Whether you are new to animal advocacy and just getting started—or you’re a seasoned animal activist, it’s important that your advocacy efforts are as effective and impactful as possible to help animals in need. Since we all have time constraints, it’s critical that the time you give to animal advocacy is as productive as possible at reducing the suffering and misery of animals. Some advocacy methods are more effective done in organized groups, and others are fine to do independently, so you want to consider which activities are best suited for you, your skills, and your time available.
First you want to consider what types of animals you want to help—pets or companion animals, farm animals, wild animals, injured or orphaned animals, or animals used in research and/or entertainment. Also consider if you want to work with a particular charity, then research the charity to evaluate the charity’s effectiveness in helping animals. Try to choose an organization that is active in coordinating advocacy work for groups as well as individuals. Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) recommends advocating for farm animals because advocates can make significantly larger gains for animals and you will make a bigger impact on the largest group of animals that suffer. ACE suggests if your focus is to do the greatest good for animals—focusing on farm animal causes will ensure the greatest potential gains per hour spent. In addition, because of typically low donations given to farm animal charities, public outreach for farm animals is an especially effective way to help the largest group of animals.
One of the giants in animal advocacy work, Bruce Friedrich, wrote an article entitled, “Effective Advocacy: Stealing From the Corporate Playbook,” where he recommends that advocates read two books to be more effective in their advocacy work. The books are well-known bestsellers and classics in the business world, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey, and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. In his article, he highlights several key principles from these books that can be applied to activism for animals and points out why these principles are so important, in particular for animal advocacy. Friedrich also discusses some of the common pitfalls and mistakes we can make in advocating for animals that can hurt the cause and how to avoid them. He also co-wrote the book, The Animal Activist’s Handbook, with Matt Ball, as a practical guide to being the most effective advocate for animals you can be. PETA has also published a handbook on strategies for effective advocacy that is a helpful resource.
Today animal advocates are up against big corporations, big industry, big money, and big media, so now more than ever animals need your help. Remember, it’s the individual who can make the greatest difference in changing the world, so your actions and activism do matter and they will make a difference in reducing their suffering.
Effective Methods of Animal Advocacy
Here are some of the most effective methods of advocating for animals. They are not ranked in any particular order of impact, but only alphabetically. Each of these strategies are considered highly effective and can be combined with other methods for greater impact. Choose the ones that work best for you.
Boycotts: Historically boycotts have been extremely effective in bringing about progressive social change. Impacting a business’s bottom line gets their attention. Every time you go shopping you are essentially voting with your pocketbook. Boycotts have been very effective at reducing cruelty for animals including—getting pet stores to stop selling puppy mill dogs, getting retail stores to stop selling fur clothing, and influencing clothing brands to stop using fur. Boycotts are usually organized and involve a clear set of demands that indicate the circumstances the boycott would end. They can be conducted by a group of individuals or through an organization that refuses to buy certain products or do business with certain companies in protest of their policies. People who practice veganism can be an example of boycotting animal agriculture. These organizations are active in organizing boycotts: Ethical Consumer, PETA, Companion Animals Protection Society (CAPS), and many more.
Changing Your Diet: One of the absolute biggest impacts and most effective ways you can help the largest number of animals today is by not eating animal products and transitioning to a plant-based, whole foods vegan diet. Avoiding and not purchasing animal products directly reduces animals’ suffering, exploitation and cruelty—everywhere. Becoming a vegetarian is a step in the right direction, but still exploits and causes suffering for dairy cows, goats and egg-laying hens. Remember, all living creatures deserve to live without pain and suffering inflicted onto them every day of their lives; they deserve to live exhibiting their natural behaviors; and deserve not to be slaughtered as a baby or teenager. Learn more about veganism, Go vegan!
Demonstrations: Demonstrations work well to bring greater awareness to the general public about a particular animal cruelty issue. This method is a good opportunity to educate, handout information, and gather signatures for petitions. Protests work to embarrass a business or an organization that is considered guilty of an animal cruelty issue, and demonstrations can also attract media attention and reporting on the issue for greater exposure. Demonstrations can range from a small group of individuals holding signs in front of a store or business to a larger more organized protest. Remember when protesting, not to offend the people that you are seeking to gain support from.
Donating: Animal protection organizations need your financial support! Most rely 100% on donations. If you want to be most effective, identify an organization to donate to, and sign up for a monthly automatic payment plan. That way they can count on your giving every month and plan their campaigns more effectively. Double the power of your donation and give during a matching gift campaign. Matching campaigns can make a significant impact for charities so they can be more effective in their work. Remember matching campaigns have deadline dates.
Email Campaigns: Join email campaigns! This is an easy way to really impact animals. These campaigns are usually orchestrated through animal welfare organizations like HSUS (often called “Action Alerts”), and involve pre-written email letters that protest animal cruelty or injustice. Addresses are usually provided, and all you have to do is “personalize” the pre-written email and click “Send.” Often non-personalized emails or letters are not counted or accepted, and can get disqualified, so be sure to take a little time to make your message unique to you, even if it is very short. You can even change the headline and first couple sentences to tweak the message. Always be polite and civil in your messages.
Everyday Actions: You can be an effective animal advocate everyday—wherever you go—by wearing T-shirts, pins and adding a bumper sticker to your car. A variety of animal welfare and vegan organizations offer great T-shirts and sweatshirts for sale with good graphics and messages. These can be good conversation starters wherever you go, too. To be even more effective, carry literature with you so you can follow up a good conversation with some information that the person can read later.
Grassroots Political Campaigning: You can encourage the passage of bills that would benefit animals or defeat bills that would harm animals—through grassroots campaigns that involve the participation of many interested individuals. This can be done often at a local or regional level or through animal welfare organizations.
Humane Education: Humane education requires teaching and public speaking skills and experience. If you have the skills, are a teacher, or know teachers, you can contact them to speak in their classroom or speak at organized events sponsored by an animal protection organization. There are many resources for teaching humane education and humane living to a variety of audiences including elementary schools, junior high and high schools, college classes and events, conference programs, institutions, non-profits, churches, organized groups and clubs. There are also prepared lesson plans, activities and resources already available for teaching children and people of all ages. Three organizations that provide resources for teaching humane education include: Institute for Humane Education, Humane Society for Parents and Educators, American Humane and Ethical Choices Program.
Leafleting: Leafleting is considered a highly effective, cost-effective and easy method of outreach, particularly for farm animal literature and vegan/vegetarian literature. Leafleting can be done alone or in groups, on sidewalks, college campuses, shopping centers, transit bus terminals and stations, in front of subway stations, or in front of big box stores. You can get involved with a leafleting campaign by contacting a charity organization that offers leaflets and you can order your own to distribute independently, or work with an organized group to distribute them. Nonprofits that actively leaflet all over the U.S. are Vegan Outreach, FARM-USA, Mercy for Animals and The Humane League. The Vegan Outreach “Adopt A College” website is a valuable source of information if you’re interested in leafleting colleges, which are considered a high impact target. See Vegan Outreach’s “Tips” page that provides great advice on how to be more effective with leafleting.
Letter-Writing Campaigns: Letters are a highly effective and personal way to get your message across to decision makers in government, industry and the media. Sending a personal letter can be very impactful to encourage action as well as changes in policy. You can participate in coordinated online campaigns by nonprofits (often through “Action Alerts”) or write and send your own personalized letter that addresses your animal welfare concern, sending them to government officials, the editor of a local or national newspaper, or any pertinent media publication. Nonprofits will often have coordinated letter-writing campaigns and will request that individuals personalize their suggested “form” letters before sending them to the target person online. Campaign in World Farming offers some great tips for effective letter writing. Remember to be professional in crafting your message to deliver the best results, as you can do more harm than good if your efforts aren’t courteous and polite.
Lobbying Politicians: Many animal welfare organizations are working hard on Capital Hill to write bills, find co-sponsors for bills, get specific legislation passed, and explain how they think the officials should vote and why specific animal welfare legislation would benefit animals. These organizations reach out to members and people signed up to receive their newsletters and Action Alerts, to invite you to sign a petition, send a letter, or make a phone call to make their efforts more successful and influential.
Online Veg Ad Campaigns: Running ads on Facebook and search engines can be a cost-effective way to encourage taking an action, by linking to a video or resource guide. Ads can also prompt click-throughs to an external website that features videos of farm animals in factory farms, and offer links to vegan/vegetarian resources and starter kits. This method of outreach requires skill and experience in producing and running ads, or you can join and support organizations already experienced in running online advertising campaigns. Two top organizations that run effective ad campaigns are The Humane League and Mercy For Animals (MFA). To help them, you can donate to them to support their advertising efforts or you can reach out and contact the organization directly to learn more about how to be effective in your efforts. Volunteers should work with groups already engaged in ad campaigns in order to learn.
Pay-Per-View Video Outreach (PPV): In this form of outreach, organizations and volunteers bring computer laptops, tablets and/or video equipment along with headphones for each device, to high traffic areas and pay passers-by $1 to view short videos of undercover investigations of factory farms to witness the cruel, inhumane treatment of farm animals and industrial animal agriculture. Sometimes there are viewing stations where individuals view the video in isolation on a laptop with headphones. Afterwards, volunteers handout resources and literature to support making dietary changes. This method can be combined with “Tabling” to be more effective. You can have Sign-Up sheets to gather names and email addresses to follow-up afterwards. An example is Farm Animal Rights Movement’s (FARM) “10 Billion Lives” tour. Vegfund also has a very useful guide for this form of outreach.
Petitioning: Online petitions do work! Petitions are often orchestrated efforts by animal welfare nonprofit groups and can be called “Action Alerts!” There are countless victories and successes where petitions have worked as the primary method of animal advocacy, or in conjunction with direct outreach. The key is to add your personal comment in the comment section and don’t remain anonymous! Be aware that many legislators will dismiss anonymous signatures or not count them. Sometimes petitions are tossed out altogether due to too many anonymous signatures. You can sign a petition or start a new petition. The best legitimate animal welfare petition sites are Change.org, Causes.com, Avaaz.org, Care2 and PETA. Be careful of petition sites that have been put into question, such as AnimalPetitions.org, Petitionhub, yousignanimals.org, yousign.org and others. And make sure that the petition is being sent to a legitimate person of influence that is designated in the petition. You can sign up for the following Action Alerts: PETA, Animal Petitions at Change, The Animal Rescue Site, Care2 and Causes.com.
Phone Calling Campaigns: This is a very powerful method for impacting change. You can join one of the many coordinated phone campaigns sponsored by animal welfare organizations such as HSUS and PETA, or independently call companies protesting against animal cruelty and injustice. Coordinated campaigns come through emails by the organizations providing information about the issue, and request that you make a short, polite phone call to your state or federal elected officials. They often provide the telephone numbers to the House or Senate switchboard and you only need to know the name of your elected officials. The organization will often provide you with a short script of what to say making the call easier.
Protesting: These are usually organized marches or coordinated actions with large groups of people objecting to a variety of ways animals are mistreated for food, fur, entertainment, etc. Join an organized protest through a group that conducts them regularly. They will need to attain proper city permissions prior to the protest. The message needs to be consistent and organized, and well planned beforehand. Signs can be made to be more effective.
Reach Out and Educate. Join an organization’s outreach efforts that are planned and scheduled several times a year and distribute literature in your community about animal agriculture, factory farming, or veganism. You can sign up with FARM’s Compassionate Activist Network (CAN) and coordinate outreach activities in your community, or join several opportunities scheduled every year with flexible timelines. Individuals and small groups are encouraged. See their “Event Directory” to find an event near you and see the hundreds of activities in all 50 states and countries around the world. For individuals or small groups that want to distribute materials, you can order “Compassionate Eating” brochures from Vegan Outreach. Mercy For Animals (MFA) offers their “Fresh” 8-page booklets about the cruelty of factory farms and tips on switching to a plant-based diet. MFA also offers their brochure entitled, “Vegetarian Eating: Healthy, Humane, and Sustainable” that you can order online and distribute.
Share The “10 Billion Lives” Video: Sharing this one video and doing this one simple action will have a big impact. Share the 4-minute video “10 Billion Lives” with friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Google Plus or via email—and you will raise awareness about the suffering of farm animals today for food. After viewing the video, ask viewers to consider transitioning to a plant-based diet.
Share on Social Media: Social media is a powerful tool for influencing and sharing. Spread the word about helping animals by sharing videos, images, photos and information on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Google Plus accounts. Ask friends and family to share and repost to their accounts as well.
Volunteer for an Animal Advocacy Organization: Consider what types of animals you want to help and join a nonprofit organization that is reputable and highly effective in their efforts. Farm animal charities and organizations can make the biggest difference for animals, because they impact the largest group of animals that experience extreme cruelty. For farm animals, Animal Charity Evaluators gives the highest rankings to Mercy For Animals (MFA), The Humane League, Animal Equality International (AEI), Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), Vegan Outreach (VO), The Humane Society of the U.S.’s Farm Animal Protection Campaign (FAPC), and the Albert Schweitzer Foundation.
Undercover Investigations: Watch the footage of undercover factory farm and farm animal investigations taken by journalists, reporters, and videographers that work undercover in animal agriculture and secretly record the conditions and cruelty they see animals living with. Learn and help raise awareness by sharing these videos on social media and ask people to do the same.
Veg Starter Guide Stands: Organizations and individuals distribute Veg Starter Guides and other literature using news racks or by placing the stacks of the literature in coffee shops and other businesses that allow this. Individuals in the area then have immediate access to the guides’ information.
Good Luck! The animals need you!
Photo credit: Hannah Gregus, Photographer. She visits slaughterhouses weekly and is the founder of the Facebook page Sympathy at Slaughter, where she posts powerful photos and footage from her slaughterhouse vigils. You can help support her work here.