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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Lessons We Learned in 2020


According to our June 2020 survey of Star rated nonprofits, 72% of organizations have suffered financially due to the pandemic. Additionally, 54% of respondents have cut back on program services due to the pandemic/economic shutdown. To overcome this disruption and to continue to serve communities, many nonprofits are adapting and innovating.

Today, we are honored to share a first-hand account of what innovation and adaptation look like during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crisis from the 4-Star rated nonprofit, Rise for Animals.

This year’s scramble for a COVID-19 vaccine has taught us that animal testing requirements have traditionally slowed down efforts to produce cures for emergent human diseases. With the world’s toes tapping in anticipation of an end to the pandemic, many institutions moved their research protocols to include more effective human trials much sooner than normal. I’m hopeful the pandemic will lead to a new age of alternatives to animal experimentation—and to much quicker development of treatments for diseases ranging from COVID to cancer. 

Beyond the pandemic causing a fundamental change to the necessity of animal experimentation, my organization, Rise for Animals, has also had to adapt and change to meet the challenges of our time. Here are some of the things I’ve learned while leading our animal rights advocacy organization through the pandemic:


It’s most important to foster a great team and to treat every person—staff and supporter—with compassion and respect.


In 2020, we at Rise for Animals made important decisions to empower our team through support of their mental health and wellbeing. This year was our first full year of implementing our unlimited paid time off policy and a living-wage salary floor. This, I believe, helped sustain our team through a scary, uncertain time. Through it all, we shared our collective paranoia on our COVID-19 Slack channel, we played many games of “One Night Werewolf” over Zoom, and we adapted as only a tight, trusting team could. In 2021, we’ll offer even more services to our staff to address mental health issues related to the pandemic and the “compassion fatigue” experienced when exposed to animal suffering day after day. 


Supporters of the mission are everywhere and more eager than ever to support the causes they care about. 


Through all the confusion and drama of this year, our supporters—new and old—demonstrated their commitment to our mission through their actions on petitions, their participation in our programs, and through their generous donations. In hard times, good people want to exert some positive influence on the world. I am filled with immense gratitude for the amazing supporters who stuck by our side and to our new activists who chose to support our organization for the first time.  


With some creativity, we could still get a lot of stuff done despite the pandemic.  


Some things became much harder for advocacy organizations like ours during the pandemic. It was no longer safe to hold in-person grassroots actions with advocates around the country. It was no longer safe to fly to conferences, network with donors, or meet new partners in person. It was much harder to get earned media for the work we do. But by being a flexible, adaptable organization, we were able to:


  • Complete a major rebrand of our organization, then the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, to become Rise for Animals

  • Launch an incredible new database called “ARLO” that will transform the way advocates research and learn about animal experimentation;

  • Build out the capacity of our grassroots organizers around the country;

  • File petitions and lawsuits to protect primates and octopus from mistreatment; 

  • Secure substantial support for post-research adoption bills in Congress;

  • And rescue dogs like Flakita from her life in a lab. 


Love will win.


This unique year—with its pandemic and presidential election politics—may feel like it has frayed the very fabric of our society. But maybe we can view our 2020 experiences through a lens of opportunity. I believe people are desperate to feel a sense of community, and to demonstrate love, and to create positive change in the world. Through everything this year, I’ve never been more confident in the power of people to create change, to take on huge special interests, and to fight in solidarity for those without a voice. 


At Rise for Animals, we know hastening the shift to human-relevant alternatives to animal experimentation will annually save hundreds of millions of animal lives and countless human lives. We’re on the cusp of victory. Rise for Animals has set an ambitious goal of ending animal experimentation in our lifetime and I truly believe we can achieve that goal. 


Your organization can complete its mission too, despite our ever-changing world. Love and light will win—you just need a little support and a commitment to adapting to a world nobody can predict. 


Written by Nathan Herschler, Executive Director of Rise for Animals, a national animal rights organization on a mission to end animal experimentation in our lifetime. Join them in their mission and sign up to stay connected at riseforanimals.org today. 


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