Published: June 2017
Grant investigator: Lewis Bollard
This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator. ACE staff also reviewed this page prior to publication.
The Open Philanthropy Project awarded a grant of $500,000 over two years to Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE). ACE is an organization in the effective altruism (EA) community that does research to identify the most effective animal welfare charities and recommend them to donors. Our grant is intended to help ACE scale up and address what we view as some of its current shortcomings.
This grant falls within our work on farm animal welfare, one of our focus areas within U.S. policy.
ACE is an organization within the effective altruism (EA) community, and was originally founded in 2012 as a project of the Centre for Effective Altruism. Its primary activity is evaluating animal-focused charities and sharing its top recommendations on its website. On the whole, we view ACE as a well-run organization that shares our goal of improving animal welfare as much as possible (though we do also have some concerns about the organization, discussed below). We’ve found ACE’s Executive Director, Jon Bockman, to be highly capable, focused on maximum impact for farm animals, and willing to make changes based on criticism that ACE receives; we also have generally positive views of several other ACE staff.
About the grant
While our grant is unrestricted, the rough spending plan ACE has shared with us includes:
- Increasing compensation: ACE plans to raise staff salaries by between $2,000 and $4,000 per year for each employee, plus provide a platform for retirement accounts.
- Adding staff time: ACE plans to double the hours of its Director of Development, increase the hours of its Digital Media Manager to full-time, hire a Media Relations Specialist, and increase hours for data analyst and web developer positions.
- Hiring for two research positions, one to assist the current research team’s efforts in creating quality research, and one to conduct new experimental research projects.
- Making small grants to evaluated charities: ACE would like to give groups $500 to $1,000 to be evaluated by ACE in order to compensate them for their time and encourage self-assessment.
- Intern stipends: ACE would like to offer need-based stipends to its interns to attract a more diverse set of applicants.
- Fundraising: Improving its donor database and conducting research to understand the motivations of conventional animal advocacy donors.
Our grant will increase ACE’s expected revenue for 2017 from around $635,000 to $885,000.
Case for the grant
The case for this grant, as we see it, rests on the following:
- Imagining how we hope the farm animal welfare movement will look in a decade or two, we see an important role for an institution similar to a scaled-up version of ACE: impact-focused and able to direct donors to the best charities, engage effective altruists, and push animal welfare groups to focus on effectiveness. Among current organizations in the field, we view ACE as the most on-track to filling that role, and we think funding constraints are currently a key barrier to it growing in that direction.
- We expect that the improvements ACE plans to make with this grant will allow it to direct more money to animal welfare groups that we consider highly effective, so we consider it fairly likely that this grant will achieve a roughly one-to-one return on investment in the near-term. (However, we also note that we think money moved by ACE to its top charities is somewhat likely to be counterfactually diverted from other moderately effective animal welfare charities, or from other EA organizations.)
- We hope this grant will help ACE address what we view as some current shortcomings, including unsustainably low salaries, reliance on low-quality research, and undervaluing of long-term gains (see our risks and reservations).
We consider ACE the best-positioned group to encourage animal welfare charities to focus more on efficacy and to critically examine their own impact, and we expect this to be quite valuable. We are also hopeful that ACE can help generally attract more donors and activists to support and increase their engagement with effective farm animal advocacy. (Although ACE does not appear to us to be as effective at social media outreach or attracting new activists as some other animal welfare organizations, we expect there to be value in expanding these efforts beyond those groups.)
Risks and reservations
Overall, we think ACE offers good recommendations that help direct money to effective groups. However, we have had a number of reservations about its work in the past (some of which we now feel have been mitigated):
- ACE has sometimes relied on low-quality research in the past. However, our impression is that, in the last couple of years, ACE has reduced (though not entirely eliminated) its reliance on low-quality data, and that it is taking active steps to improve in this regard, including adding an additional layer to its process of review before citing research.
- Our impression is that ACE’s recommendations have sometimes followed trends in the broader effective animal advocacy community. For instance, when vegan advocacy was particularly popular among this community a few years ago, ACE promoted charities such as Vegan Outreach; when the community became interested in shifting norms and promoting an anti-speciesist message, ACE started promoting charities focused on message-spreading (e.g. Animal Ethics). However, we think these shifts partially reflect ACE genuinely updating based on new evidence, and Lewis’s impression is that ACE has become less influenced by and more skeptical of community trends over time.
- We continue to have some reservations about the level of vetting ACE applies to charities’ claims about themselves, and would like to see ACE vet charities’ claims more closely.