In this post, “animal rights nonprofits” means any organization that operates on behalf of the rights of animals. This covers the whole gamut of organizations, from rescue and shelter organizations all the way across the spectrum to campaigning and awareness-raising organizations.
Do you only care about [animal]?
No, of course not!
Animal rights nonprofits are mostly staffed by people who care deeply about the rights and welfare of all animals, even the ones that no one usually thinks about.
They also care deeply about the environment, biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, and everything else that occupies the Venn Diagram of issues that affect the welfare of this planet’s inhabitants, human and non-human.
But, there are only so many hours in a day, and even animal rights activists need to eat, sleep, relax, exercise, go shopping, have the occasional vacation, have a social life, and do all the myriad things that make up a mentally and physically healthy person.
Burnout is a huge problem in animal rights nonprofits, and staff must ensure they can sustain their energy levels and motivation, and maintain emotional equilibrium and sanity if they are to contribute successfully to the mission of their organization and, more importantly, have an impact.
In addition to the limited time available, there is also always limited money. While there are a few high-profile animal rights nonprofits with huge donation incomes and massive cash reserves, the majority of them do not have that luxury. There is the constant background worry of having to sustain and grow donations, and minimize expenses in order to keep having an impact.
So, in order for their staff to remain healthy and not burn out, and have a paycheck—yes, animal rights nonprofit staff need to get paid, too—at the end of each month, the majority of animal rights nonprofits focus their efforts on one or two issues that are important in their community, are important to their founders or staff, or that they recognize they have a chance of making a significant positive impact.
Finally, animal rights nonprofits—and most other nonprofits, too—are generally staffed by people for whom it is not just a job. They are usually vastly underpaid and overworked, and quite often forgo the higher pay of a career in the for-profit world for a job that means something more than just a paycheck. Having their motives misunderstood, and having to constantly explain why they can’t do everything, is another stress nonprofit staff can do without and takes up time and energy that could be better spent advancing the mission.
Will all of my donation go towards the animals?
Well, that depends.
Even before your donations get to the organization’s bank account, PayPal, Stripe, Due, Square, or whoever the payment processor is, takes their fee—usually between 2% and 3% plus a small fixed charge.
Although, if it’s available on the fundraising platform that the organization uses, this processing fee can be offset by donors opting to cover it. This is a good idea; the processing fees for donations are spread out over a lot of people, and not shouldered entirely by the organization.
As a donor, if you cover the payment processor’s fee, the nonprofit will get the whole of your intended donation.
However, how much of your donation actually goes toward the animals once it gets into the nonprofits bank account depends largely on the structure and size of the non-profit organization.
A small nonprofit that’s run from an office room in someone’s house will generally have very low overheads, especially if the Executive Director and/or other officers have other jobs and take no or little remuneration for their efforts. If they also rescue and rehome animals, they may rely on volunteers to do this more than larger organizations.
They will have expenses, though. They’ll at least have some office consumable expenses, and if they have a website, expenses related to that—domain registration, hosting, web design, etc. They may also have some marketing expenses, for example Facebook Ads, Google Adwords, or even printed materials like flyers and posters. Finally, if they take part in demonstrations or conferences, they’ll have equipment rental and travel-related expenses.
A larger nonprofit that has their own shelter will have a larger array of expenses, not least of which will be those related to office and shelter premises, and the costs of hiring and employing staff.
It will have to pay rental and utilities for premises and office expenses, and may have to pay for attendance at demonstrations and conferences, as outlined above. They may also spend more on getting their message out to attract donations—essentially marketing and advertising—and it may also use paid-for systems, such as CoSchedule and MailChimp, to keep the social media beast fed and its constituents informed. Finally, it may pay for a Donor Management System to better manage, and provide analytics about, its donor base.
It will have to pay livable salaries to staff, for whom it may be their only or primary income. While a medium-size nonprofit may rely on volunteers to do some of the work, essential core activities will have to be done by dedicated staff, especially the staff hired to look after the rescued animals in the shelter.
For a large nonprofit, you can essentially multiply the expenses for a medium-sized nonprofit by the number of offices or branches they have. But, you also have to add in the expense of more layers of organizing and reporting, and hiring and keeping an Executive Director, and possibly other executive staff, that know how to successfully manage a large—possibly international—organization.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of the regular operating costs that nonprofits may need to pay for depending on size and structure. It’s basically the same list of items that for-profit businesses would need to pay for.
- Premises – rent, lease, or mortgage payments; property taxes; maintenance; security; utilities; insurance, etc.
- Staff – payroll and payroll processing; health insurance (where national coverage is not available;) unemployment insurance; pension payments; benefits; hiring costs; expenses; etc.
- Vehicles – lease, or purchase payments; fuel; maintenance; insurance; road tax; etc.
- Office – telephones; paper; toner; Post-It Notes; staples; tea and coffee; and all the other sundry consumables in a busy office.
- Technology – website design and maintenance costs; Donation Management System; social media marketing system; email list management system; and other software and service subscriptions needed to get their message out.
- Advertising & Marketing – Facebook Ads; Google Adwords; online and printed media ads; posters and flyers; conference and expo registration; etc.
On top of all this there are the regular and irregular capital item costs that arise as office equipment and other technology such as computers, photocopiers, and video cameras, and office furniture wear out and need replacing, or become obsolete and need upgrading.
If you’ve never run a business, you probably have no idea of the amount of stuff that has to be paid for.
Now, there are organizations that provide some of these services at a significantly reduced cost, or even free—thank you Google for Nonprofits—and there are organizations that organize deals with other companies for either new or refurbished capital equipment for free or at a reduced cost—thank you TechSoup.
But, most of the expenses outlined above have to be paid at market rates, and while nonprofits try to keep costs down as much as possible so that more money can be spent on their primary mission, just like a for-profit business, this stuff still has to be paid for if the organization is to remain operational, achieve its objectives, and make an impact.
However much nonprofits would like to use all of their donations for their mission, it simply is not possible. They must use a portion simply to exist, get their message out, have an impact, and grow. That means that a portion of your donation will go towards this.
“It’s the Impact, Stupid”
You may have noticed the word ‘impact’ several times throughout this post. For the three sizes of organization very roughly outlined, their impact is going to be generally proportional to their size.
While the smaller organization may use their donations more efficiently—i.e. have lower overhead—their impact is generally going to be low and affecting a small geographical area as, in real terms, they have fewer resources to work with than the other two organizations.
The organization with the biggest impact is generally going to be the large one. Its impact may be national, or even international, and affect not only the animals they directly save, but it may also be able to affect public opinion, or even legislation, as a result of the resources it can bring to bear to craft powerful professional looking campaigns, get them out to the world, and engage their audiences in meaningful dialogue about those issues.
Finally, please don’t take offense at what’s been said in this post; it’s something a lot of people take for granted because of the impossible that nonprofits seem to achieve every day. And most people probably think that, because nonprofits are not subject to the laws of taxation, they are also not subject to the laws of economics, either. Sadly, this is not true. Despite a couple of significant differences, nonprofits are operationally the same as for-profit businesses, with all that that implies.