Sometimes it’s hard to listen to the self-serving hacks at the deceptive “Humane Society” of the United States (HSUS) jabber about how pure of heart they are. Despite earmarking less than one-half of one percent of its budget for funding hands-on pet shelters, HSUS often gets a free pass in media reports and in political circles. It’s enough to make us yearn for an impartial charity-rating service to judge just how virtuously the group deploys the donations reaped in its “19 dollars a month” TV ads.
Voilà! In its December 2009 Charity Rating Guide, the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) gives HSUS and its Humane Society Legislative Fund (formerly the Fund for Animals) an unimpressive “C-minus” grade. Unlike other ratings services whose judgments are easily manipulated, AIP is a fiercely independent nonprofit charity watchdog.

AIP based its grade largely on the percentage of HSUS’s money that it spends actually running its programs (which can be as little as 53 percent), and the amount of money it spends on fundraising (as much as $40 spent to generate every $100 donation). It also penalized HSUS for paying exorbitant salaries to its top executives (as high as $234,000), and for sitting on enormous cash reserves ($187 million in assets at the end of 2008).
We suspect HSUS’s grade would fall to an “F” if AIP tried to measure the chasm between what HSUS donors believe they’re funding and what the group actually spends its money on. While that’s a hard thing to quantify, the question of “What is a humane society, anyway” is certainly a reasonable one to ask.
Watch this space in the coming weeks as we prepare to make a more regular effort at unmasking one of the phoniest charities in America.