Funding for Animal & Environmental Causes Has Grown by $10 Billion in 10 Years

Photo Credit: Caroline Feeny

A report finds more donors giving more money to animal and environmental causes—though this funding is still just 3.4% of total giving. We spoke with author Jamie DeLeeuw about what she found, and what it means for the public and animal orgs.

Over the last decade, funding for animal and environmental causes has grown by $10 billion—from $6.15 billion in 2010 to $16.14 billion in 2020. But it’s still just 3.4% of total giving. 

These figures were noted by Jamie DeLeeuw, Human Animal Support Services’s director of evaluation and impact, in One Health and Animal Protection Philanthropy: A Growing Sub-Sector—a piece she wrote for the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy.

Jamie’s piece first came out in January. We’re highlighting it now, because heading into prime fundraising season for nonprofit organizations is a great time to talk to Jamie about how her findings are important and applicable to the public and animal organizations alike. We spoke with Jamie by email for this Q&A. 

HASS: What got you interested in looking at the growth in funding for animal causes?

Jamie DeLeeuw: At my former job at Grand Valley State University’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy, we were asked to ponder potential trends in philanthropy. 

Anecdotally when reading newsletters from animal protection organizations such as Mercy for Animals, there seemed to be more articles on the intersection between human, animal, and environmental issues. For instance, one issue contained an article on global warming related to factory farming, and a second article on intersectionality—how people of color disproportionately work at and live near factory farms. 

A couple years earlier when preparing a talk on factory farming and its impact on water pollution and climate change, I learned about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and how many of them pertain to animal and environmental well-being. Finally, I noticed friends I had known for decades, converting to vegetarianism or veganism.

What were the main questions you set out to answer? Did you encounter any surprises?

Jamie says she was looking into two main questions:

  • From 2010 to 2020 (and adjusting for inflation), has animal protection philanthropy grown? 
  • Are more grantmaking dollars going towards the protection of animals used for food?

She encountered three big surprises:

  • I found that it was difficult to examine giving to environmental and animal causes separately due to the IRS’s coding system; they share a National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities code. Additionally, I couldn’t tease apart the giving data within animal welfare, such as companion animals vs. animals used for food.
  • I was pleasantly surprised to find that the growth in giving to environmental and animal organizations tripled that of human-centric recipient organizations from 2010 to 2020. That being said, financial support for environmental and animal U.S. charities is very low—only 3.4% of total giving in 2020.
  • The recent creation of the Animal Funding Atlas—an interactive tool to monitor opportunities for and the impact of animal protection philanthropy—provides a peek into the priorities of participating grantmakers. For example, in 2010, only one $5,000 grant focused on the protection of animals used for food. By 2020, 77% of grantmaking dollars on Animal Funding Atlas went towards protecting animals used for food.

Do you think it’s fair to say that the amount of money going toward animal causes is growing, because people and institutions are becoming more concerned about animal protection and environmental welfare? Does this correspond to attitudinal changes, do you think?

Most likely, and that could be driven by increased understanding of food production and climate change. For instance, in 2017 Packaged Facts found that “well over half” of respondents indicated increased concern about the treatment of animals in the food supply then, compared to several years earlier. 

Pew Research Center in 2020 found that concern for global warming increased from 37% agreeing climate change is a serious problem in 2010, to 53% in 2020. 

If you’re asking whether people’s values correlate with their donations, Sneddon, Evers, and Lee found in 2020 that controlling for key demographic variables, as empathic concern for the welfare of animals increased, the likelihood of donating to animal welfare charities significantly increased. Similarly, as concern for the preservation of the natural environment increased, the likelihood of donating to environmental charities significantly increased.

Your blog took an interesting, and profound, turn at the end—finding that much of the concern about, and funding for, animal welfare and environmental welfare stems from concern about human health. In other words, that if animals and the environment aren’t healthy, then we aren’t healthy. 

Can you talk a little bit about this One Health approach—and why it matters both from a funding perspective, and from more of an existential perspective?

I wish each of the contributing factors’ influence could be measured, but unfortunately I don’t think that is possible. 

From a funding perspective, a One Health approach is important because it aims to protect the health of humans, animals, and the environment. In particular, illness spread by our food system to humans is a primary concern of public health officials. Ultimately funders want their efforts to be impactful and increase well-being. 

On the companion animal side, One Health promotes the physical and mental health of pets and their people, and strengthens the human-pet bond, which can help reduce existential anxiety. 

People strive to find meaning in life, and actively considering the welfare of others is one way to pursue this. 

Finally, eventually we will literally no longer exist on this planet if we do not take care of it.

What are the big lessons here for animal organizations? 

I think animal protection organizations should feel hopeful of the trend we’re seeing of a continued small increase in annual giving donations to animal and environmental causes. The largest source of charitable giving is individual donations; thus, I recommend that organizations learn about their community’s animal-related needs and values and work towards promoting responsive programs and policies to maintain or increase donations by community members. 

Regarding grants awarded by Animal Funding Atlas participants, funding tripled from 2010 to 2020! In 2020-2021, over 75% of award money on the Animal Funding Atlas was characterized as going towards Education/Awareness, composed of the following subcategories: Advocacy Training, Awareness Campaign, Corporate Outreach, Staff Development, Research, University Program, Humane Education, and Other. 

Including Education/Awareness activities in project proposals may be useful for securing grant funding. 

I would also advise animal protection organizations to visit the Atlas and familiarize themselves with the types of projects funded by different foundations to find the best alignment with their work.

How about for the public?

While it is uplifting that animal and environmental protection philanthropy is growing, more attention to this area is needed, as it currently comprises only 3.4% of total giving to U.S. charities (in 2021). 

Life on earth is interconnected. Consider supporting policies that help people, animals, and the environment thrive.

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