Effective animal advocacy movement building: a neglected opportunity?
Disclaimer: I am an employee of Sentience Institute but this post represents entirely my own views, rather than those of my employers or those providing feedback on the post. Thank you to Joey Savoie and Marianne van der Werf for their comments on an earlier draft of this post.
Organisations such as the Centre for Effective Altruism and 80,000 Hours, as well as the individuals involved in local effective altruism (EA) groups, have conducted excellent work supporting aspiring EAs to do good. However, these organisations and many of the individuals involved in local EA groups focus predominantly on supporting work on reducing existential risk (x-risk), either directly or indirectly, especially extinction risk. The communities of other cause areas, such as the effective animal advocacy community (EAA, i.e. the intersection of effective altruism and animal advocacy) have comparably less access to movement-building services than do those in the EA community who prioritise reducing extinction risks. There is likely substantial unmet demand for movement building services in EAA.
EAA movement building projects are suggested that might meet this demand. Some of these projects may be best-suited to volunteers, some to new, targeted organisations, and some to existing EAA organisations. Some general considerations of the advantages and disadvantages that each of these has for taking up EAA movement building opportunities are listed.
The neglectedness of EAA movement building work
Conceptualised broadly, several organisations play important roles in growing the EAA movement, such as Animal Charity Evaluators and Sentience Institute. These organisations are primarily research organisations and much of the movement-building work that they have undertaken has focused on promoting engagement with this research. They have not focused as much on the growth of EAA as some non-animal-specific organisations have focused on the growth of the EA community. Some EAA organisations have organised events aimed at supporting animal advocates to be effective (examples include CEVA, ProVeg, and Open Cages), though there may be more opportunities for using events to build a community focused on maximising its impact.
The Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) and 80,000 Hours are organisations that fulfil specific functions for the EA community but do not prioritise supporting the EAA community as highly as much as some other cause areas.
CEA notes that it “assigns special importance to reducing existential risk… While we think that there are positive long-term indirect effects from, e.g., interventions to reduce global poverty or promote animal welfare, we think that those effects are gradually reduced with time and hence won’t have a large permanent effect on the world.” This view presumably affects prioritisation decisions within each of CEA’s projects. For example, in this list of EA grants recipients in Fall 2017, only 2 of 21 recipients (5.2% of the total money granted) went directly to EAA work. Additionally, the first draft of the second edition of the EA Handbook received criticism that it was excessively focused on x-risk, especially AI safety and extinction risks. In contrast, Effective Altruism Funds is also a project of CEA and includes a fund focused on animal welfare.
80,000 Hours states that they are persuaded that “the most important challenge of the next century is to reduce ‘existential risk’… Currently, we’re most concerned by the risk of global catastrophes that might lead to billions of deaths and threaten to permanently end civilisation.” In addition to explicit statements about the organisation’s views on cause prioritisation, there is evidence to suggest that 80,000 Hours does not prioritize EAA as much as some other cause areas:
Of the recorded impact-adjusted significant plan changes that 80,000 Hours is responsible for, the organisation notes that “all of the rated-100 plan changes, and most of those rated-10, are focused on global catastrophic risks or ‘meta’ problem areas.”
Of their 57 podcasts, only 5 incorporate an obvious focus on animal issues, although many of the others will be useful for aspiring EAAs.
Although 7 of their 12 listed “priority paths” that they offer career coaching for could plausibly involve people who focus on animal advocacy, a dedicated category is not listed in the way that “AI policy and strategy research and implementation” is.
Their cause profile on factory farming has not been updated since April 2016.
On their high impact job board, factory farming is not listed under “top recommended problems” but under “other pressing problems.”
At the local level, one of the main mechanisms through which EAs endeavour to grow the community is through running local EA groups. In the 2018 EA survey, 1,018 respondents (39.1% of the total) reported being “members” of a local group. There are, however, very few local EA groups that have sub-communities focused specifically on supporting the growth of EAA. To my knowledge, Effective Animal Altruism London was the first group with such a community. I am aware of organisers in Brighton (UK), Sweden, the Netherlands, and France who have either set up such groups or who have considered doing so. I am unaware of the proportion of local EA groups that have individuals who have official or unofficial responsibility for focusing on supporting the growth of EAA.
I don’t want to exaggerate the neglectedness of EAA movement building work. Several EA movement building, “meta,” and other multi-causal organisations include animal advocacy as part of their work and seem to consider it a high priority:
Open Philanthropy Project consider farm animal welfare a “focus area.”
Charity Entrepreneurship are focusing primarily on animal advocacy this year.
Rethink Priorities’ research agenda is currently explicitly focused on “prioritization and research work within interventions aimed at nonhuman animals” and “understanding EA movement growth.”
Founders Pledge have a research report on “Corporate Campaigns for Animal Welfare” and their services are advertised as being tailored to the “unique values” of the founder, although I’m not sure of the extent to which FP tries to encourage founders to support particular causes and the extent to which animal advocacy is prioritised within that.
EA Foundation lists their focus as “efforts to reduce the worst risks of astronomical suffering (s-risks) from advanced artificial intelligence.” However, my impression is that, given their interest in s-risk, EAF is sympathetic and supportive of EAA efforts. For example, Wild Animal Suffering Research was previously a project of EAF, though I am not sure of the current relationship between EAF and Wild Animal Initiative, which has replaced WASR.
Unmet demand for EAA movement building services
It is theoretically possible that the EAA community is too small to have much need for movement building services, in contrast to the EA community more broadly. This seems unlikely to be the case, however.
Evidence suggests that there are probably a large number of individuals and EAA organisations that could benefit from EAA movement building services:
Nearly 39% of 2,455 respondents to the 2018 EA survey ranked animal welfare as the “top” or “near top” priority cause area, though by this measure it was the fifth largest cause area. Of the 1,891 providing some information about donation, 89 noted having donated to animal welfare organisations, with a mean donation value of $10,975.
The animal advocacy community more widely contains other organisations that at least partially align with EA values, coordinate with EAA organisations, and have employees who engage with some EAA research. Some of these organisations have access to substantial resources; for example, the Humane Society of the United States had $142.4 million in revenue in 2017. This all suggests that there is a large number of individuals who are using their careers to advocate for animals; of these individuals, some may be interested in movement building services to support them to maximise their impact for animals, even if they are not currently interested in the services currently offered to the EA community.
Evidence suggests that there are probably a large number of individuals and EAA organisations that could benefit specifically from EAA careers services:
80,000 Hours have noted that there is substantial unmet demand for their own one-to-one careers advising services. Presumably, some proportion of this demand represents individuals focused on or interested in EAA. Additionally, other individuals whose applications for advising services have been rejected by 80,000 Hours may have been accepted by a comparable organisation that prioritised animal advocacy more highly.
6 of 42 people submitting their information to join the effective animal advocacy community directory (14%) said that they had career decisions coming up in the next three months. 8 (19%) said a conversation about their career plans with someone with several years experience in the effective animal advocacy community would be “Likely to be very helpful.”
In a survey of “30 leaders and researchers in the animal advocacy movement” conducted by Charity Entrepreneurship (CE), “Increase talent pipeline to orgs” had a weighted average rating of 2.6 (raw average 2.2), and “Increase talent pipeline to focusing on China and India” had a weighted average rating of 2.7 (raw average 2.2), where 1 represents “low promisingness” and 4 represents “highest promisingness.” “Helping NGOs work across borders” had a weighted average rating of 1.8 (raw average 1.7). For any one possible intervention, the highest weighted average score was 3.0, the lowest was 1.5, and the mean was 2.2.
Anecdotally, some specific sets of skills or experiences are lacking in the EAA movement, and hiring for these sorts of roles is difficult. For example, David Coman-Hidy and Andrea Gunn, president and vice president of The Humane League respectively, suggested at a Q&A event that management experience was a key bottleneck for EAA. They also listed other sets of skills or experiences that were in demand, such as in communications, PR, design, and legal capacities.
Many countries lack much animal advocacy work when compared to countries like the US, given the scale of suffering caused by animal farming in those countries. Notable examples include China, where the ability for international non-profits to expand to China is limited, and India. Developing EAA in these countries seems likely to depend in part in identifying and supporting potential leaders who already live there.
Including both internships and full-time work, The Humane League has 7 vacancies listed on their website, The Good Food Institute has 6, and Animal Equality has 18. Presumably, other potentially highly impactful organisations in EAA have further vacancies. The 80,000 Hours job board lists 72 opportunities focused on factory farming.
A survey of EA organisations by 80,000 Hours provided various evidence that talent was more of a constraint than funding, although Animal Charity Evaluators and Sentience Institute were the only included organisations that focused primarily on animal issues, representing 2 respondents out of 36.
Evidence suggests that EAA organisations, especially research organisations and those conducting movement building / meta work, could benefit specifically from increased funding:
Although OPP gave out just under $28 million to farmed animal welfare opportunities in 2018, animal advocacy organisations that are partially or not at all aligned with EA values have access to much more substantial resources; for example, the Humane Society of the United States had $142.4 million in revenue in 2017 and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had $44.6 million.
Any of the charities recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators are recommended because ACE believes they have room for more funding.
From a limited number of conversations, my impression is that EAA research organisations get several high quality applicants during hiring rounds; progress seems likely to be slowed more by a lack of funding, which would otherwise permit them to hire more researchers, than by a lack of good candidates. 
EAA organisations could benefit from greater diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially in the medium to long term:
Although women make up a large proportion of US farmed animal advocacy organisations (70% at the 4 groups surveyed by Open Philanthropy Project), but 40% of CEOs/executive directors.
In their April 2018 survey, “Encompass found that only 38 individuals out of approximately 330 people identify as people of color across 11 of the largest farmed animal protection organizations.”
Many individuals and EAA organisations could probably benefit specifically from greater awareness and engagement with existing EAA research:
Some organisations seem to operate in a manner that is contrary to the recommendations of EAA researchers. EAA researchers seem to be fairly confident that resources should be directed towards institutional tactics, rather than individual tactics, yet many organisations continue to focus predominantly or exclusively on individual outreach.
I would guess that the number of individuals with substantial decision-making power at EAA organisations who regularly read new EAA research is under 20.
In CE’s survey of 30 animal advocacy leaders and researchers, “Spreading research to NGOs” had a weighted average rating of 2.0 (raw average 1.9).
EAA organisations could probably benefit specifically from greater coordination between those working on similar problems:
Anecdotally, I am aware of a small number of instances where projects by animal advocacy organisations have somewhat overlapped, and this has created friction.
EAA researchers have no centralised prioritisation system apart from monthly calls to discuss planned and ongoing projects.
I am not aware of many shared resources that are specific to certain types of role within EAA, such as shared resources for institutional outreach to encourage better provision of animal-free foods, or shared resources to support strategic decision-making in corporate welfare campaigns.
In CE’s survey of 30 animal advocacy leaders and researchers, “Improving NGO coordination” had a weighted average rating of 1.8 (raw average 1.8) and “Conferences” had a weighted average rating of 2.2 (raw average 2.2).
My comments in this post are quite speculative, based off limited exploration of these issues. Small, independent projects could have information value, enabling the EA community to better assess whether there genuinely is much unmet demand for EAA movement building work, and how tractable it is to meet that demand.
Ideas for potential projects in EAA movement building
The lists below are intended as a starting point for brainstorming potential projects in EAA movement building. I encourage readers to suggest further project ideas in the comments. I have not included research projects where the main goal is better understanding, but have included some research project ideas that seem more about advocacy or building connections. The suggestions are organised by the following six bottlenecks in EAA:
A lack of leaders, co-founders, and engaged advocates (with an EAA mindset) in countries outside of North America and western Europe.
A lack of funding, especially for research organisations and movement building / meta work.
A lack of management experience and leadership “talent” in organisations doing direct work.
A lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
A lack of awareness and engagement with existing EAA research among animal advocacy organisations.
A lack of coordination between those working on similar problems.
Projects to identify and support leaders in countries outside North American and western Europe:
Coordinate closely with EAA organisations that might be interested in supporting projects in these countries to create prioritised lists of potential projects in those countries. Invest in traditional recruitment approaches (e.g. online advertising) for those roles and projects in those countries, acting as an umbrella recruiter for EAA.
If you live in one of these countries, create or support a local EAA group or run an EAA conference. If you don’t live in one of these countries, you could consider moving to one and doing the same, though this might be challenging to do well without generating hostility or damaging the reputation and opportunities available to the EAA movement longer-term.
Attend conferences on adjacent topics of interest (such as other non-profit work) in these countries, to identify potential leaders and connect them with ideas and opportunities.
Look through the effective animal advocacy directory and EA Hub and see if there is any support that you can offer to individuals living in those countries, especially if they are already engaged in work relating to these tasks.
Run an EAA podcast that invites guests working in those countries and helps to bring awareness of the issues that they face to a wider EAA audience.
Do exploratory research into the different contexts in those countries. Using this research, write up blog posts or EA Forum posts about how conclusions from EAA research might differ in those countries. Note, however, that there are risks involved with doing this, and ACE took down their intern’s report on animal advocacy in China.
Projects to support funding to be directed to EAA organisations, especially to research organisations and movement building / meta work:
Conduct some form of outreach to a wider audience (e.g. existing funders of animal advocacy groups, local EA groups, or grant-making foundations) about the value of research in EAA. This could range from Facebook posts to speaker events to writing up blog posts with detailed models of the expected value of certain types of research compared to certain types of direct work.
Write an annual post evaluating different EAA research organisations, perhaps using ACE’s charity evaluations and the annual AI alignment literature review and charity comparison posts on the EA forum as inspiration.
Projects to identify and connect management experience and leadership “talent” to organisations doing direct work:
Run experiments to identify what works in hiring and training in the animal movement. Charity Entrepreneurship have suggested that “Experiments could be conducted in 3 different areas: finding, training, and sorting.”
Provide careers advice similar to that offered by 80,000 Hours, but targeted specifically towards EAA.
Career coaching calls for those who seek it. Although I think this work would be better suited to a new EAA movement building org, some voluntary work could be done through the EAA directory by those with appropriate knowledge and expertise. When people inputted their responses, I collected responses to a question about whether people would benefit from careers advice now or in the near future which could be made accessible to selected individuals.
Become very knowledgeable and familiar with existing job opportunities in EAA, and then 1) post a comprehensive list of these at a fixed interval (I’ve started to do this on the EAA discussion Facebook group and my personal blog’s monthly newsletter, but don’t have enough time to do this very comprehensively) and/or 2) connect promising candidates to relevant career opportunities.
Do something that gets EAA ideas and awareness of the career opportunities relating to EAA out to a wider (relevant/experienced) audience. Examples include a podcast, giving local talks, or writing op-eds. Obviously, if these can be targeted towards people with the relevant experience needed, then this is preferable.
Local events that connect individuals to opportunities, or reach out to target audiences with potentially relevant expertise. Examples include university lectures hosted by EA, animal, or careers groups through to workshops with employees of animal advocacy organisations or engaged EAAs.
Projects to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion:
Support existing initiatives such as those by Encompass.
Ensure organizations have proper policies on harassment and discrimination, and that they enforce these policies.
Make a conscious effort to network with and mentor people from demographics who are underrepresented in the EAA movement.
Follow recommendations for inclusive processes related to staff.
Create and distribute mental health resources for animal advocates.
Projects to build awareness and engagement with existing EAA research among animal advocacy organisations:
Create a podcast that provides an accessible resource and discusses EAA strategy and research.
Organise local events for employees of animal advocacy organisations.
Give talks to employees of animal advocacy organisations.
Fund the creation of roles at existing EAA organisations where engaging with EAA research, disseminating it to appropriate individuals within the organisation, and possibly noting/evaluating how far this research affects the organisation’s practice, are part of the employee’s job description.
Projects to support coordination between those working on similar problems:
Expand the EAA directory and support its use more widely for this purpose (get in touch if you’re interested in doing this).
Conduct targeted interviews with people of particular role types and write up the findings.
Help to run a conference targeted to specific type of intervention or role (e.g. here).
Create a spreadsheet that lists current EAA research work that is planned or currently being undertaken. It is important that the spreadsheet has buy-in from all the relevant organisations and its use is made to be a regular feature of individuals’ research planning,
Create a system for prioritising research across effective animal advocacy that can be used by all the relevant researchers, despite their slightly differing values and organisational goals.
Offer funding for organisations that is conditional upon them buying into particular mechanisms for coordination.
Should volunteers, new organisations, or existing organisations take up EAA movement building opportunities?
Some particular projects may be especially poorly suited to being conducted by volunteers, but for smaller, less ambitious, less risky projects, I currently believe that there are multiple opportunities for volunteers to contribute towards EAA movement building. General considerations for whether volunteers or employees of EAA organisations are better placed to take up EAA movement building opportunities are listed below.
Arguments that volunteers are better placed to take up EAA movement building opportunities:
I would guess that the next best use of time for somebody who does not work full time for an EAA organisation is, on average, less useful for animals than the next best use of time for somebody who already works full-time in an EAA organisation.
If a volunteer has sufficient sources of income from outside EAA and is willing to do unpaid EAA movement building projects, then the counterfactual financial cost for animals will be lower if these projects are completed by that volunteer.
The career capital gained by completing EAA movement building work may be more useful on the margin for volunteers than to those already working for EAA organisations. If they are seeking to work in EAA organisations in the future themselves, then this may help to increase the pool of good candidates for EAA roles.
By allowing volunteers to complete these tasks, the pool of people who could work on any one project is much larger. Some volunteers may have more relevant and applicable skills, knowledge, and connections for certain projects than do the employees of EAA organisations.
Arguments that EAA organisations (either new or existing) are better placed to take up EAA movement building opportunities:
Concentrating movement building services into a single organisation means that a single point of contact can accumulate relevant knowledge and more easily coordinate between a large number of community members.
I would guess that, on average, volunteers have less relevant and applicable skills, knowledge, and connections than employees of EAA organisations do.
I would guess that, on average, EAA organisations have better systems in place for providing support and feedback on projects than volunteers would have access to.
I would guess that, on average, employees of EAA organisations are more likely to be well integrated into the existing EAA community, and more likely to be attentive to the risks of doing some of these projects badly.
If a project ends up requiring more time input than is initially expected, I would guess that, on average, a volunteer is more likely to leave the project uncompleted (and the time input therefore be wasted) than are the employees of existing EAA organisations.
I would guess that, on average, volunteers are more vulnerable to value drift than are those already working for EAA organisations; this suggests that any valuable career capital accrued from working on the projects is less likely to be used for altruistic purposes if the projects are done by volunteers.
If the volunteers are managed by existing EAA organisations, this may take up time and resources that could have been used more productively elsewhere (perhaps just by doing the projects directly).
If opportunities are to be taken up by employees of organisations rather than volunteers, it is also important to consider whether existing organisations or new, targeted organisations are better placed to do this. This question has some urgency given that Charity Entrepreneurship has recommended a new movement building organisation focused on talent creation (as well as a new organisation focused on prioritising and coordinating EAA research) be founded by the individuals attending their incubation program this Summer. My current guess is that existing EAA organisations would be better placed to take up most EAA movement building opportunities (such as work supporting coordination or prioritisation between those working on similar problems, especially regarding EAA research), but that there are some exceptions to this (such as founding a new organisation to focus on providing careers services). General considerations for whether existing EAA organisations or new, targeted organisations are better placed to take up EAA movement building opportunities are listed below.
Arguments suggesting that existing organisations are better placed to take up EAA movement building opportunities:
Setting up new organisations requires large resource inputs for operations tasks such as charity registration, accounting, and hiring. If existing organisations take up opportunities for EAA movement building, some of these costs can be avoided.
Existing organisations are likely to have more expertise, knowledge, and connections within EAA that will support them to complete EAA movement building tasks successfully.
Existing organisations may have more secure funding and possibly greater resources overall.
Existing organisations may have a greater ability to pivot away from a project if it turns out to be unsuccessful or intractable.
Arguments suggesting that new organisations are better placed to take up EAA movement building opportunities:
The employees of new organisations can specialise very deeply on specific tasks and so can build up relevant skills, knowledge, and connections. Hiring can also be more specifically targeted to optimise for the skills, knowledge, and connections that will be most useful for movement building work.
Individuals who are well-placed to work on particular EAA movement building opportunities can start doing so independently (or perhaps with the support of Charity Entrepreneurship) and don’t need to convince existing organisations that those opportunities are worth prioritising. Similarly, they don’t need to ensure that they are hired by existing organisations.
Having more targeted organisations that focus specifically on EAA movement building make it easier to fund this work because there will be less concern about fungibility.
If you are interested in taking on any of these opportunities, I’d be happy to chat further; add a comment to this post or contact me directly at email@example.com if you would like to arrange a time for a call.
I would especially welcome feedback on the idea of starting an EAA podcast, as it is quite likely that I will start to do this within the next few months.
I will also start a comments thread below, so that people can comment on there if they are intending to look into or start one of the projects listed here.
 Note that for aspiring EAs who agree that interventions that affect the long-term future should be prioritised, as I do, then focusing on animal advocacy can be justified by a concern about the risk of astronomical suffering (s-risk, itself a form of x-risk) in the far future, and the potential to reduce s-risk through moral circle expansion.
 Not all movement building work by these groups has focused on outreach related to research findings. See, for example, ACE’s EAA Fund; the last round was explicitly focused on capacity building.
 Note that ACE has organised two events focused on effectiveness.
 I couldn’t easily find the most recent list. Several other grants listed as affecting the “Effective Altruism Community” could plausibly support EAA.
 In 2018, rated-100 and rated-10 plan changes made up 73% of 80,000 Hours’ self-reported impact through impact-adjusted significant plan changes, if the results of negative changes are excluded.
 These two questions aren’t displayed publicly on the directory, but are included on the form through which individuals join. The question of most interest asked was “Would you find it helpful for someone with several years experience in the effective animal advocacy community to reach out to discuss your career plans with you?” 16 (38%) said this was “Unlikely to be much help,” 10 (24%) said “Possibly helpful later on, but I wouldn’t prioritise making time for this in the near future, e.g. in the next three months,” and 8 (19%) said “Likely to be somewhat helpful.” Note that most of the respondents are involved in a formal capacity already with an EAA organisation, so this hasn’t captured many talented people hoping to move into the space, or people in other roles that may benefit EAA (such as by earning to give, or by working in policy roles).
 This was at an event I ran in London, 16th May, 2019. In response to a question about whether The Humane League specifically or EAA more widely was lacking specific skills, David Coman-Hidy suggested that “the biggest issue overall… is [that] the movement in general is very, very young.” Despite emphasising some positives of this, David noted that “it means a lack of experience working in a professional environment, a lack of management experience.” Andrea Gunn agreed that management experience is “one of the biggest challenges,” and noted that “we see a lot of organisations struggling… and it seems like the lack of management experience might be what runs them into the ground.”
 There is some overlap with the 31 vacancies that I counted at THL, GFI, and AE. The rest are mostly for roles at organisations focused on developing cell-based meat or innovative forms of plant-based foods. There were only a small number of roles advertised at other campaigning organisations, which I suspect is because 80,000 Hours does not list them, rather than because they do not exist. Note that I searched for this information on the 13th of May, so this may be slightly out of date by the time of posting.
 I am less than 60% confident in this judgement, however. Others have different perspectives.
 1 represents “low promisingness” and 4 represents “highest promisingness.” For any one possible intervention, the highest weighted average score was 3.0, the lowest was 1.5, and the mean was 2.2.
 I’m not including here acceptance of it’s conclusions. If I included this, it would shoot higher up the list. But my guess is that working directly on this isn’t very tractable.
 Individuals that I know of who are doing this kind of work include Brian Tse in China, Alex Ivanov in Russia, Wanyi Zeng in Singapore, Kate Verdalyn Lupango in the Philippines. I haven’t asked these individuals if they have ideas about what help they need, however, and I am sure that there are many other people doing similar work elsewhere.
 This could involve running surveys. More conservatively, this could consist of some Googling and interviewing.