Dogfighting Stirs Fundraising Inquiry
On September 10, The Agitator posted Seizing the Moment to Raise Money, dealing with the fundraising of animal welfare organizations around the Vick dogfighting abomination.
The post included an analysis of the online fundraising efforts of animal welfare organizations prepared by Adam Church, an intern at Craver, Mathews, Smith & Company. The analysis gave kudos to HSUS and PETA.
Then The Agitator received the following anonymous email:
Hi, just wanted to comment on your recent blog post, “Seizing The Moment To Raise Money.” I'm surprised to see that the author of the article did not realize why the ASPCA did not fundraise as aggressively as HSUS and PETA. That would have made a much more interesting article!
I've been intrigued by this whole issue ever since finding out that my donation to HSUS to help the Vick dogs, was never actually going to help those dogs at all, or even be used to help stop dogfighting! I learned that the only organization actually involved with the Vick case, and actually helping the dogs, is the ASPCA. This meant that they weren't allowed to fundraise, or even talk about this case, without permission from the US Attorney. HSUS was actually kicked off the case, and PETA was never on the case at all. So thousands of donors donated to HSUS and PETA, thinking their money was going to help the Vick dogs. Turns out, only the ASPCA is actually involved, and they weren't allowed to ask for money for the case!
Also, funnily enough, HSUS and PETA both are telling people that the dogs should be euthanized, while the ASPCA, who actually has the dogs, is going to do behavior evaluations to see if any can be saved. It really opened my eyes about how people can be completely mislead into donating money. Those other two orgs might have done a great job at seizing the moment, and maybe that's okay since they probably have a ton of money to help other animal causes now – but still, seems a bit sneaky.
On their face, these comments, seemed more informed than might be expected of your average $25 donor! On the one hand, they raised plausible questions about the integrity of some fundraising conducted around the Vick situation. On the other hand, they smacked of an insider with an agenda.
So The Agitator asked each group to comment on their fundraising activities as related to Vick.
Here are the verbatim responses that each of the three organizations kindly and forthrightly provided. But before you turn to them, here's our take …
Conclusion #1: Anonymity sucks! We've said that before in The Agitator, and we'll say it again. On the one hand, how can we ignore the pointed criticism of a reader who seems to be knowledgeable and is raising an inherently troubling issue? And on the other, anonymity always itself sows doubts as to motivation. In this case, inquiring more deeply, it seems the facts and motivation of our commenter must be questioned. Should we have just ignored the email? We welcome your views.
Conclusion #2: This episode should warn all fundraisers — in case you need warning — NOT to skate close to the edge of the ice. Of course fundraisers should seize upon the visibility and emotion (be that anger, sympathy, guilt, whatever) of high profile events, from tsunamis to atrocities to political gaffes, to energize supporters and drive donations. At the same time, your approaches are being more and more closely scrutinized, as the public becomes more and more skeptical of all marketing, and the viral tools to “blow the whistle” on dubious practices are readily available and offer universal exposure. Don't mess around. Don't stretch the boundaries. There are plenty of good reasons for folks to donate to worthy causes.
Conclusion #3: Each of these organizations conducts significant activities in relation to dogfighting, and each responded in relevant ways specifically to the Vick matter. Are contributed funds being used exclusively to deal specifically with the Vick situation? It appears not. Are funds being used to support meaningful efforts to combat dogfighting. It appears yes, by each organization. . As we see it, in no case have donors been misled.
Read the responses and make your own call.
Roger & Tom