Updated August 27, 2021
Education is a signature component of many farmed animal sanctuaries’ operations, and for good reason: the number of farmed animals who find safe homes at sanctuaries worldwide is nowhere close to the number of animals who find themselves in non-compassionate or dangerous situations. Education and storytelling about the plight of the residents and those like them provides a platform to encourage more humans to make choices that could help spare more animals from exploitation. And when sanctuaries are transparent and accurate about how they conduct their mission, they can maintain public support and trust for years to come.
With these crucial organizational elements in mind, the importance of each animal sanctuary’s commitment to sharing accurate information must be considered.
A Sanctuary’s Reputation Depends On Honesty
By virtue of their non-profit nature (whether formally incorporated or not), animal sanctuaries that rely on the public for support must maintain a positive perception in their community so that individuals feel good about contributing to the sanctuary, either through donations or volunteerism. Often, animal sanctuaries are given the benefit of the doubt that they are reputable by the public; after all, the well-being of the residents is usually evident to visitors who see them, and engaging social media posts are quick to demonstrate the ostensibly great things happening at many sanctuaries to sympathetic members of the public.
However, if an animal sanctuary is found to be spreading inaccurate or false stories, either about individual residents, their care, or their history, the response from the community could potentially cause a cascade of backlash that may even threaten the continued operation of the organization, depending on how significant the inaccuracy was. False claims could even lead to legal retribution by organizations or individuals who feel like they’ve been maligned by an animal sanctuary sharing critical facts that turn out to be less-than-factual.
While not an endemic issue, there have been a number of prominent occasions when farmed animal sanctuaries and animal rescues have been caught providing false information to the public. Beyond the damage caused to the individual organizations, each of these occurrences could contribute to skepticism towards the farmed animal sanctuary movement as a whole in the eyes of the public. For this reason, every sanctuary should commit to accuracy and transparency whenever possible.
As a short example, if a resident did not come from a factory farm, do not imply that they did! It’s more than likely that there are many individuals just like them that you can advocate for without stretching the truth; and the resident has their own, equally enlightening story to tell, perhaps about a different, less-often considered form of harm against their species.
As another example, if your sanctuary was not significantly involved in the rescue effort of a current resident, do not position your organization’s role in an inaccurate light! Commitment to lifelong compassionate care is an admirable undertaking, and does not need additional embellishment that could permanently sour relations with supportive community members.
Think About What You Share (And Don’t)
When you share stories about residents, especially if you’re raising funds specifically for them, providing transparent follow-ups to those who donated to the cause is an important component of donor stewardship. Even if things didn’t go as you had hoped, when the public receives honest updates on how things turn out, they are more likely to trust your organization due to your willingness to be upfront. If, for instance, a resident needed a critical operation and ended up passing away in surgery, an organization should be honest about what happened and why. A sanctuary risks losing the public’s trust if somebody outside of the organization reveals unhappy news about a beloved resident that was seemingly hidden from view.
A Cheerful Conclusion?
Sanctuaries should give honest updates if well-publicized feel-good care solutions turn out to not be as effective as originally portrayed. Sanctuaries and compassionate caregivers worldwide often get unsolicited care advice from members of the public who saw a care or organizational solution proudly displayed by a different sanctuary’s social media page, without the fuller picture of the potential downsides, side-effects, or later modifications to these novel fixes. This happens occasionally online in the case of larger residents with disabilities who are outfitted with sleek mobility devices that sometimes end up causing as many health issues as caregivers had hoped to solve; this isn’t to say that these devices do not work! Prosthetic solutions can be successful, but these often require time and ongoing work before lasting progress is achieved, something that is sometimes not communicated in the soundbyte of a social media post.
Ultimately, the farmed animal sanctuary movement depends on each and every organization to commit to a high standard of honest information sharing (especially in our highly connected online world) to maintain the integrity and positive perception of the movement as a collective.
The Facts Speak For Themselves
The realities of animal agriculture are often overwhelming and quite grim, especially to people in the farmed animal sanctuary movement who work with the affected species each day. The staggering scale of the issues involved are stark and need no embellishment. There is no reason to exaggerate any numbers or standard practices in animal agriculture; by using incorrect or inaccurate information as a part of one’s educational programs, a sanctuary risks losing the support or attention from more skeptical members of the public who may be looking for a reason to distrust their message and mission.
Avoiding Unverified Claims
When promoting alternatives to animal products or animal exploitation, always be as truthful and accurate as possible, especially if it pertains to human health. If a sanctuary representative is endorsing or promoting products or information based on contested or purely anecdotal data, they should be sure to present it as a personal endorsement rather than the sanctuary’s position. Like sharing inaccurate facts about animal agriculture, sharing flimsy information about alternatives to using animals or what comes from them can alienate those who most need to hear a sanctuary’s compassionate message!
One way to ensure good data is being shared with your audience and visitors is to provide literature from reliable sources. There are many organizations putting out highly vetted information, both about animal agriculture and compassionate alternatives, in affordable, well-produced brochures and booklets that visitors can peruse and bring to their communities. Vegfund offers a grant that could potentially be put towards obtaining great materials for your sanctuary!
If you are raising funds for a specific use at your sanctuary, it’s important to give an explanation for where those funds are specifically going, especially if it is a large amount. Many individuals have a very limited understanding of the costs involved in lifelong compassionate care and sanctuary operation (especially compared to agricultural operations), and seeing the numbers broken down can help create both more trust for your organization and more support from a better-informed public. In addition, all 501(c)(3) nonprofits in the United States must publicly disclose their Form 990 (income and expenses), and making this form easy to find with clear explanations can help foster more trust in your organization. Some organizations post their significant veterinary expenses directly on their website. While this level of disclosure is not required, it is one model of providing transparency to anyone who wants to know where their dollar might go!
One easy way to demonstrate your organization’s commitment to financial transparency is to obtain Guidestar’s Seal of Transparency and displaying it on your sanctuary’s website! If you’re already committed to honest financial disclosure, getting the seal is simple.