What began as a hobby reaching a few hundred people per year has grown into a robust organization that is reaching hundreds of thousands of people and empowering the next generation of leaders.
I never set out to found a national non-profit.
I had been passionate about animals all my life, so when I went to college the first thing I did was join the animal advocacy student group on campus. It was there that I learned about factory farming - the largest source of animal suffering on the planet. It was also there that I cut my teeth as an activist, handing out leaflets and food samples, planning events, and recruiting new members.
When I graduated, I knew that ending factory farming was my life’s work, but I didn’t expect it to be my career. I had majored in psychology, so I took a job working with children with autism. I also wanted to volunteer to help animals, but I couldn’t figure out the best use of my time. Conducting activism felt daunting enough when my world was a college campus, so once I graduated and my world was the actual world, I felt completely overwhelmed.
Then I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Suddenly it seemed so clear to me that by focusing on factory farming solely as an animal rights issue, we were missing opportunities to connect with huge swaths of the general public. Even if people don’t care about animals, if they care about the environment, social justice, or even just their own personal health, they DO care about factory farming—they just don’t know it yet. (And in fact, I’ve found that regardless of whether an audience is comprised of environmentalists or public health students, in post-presentation surveys nearly everyone says they were moved most by animal suffering, even if they don’t conceive of themselves as “animal people.”)
I also realized that factory farming lies at the crux of the most critical problems facing our world today, and that it’s perhaps the only issue that everyday people have direct control over. I felt called to share this information with as many people as possible, so I put together a presentation largely based on the facts cited in Eating Animals. I started speaking to whatever audiences I could gain access to, primarily student co-ops and student groups at my alma mater, UC Berkeley.
After every presentation, I would ask audience members if they could connect me with any other student groups or classes. In this way, each presentation led to several other presentations, which led to even more presentations. Once I realized that my vision and message were resonating, I decided to find a fiscal sponsor so that we could legally call ourselves a non-profit and accept donations, without going through the difficult bureaucracy of incorporating a formal non-profit.
Two years later, a friend of mine told me about an opportunity to table at an Earth Day event sponsored by BART, the San Francisco subway system. I signed up to table, eager for any possible opportunity to reach the public with this critical information. Then I learned that all participating non-profits would be eligible to compete to win $40,000 worth of advertising on BART. I posted on every animal advocacy group and social media page I could think of, and we won the contest!
That same year, a different friend introduced me to a donor who agreed to quintuple our budget from $2,000 to $10,000. I had been paying for most of our minimal expenses out of pocket, so this was more money than I had dreamed of. Between the publicity from the BART ads and the infusion of funds, FFAC really took off. Soon we had dozens of volunteers and we were reaching over 3,000 students per year. But I was still working full-time at the elementary school, and spending every minute of my free time on FFAC.
Eventually, I gathered the courage to ask the donor to fund my salary so that I could do the work full-time, and I was able to quit my day job. Since then, the growth has been exponential. In six years we have gone from zero to 13 employees nationwide, and the scope of the work has expanded from one-time presentations to include empowering student advocates to make a change in their communities and providing curricula for teachers. We incorporated as our own non-profit in 2018.
In 2020, I stepped down as Executive Director. While this situation was forced by extenuating circumstances, it has had very positive outcomes. It is the true mark of success for a non-profit to be able to thrive on its own and to benefit from the energy and vision of new leadership. It is immensely gratifying to know that what I started has now grown beyond me. What began as a hobby reaching a few hundred people per year has grown into a robust organization that is reaching hundreds of thousands of people and empowering the next generation of leaders.
Katie Cantrell is the founder of FFAC and co-chair of its Board of Directors.
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