According to one nonprofit management expert, the Humane Society of the United States spends 70-75 cents of every dollar it raises via direct mail on more direct mail. It’s a factory fundraising outfit, despite HSUS’s promises to “rescue animals now.”
In fact, according to this expert, HSUS may lose money on direct mail. It’s not hard to see why.
We recently acquired a new membership packet from a donation made through HSUS’s website, where someone would likely go after seeing HSUS’s TV ad or if they received an unsolicited mailing (groups do sell mailing lists, after all). And it seems much of the initial donation from a monthly pledge was spent simply on gifts.
Inside the package were an HSUS jacket and a decal. (Sadly, we did not get a coffee mug, calendar, or tote bag. Yet.) There was a return envelope, but it was unclear what was supposed to be returned (another check, likely). And interestingly, the same message, “7 Steps to a Happier Pet,” appeared five times throughout the mailing.
Why would HSUS say this five times? It’s about accounting.
HSUS has a way of hiding how much it spends on direct mail from donors. HSUS includes “educational” messages on the backs of letters, on envelopes, and even on the t-shirt bag, which allows some of the costs to be counted as “program” spending and not overhead.
In practice, HSUS has classified tens of millions of dollars of fundraising as “program expenses,” making it look more efficient to donors. It’s something a number of charities do. This allows HSUS to say that it spends about 80% of its budget on programs, when in reality it’s more like 55%.
Based on the jacket cost, the printing costs, and the mailing cost, it’s likely that half of the $25 donation to HSUS was spent on the initial membership gift package. We’d guess that most of that $12.50, however, is written off as a “program expense” by HSUS.
Much of that initial $25, if not more, will likely be spent on future mailings; whether this trend keeps up over with other monthly donations is unknown. And the money HSUS has saved up over the years—well, $26 million of that is now in Caribbean hedge funds.
Wouldn’t it be nice if HSUS actually did more to save animals, instead of merely marketing itself as such a great group?