24. How to create a more robust animal advocacy movement

Small grants to support high-risk approaches

Welcome back to Giving to Strangers. Every issue I explore what matters in social good and offer sane, relevant donation advice. Giving to Strangers is written by me, Anya Marchenko.

Last week, Animal Charity Evaluators announced an exciting list of 35 grants “Movement Grants”, donating over $1.05 million to support early-stage animal advocacy initiatives. 

These grants represent a model of a more diverse, agile, less elitist kind of philanthropy. While ACE has a short list of recommended charities that meet an incredibly high bar of impact, track record, and tractability, the Movement Grants support higher risk efforts. While they may be promising, but they haven’t gotten the chance to build up a track record or establish the evidence behind their approach. 

“The Movement Grants have the aim of expanding [the movement] and supporting different types of approaches and organizations, so we don’t put all of our grapes in one bowl,” said Marianne van der Werf, a Program Officer who leads the Movement Grants. 

Banks giving talk
The project director of an organization that received a Movement Grant leading a presentation about plant-based eating for Buddhist monks in Thailand (Source)

In addition to increasing reach and variance, ACE states on its website that the grants are explicitly designed to ‘make the animal advocacy movement more effective.’ But what does that mean in practice? 

One way to increase effectiveness, Van der Werf believes, is through racial equity. That’s why a handful of the grantees focus not on advocating for animals per se, but on advocating for the people most impacted by factory farming. The goal of organizations like the Food Empowerment Project, Grassroots Artists Movement Inc, and Encompass is to integrate racial equality and anti-racist principles into animal advocacy, and raise awareness of how factory farming disproportionately impacts farm laborers and people who are Black, Brown, or Indigenous. 

“A lot of animal advocates are people of color, or people of the global majority. So being anti-racist is caring about the people who are sharing the movement,” says Van der Werf. Van der Werf believes this is especially pressing as the work of people of the global majority is underrepresented in the mainstream animal advocacy movement.

Here is a selection of grantees’ efforts to give you a sense of the promising efforts in animal advocacy. 

  • Promoting an Asia-centered community in animal advocacy, as much of animal advocacy in Asia has a strong Western focus (ACTAsia)

  • Fighting to shift subsidies and bailouts that primarily benefit animal agriculture in the US (Agriculture Fairness Alliance)

  • Conducting a review of and creating recommendations for the EU Farm Animal Welfare legislation as a part of the EU Green Deal (Animal Law Europe)

  • Educating people about vegan diets in Romania, Portugal, Czech Republic, Malaysia, and China

  • Evaluating whether fava beans, amaranth, and sunflower seeds can be used as ingredients in plant-based meat in Addis Ababa (Demissew Bekele)

  • Outreach about how the dairy industry harms nonhuman animals and disproportionately harms Black, Brown, and Indigenous people (Food Empowerment Project)

  • Reducing compassion fatigue and activist burnout in Indonesia (Perkumpulan Sahabat Satwa Jogja)

  • Helping nonprofits present themselves on social media with the help of Christopher Sebastian, a guest lecturer at Columbia University who works at the intersection of race and human relationships with animals

ACTAsia aims to make the animal rights discourse and goals relevant to people living in East Asia. This campaign image is captioned “Cats and dogs commonly supply demand for fur trim”. Source.

Suppose that ACE’s grantees achieve their goals. It probably wouldn’t look like a paradigm shift on the scale of something like the Supreme Court’s recent decision to reject a review of California’s Proposition 12, the strongest factory farm law in the world. 

Instead, 35 small, largely uncoordinated efforts may result in more journalists being trained in reporting on factory farming; Chinese nationals being able to gamify eating vegan food through WeChat; more Buddhist monks in Thailand adopting plant-based diets (seriously); and animal scientists providing research consulting for animal advocates, filling an expertise gap.

Supporting a lot of ‘maybes’ is a strategy that venture capitalists would find more familiar than philanthropists. That’s because philanthropy has a track record of being conservative. At its worst, foundations, charity evaluators, and their ilk wring their hands and call for more evidence to find the 99th percentile solution when the “good enough” solution exists and could’ve been implemented ages ago. 

The Movement Grants represent a different model, one that is based on the idea that optimizing for success requires taking risks on small outside chances. Taking on such innovation risks is one of the roles of government: at the Department of Energy, ARPA-E funds high-risk and high-reward projects looking into designing new batteries or biofuels (ARPA-E’s unofficial funding ethos is: “If it works, will it matter?”). But we see the benefits of high-risk exploration elsewhere, too. AI learning chess or go often end up making crazy moves as they learn, but occasionally, one of those low-chance moves that others might write off ends up brilliant.

While Movement Grants don’t rise to this level of risk, ACE’s higher risk tolerance does allow them to explore, increasing the possibility of finding the most effective approaches and will make animal advocacy more robust in the long term.

Which strangers should you donate to?

ACE is currently matching donations to their Movement Grants for up to $300,000. That means that for the next month or so, your donation is worth twice as much as much.

Donate to ACE Movements Grants


I love quotes, so each newsletter I share some of the quotes I’ve written down over the last two weeks.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

— Max Hermann, Desiderata, 1927

Science asks for collaboration and openness, but instead rewards competition and ‘getting there first.’ Science demands the objectivity of double-blind research, but accepts a peer review process open to the effects of reputation and established professional relationships.

— from a paper about ethics in science

Subjectively, the influence of the automobile has been enormous…the automobile has supplied a sense of power to millions of people whose need for such a feeling is very great. The life of man has always been hard on the ego…thus the great function of the automobile has been to give a delusion of grandeur to the average man.

— Shared by a friend

When we look back across five centuries, the implications of the Renaissance appear to be obvious. It seems astonishing that no one saw where it was leading, anticipating what lay round the next bend in the road and then over the horizon. But they lacked our perspective; they could not hold a mirror up to the future.

Like all people at all times, they were confronted each day by the present, which always arrives in a promiscuous rush, with the significant, the trivial, the profound, and the fatuous all tangled together. The popes, emperors, cardinals, kings, prelates, and nobles of the time sorted through the snarl and, being typical men in power, chose to believe what they wanted to believe, accepting whatever justified their policies and convictions and ignoring the rest. Even the wisest of them were at a hopeless disadvantage, for their only guide in sorting it all out the only guide anyone ever has was the past, and precedents are worse than useless when facing something entirely new.

— World Lit Only by Fire, history of the Renaissance