Every year, PETA is at the forefront of achieving victories for animals. And every victory is important and celebrated, from the smallest mouse spared a horrific death in a glue trap to the thousands of cows, pigs, chickens, and fish whose lives are saved every time someone goes vegan. None of these achievements would be possible without our generous supporters— especially our Augustus Club members.
Since 1983, Scott Anderson has led PETA’s fundraising efforts, as the PETA Foundation Vice President of Development. His efforts have enabled PETA to become the largest and most effective animal rights organization in the world, with more than 6.5 million members and supporters worldwide. Over the years, his responsibilities have grown to include spearheading and directing the development programs for PETA’s international affiliates, in Asia, Australia, France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, and the U.K., as well.
Augustus Club: How did you become involved in animal rights?
Scott Anderson: I came to animal rights from the civil rights movement. For many years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was a gay rights activist and staff member at what was then the only national LGBT organization in the country. I was deeply committed to fighting injustice, and while I was initially active only in the defense of human rights, the animal rights ethic began to appeal to me greatly, because it is, as I see it, more comprehensive. I had always loved animals and had grown up with dogs, so the fight for animal rights was a natural and rational extension of that commitment—one that rang true for me and just felt right.
AC: When did you join the PETA staff, and what was your first position?
SA: Luckily for me, PETA was in existence when my personal lightbulb came on, and I landed my dream job soon thereafter. I started working for PETA in 1983, when there was a grand total of four people on staff (along with a handful of volunteers).
My title has changed several times over the past 35 years, but my role has always been to find ways to raise the funds that PETA needs in order to challenge and stop every type of animal exploitation and abuse. Raising funds for a social justice issue like animal rights, which is still perceived by many people as a controversial cause, isn’t easy by any means. But it also comes with many rewards, including getting to work with the smartest, most fearless colleagues on the planet.
AC: Describe a facet of your job that makes you especially happy.
SA: I love getting to know PETA members. They are an extraordinarily diverse lot, often with different motivations and goals. But the common thread seems to me to be the focus on doing what is right, first and foremost, for animals’ sake. Some donors may initially be motivated by a single aspect of PETA’s work, such as promoting vegan living, stopping animal tests, rescuing animals from zoos and circuses, or helping companion animals. But they soon come to appreciate the commonality and the compassion that link all the campaigns. And above all, PETA donors share three important traits: They feel deep empathy for animals, they want to create a kinder world, and they’re willing to use their time, energy, and money to do it. What could be better than that? These are the best, most decent people on Earth!
It’s my good fortune to be able to help them realize their goal of making a difference for animals. Sometimes I work with members who have underwritten a certain PETA project—say, rescuing a bear from a roadside zoo or sponsoring the development of a new non-animal test method. My favorite thing is to be able to pick up the phone and tell them, “Mission accomplished! And it’s all because of your support!” Their excitement at hearing the news always puts me on cloud nine.
I feel the same way about our staff. Our Development Department is made up of brilliant, kind, generous, hardworking, dedicated people whose number one goal is to end animal abuse. I get the same kind of “high” from knowing that I’m playing a role in helping them reach their goals as well.
AC: What is your most gratifying accomplishment in your time at PETA and the PETA Foundation?
SA: That would be my role in helping to establish the Augustus Club back in the 1990s and seeing it grow to become the bedrock of PETA’s fiscal support. I can’t overstate how important Augustus Club members, and by extension their estate gifts, are to PETA’s ability to stop animal abuse. They’re essential. It has been said by people much more knowledgeable than I am that for the vast majority of us, the single most significant philanthropic contribution that we can make during our lives is actually planning the donation that we’ll leave to a charity after we’re gone.
So I’m extremely gratified by the growth of the Augustus Club, because it means that PETA has developed such a solid record of progress for animals that people know their legacy gifts will be put to the best possible use to end animal suffering.
But then again, the feeling is bittersweet. After all, each bequest that PETA receives means that a compassionate soul is no longer with us, and that’s painful to think about. What eases that pain is the knowledge that we’re helping the member’s compassion live on through PETA’s work. It’s an honor to be able give people the peace of mind and satisfaction of knowing that their legacy will help create a kinder world.
AC: In your opinion, what makes PETA more effective than other animal groups or social change organizations?
SA: I would say foresight and philosophical consistency, the refusal to give up or take “no” for an answer, and the ability to scare the living daylights out of both animal-abusing Fortune 500 companies and individual animal abusers.
Also, PETA is campaigning for change on a global level by coordinating campaigns with our international affiliates in Asia, Australia, France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, and the U.K. For example, each affiliate has a campaign against Louis Vuitton’s (LVMH) use of exotic skins. Those campaigns have involved releasing a video exposé of crocodile farms in Vietnam that supplied skins to the label, disrupting an LVMH annual meeting in Paris, protesting in front of Louis Vuitton stores in fashion capitals all around the world, and pushing for bans on the importation of reptile skins, such as the one that PETA India recently helped persuade the Indian government to implement. Together, PETA and its affiliates can pressure the global marketplace to break the economic chain of animal exploitation.
Another important factor in PETA’s success is the ability to bring about small improvements while simultaneously working toward larger goals, for example, improving conditions for animals on factory farms while also persuading millions of people to go vegan—or reducing the number of animals used in chemical testing while also funding the development of non-animal tests that will eliminate the use of animals altogether.
AC: Are you optimistic about the potential for long-term changes in society’s treatment of animals?
SA: Without a doubt. Look at how unacceptable it has become to exploit animals for entertainment, thanks to the huge impact that PETA has had. Ringling Bros. circus was forced to close, and SeaWorld’s stock drops even further every year. And the market for vegan food is skyrocketing now that there’s hardly anyone in the industrialized world who hasn’t seen footage from PETA’s eyewitness exposés of factory farms and slaughterhouses. I am more hopeful today than I have ever been in my entire life!
AC: Has there been a particular victory in PETA’s history that took you by surprise?
SA: I was amazed—and thrilled, of course—when Idaho’s “ag-gag” law was declared unconstitutional after PETA and others sued the state. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is a watershed moment. I’m watching history in the making.”
AC: Is there one goal in particular that you think will be achieved in your lifetime?
SA: I’m so impressed with the progress that PETA’s scientists are making in the replacement of animal tests with non-animal methods. I think that animal testing will be wiped out within the next 20 years for a combination of ethical, scientific, and economic reasons.
AC: After 35 years, there are, no doubt, many ways in which your job has had an impact on your personal life. Can you pick one to share?
SA: Well, it has certainly had an impact on my partner’s life, which was easier in many ways before he met me. When we first started dating 25 years ago, animal issues weren’t really on his radar. It even took him many months to remember my cats’ names! But he soon took up animal activism with impressive courage. He has served as an outspoken advocate for animals on San Francisco’s animal-welfare board. And he’s done more to rescue homeless cats than anyone I know (outside of PETA), often putting himself in harm’s way. He’s remarkable, admirable, and tireless.
AC: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our Augustus Club members?
SA: My gratitude. It really resonated with me recently when I heard a member say that planning a legacy gift to PETA gave her the chance to “pay forward” the contribution that her animal companions had made to her life. What a powerful perspective. Augustus Club members hold a special place in my heart. PETA’s progress for animals wouldn’t be possible without you.
This interview originally appeared in the PETA Augustus Club newsletter 2018 #1 Issue 77