Charity Navigator Issues ‘Donor Advisory’ for Humane Society of the United States

10:15AM Aug 12, 2014
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Leading nonprofit evaluation firm revokes rating in response to multimillion-dollar settlement in circus animal dispute.

Charity Navigator, a respected source of information on charitable organizations, has revoked the rating for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and issued a "donor advisory" for the organization, which has often tangled with farmers over livestock practices.

According to Charity Navigator's website, the decision was due to the Humane Society's involvement in a long-running lawsuit with Feld Entertainment, the operator of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Animal rights group, including the Fund for Animals which later merged with the Humane Society, had sued Feld, saying that the circus abused its elephants.

The animal rights groups lost the case in 2014 after it turned out that a key witness was not reliable. Feld countersued, winning a $15.75 million settlement from the Humane Society and its co-plaintiffs. Despite statements by the Humane Society leadership that insurance would cover the costs of the settlement, that did not happen, leaving the organization's on the hook for the full settlement amount.

As a result, the Humane Society was tagged with a "donor advisory" and lost its star rating, which had fallen in recent years to high overhead and fundraising costs. It disagreed publicly with the decision in a statement on its website, saying:

"Charity evaluation is complex work, and in many cases the watchdog groups do not seem to understand the dynamics of social reform or the operations of advocacy organizations working in the nonprofit sector. They often rely on strictly numerical measures that do not capture either efficiency or effectiveness or the degree of difficulty of the work they engage in. That’s the case with Charity Navigator, which recently issued a factually incorrect "donor advisory" for The HSUS that had nothing to do with financial metrics, governance, transparency, or the impact and effectiveness of our work to protect animals. The advisory came solely as a result of a legal settlement."