has. This always struck us as hilarious: the vegan activist who couldn’t stand her mother’s pet cats. Her defense of animal rights has always come purely from the head: to her it’s morally and logically inconsistent for humans to kill and eat animals.

Most donors, however, are motivated to give to animals by their hearts. We may be inspired to get involved in animal issues by a film like Blackfish, or by a personal experience, such as witnessing abuse or maltreatment. Regardless of how we come to animal philanthropy, what becomes quickly apparent is that the needs are overwhelming and it can be difficult to figure out where and how to give.

As with all giving, developing a focus can both increase your effectiveness and your joy: when we feel like our giving is making a real difference, we feel more fulfilled. To develop a focus within animal issues, it’s helpful to first orient ourselves to the full range of what falls under the “animal” umbrella. To start, animal issues can be broken into three overarching topics: animal rights, animal welfare, and animal conservation.

Giving to animal rights generally involves supporting advocates who are working for policy changes such as freedom for captive orca, or legal changes, such as animal personhood. Animal welfare is a bit more complex as there are many different threats. This category can include protecting farm animals, animals used in laboratory research, working animals such as circus animals or bomb-sniffing dogs, animals whose fur or skin is used in clothing, and finally, pets and companions. In animal conservation, one might choose to focus based upon how threatened the species is guided by sources such as the IUCN Red List, which documents the level of threat to every species worldwide.  Finally, one can think about which of the six basic animal groups you are most inspired to help: amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, fish, birds, or mammals.


animal welfare

Learning about the full range of animal issues and categories may seem like a counterintuitive way to narrow. But most people find that looking at the big picture makes it easier to put a stake in the ground and feel confident. What are some resources you can draw upon as you learn about animal philanthropy?

  • Read articles here on Giving Compass focused on animal issues to orient yourself to the range of topics, ideas, and organizations.
  • Consider giving to the animal welfare fund hosted by the Centre for Effective Altruism. It is like a mutual fund for giving to support animal welfare, managed by an expert who reports frequently on how the funds are allocated, which organizations are supported, and why. Issue funds like this one offer a wonderful opportunity to learn while doing.
  • Check out Animal Charity Evaluators, which reviews and recommends animal organizations and also conducts and shares research on relevant topics. It also offers lots of excellent “how to” advice for animal donors.

My friend the animal activist has recently shocked us all: she adopted two stray kittens and is clearly besotted with them. She’s still one of the most effective animal advocates you’ll ever come across, but now she has her heart in the game, too. How about you: do you have your head in the game?