ASPCA, This Means War

I have had it. HAD it.  Before this, I saw your commercials on TV, I turned the channel and I waited however long I thought the commercial might take — and those are long commercials. I hardened my heart to the sight of suffering and abused animals. I figured you were doing things the wrong way for the right reasons.

That was before you started advertising on Nickelodeon. That was before you went after my kids. (Ed note: That is not okay, ASPCA!) You see, the other night my 5-year-old son had a nightmare and came to our bed. He turned on the TV and when I woke up a few minutes later, I saw him staring, unblinking, at one of your commercials with a devastated expression on his face.  He went from one nightmare to another.

This experience got me to thinking about those ads, and at this point I am livid.

Now, I’ve done plenty for animals in my life. I adopted my dogs. I fostered. I ran a rescue for ten years. The dogs I’ve adopted have been hard-to-place dogs. I’ve donated time and money to other animal causes. I’m a vegetarian. In other words, I’m one of your people.

So let’s talk. Yes, there are a lot of animals whose lives consist of suffering. There are a lot who will be euthanized because there aren’t enough homes for them. It’s a terrible fate. We’re agreed on that. But your ads wring that misery out for every cent you can get, and that’s not acceptable.

First of all, your ads are so emotionally manipulative it is literally cruel to a lot of your viewers. If a kind-hearted, animal loving person, whether adult or child, sees your ads, it’s heartbreaking for them. A lot of them will cry. It will literally ruin peoples’ days. But hey, it’s OK if it helps the animals, isn’t it?

No, it’s not OK. It’s cynical, and there is more than a whiff of “these animals will die if you don’t send us money.”

It’s also not smart. Sooner or later, people will become inured to the horror of your pictures. It’s inevitable.  Maybe that’s why you are going after kids by advertising on places like Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. Perhaps the emotional well has started to run dry for the grownups. They know enough to immediately turn the channel when your ads come on. However, kids will be so upset that they’ll beg their parents to give money. And some of them will give in.

But some of their parents are starting to realize that your methods aren’t acceptable. They might have looked at the fact that only 65 percent of your budget actually goes to your programs. Most of the rest goes to fundraising and administrative costs.

Maybe they have learned that only a tiny percentage of the funds that you raise for your “national” organization actually go to state programs. Your ads certainly don’t make that clear. Your ads also don’t make it clear that the ASPCA only has ONE small shelter of its own.

And I’m sure that the people who donated money to help pets impacted by Hurricane Sandy didn’t know that your proposed solution for the ones whose owners didn’t claim them after a few months was to send them to the local (kill) shelter. That certainly doesn’t speak well for your commitment to the animals that you save from dire circumstances, does it?

It’s time for you to find another way to raise funds that doesn’t involve misleading your donors, horrifying animal lovers, and exploiting the very animals that you claim to help. You might as well do it now, before people get wise (and they will) and start holding your organization accountable for what it does with the funds it gets.

By Moretta

Moretta will take that applause. Her Twitter is

10 replies on “ASPCA, This Means War”

I wonder how connected the ASPCA is to local SPCA branches. Mine is great; they provide considerable medical care (vaccines, spay/neuter surgery, deworming, flea treatments, injury treatments), microchips, food, and comfortable (and clean) space to animals in their adoption center, work with local foster families, etc PLUS a “personality profile” and follow-up evaluations. For a pretty low adoption fee ($95 for dogs, $45 for cats, occasionally waived entirely with “long-timer” adoption events). I’ll stick with them.

And I am NOT about sad songs with pictures and videos of sad pets who’ve been neglected or abused.

That’s one of the things that people don’t typically know. **Local SPCAs and Humane Societies typically don’t have ANY ties with the national organizations.** They just have similar names. Local shelters don’t get any money from the national organizations unless for some reason they have applied for a grant for something.

In other words, your awesome SPCA is doing its own thing, and the credit goes to the people who contribute to it on the local level.

I don’t know the ASPCA as an organisation and I’m not familiar with the ads. But I do want to mention some things relevant to assessing whether a charity is a good fit for your donations:

1) Fundraising relies on triggering emotions (some kinds, like legacies or major donor giving rely on other things as well) but the bottom line every fundraiser knows is that if you don’t get your audience in the heart, you won’t get their money. This is not to say that every ad needs to be heartbreaking, but I would guess that the ASPCA are running those ads because they’ve found them one of the most effective ways to raise money.

2) “admin costs” mean different things to different charities. Before you write off a charity for high “admin costs”, investigate what they and their competitors classify as admin – donation processing? CEO salary? Vet salary? Animal behaviourist salary? Paying the guy who cleans the kennels? etc. etc.

3) You have to spend money to make money. ROIs are important, but so is testing, refining, creating and implementing good fundraising.

4) the most important things for a potential donor to focus on are #1, do I agree with this charity’s mission and methods, and #2, are they effective at it?, i.e.: Are they getting shit done, and do I agree with the shit they’re getting done? Everything else is secondary.

These are all good points. Charity Navigator is a good place to start your research and provides definitions of the terms that are used to measure the effectiveness of charities.

I definitely understand that when you get into the stratospheric levels of fundraising, the costs get out of whack with the percentages that are considered acceptable for such costs, and you can’t really trust that metric. That’s true with a lot of the largest charities in the U.S., like the American Diabetes Association and the American Lung Association. They fundraise relentlessly and bring in upwards of $100 million a year.

Here’s the thing, though: People who give money to animal welfare causes know that animals in their communities will die today if the rescue organizations and shelters don’t have the resources. For example, if I check my email right now, I could probably find emails telling me that a dog will be euthanized tomorrow if a sponsor isn’t found. If I send an email right now pledging my support, then that dog is not euthanized. It’s that immediate, and that life-or-death. As a result, given a choice between keeping the ASPCA fundraising machine going or sponsoring a dog in a local shelter, I don’t know many people who would choose the former.

The ASPCA preys on the legitimate urgency associated with local animal welfare operations to get funds. They state that without donations, they won’t be able to continue saving the suffering animals that they show (and those animals are often from horrific local abuse cases). Unfortunately for the donors and the animals, that’s not what the organization actually does. As I said, I could stomach these ads, nightmarish as they are, if they did what they implied, but they don’t.

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