Counting to 11 Million (in Metric)

One of the first articles on this blog cast doubt on the Humane Society of the United States’s frequent claim that it has 11 million “supporters.” We now know, thanks to a recent HSUS fundraising letter, that the group has (at most) just 1.2 million members. (By our math, that number could be as low as 420,000.) The “11 million” claim is pure puffery that HSUS uses to try to increase influence in its lobbying efforts.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, perhaps HSUS will stop trying to inflate its influence in Washington (and countless state capitals) by a whole order of magnitude. But never fear, the group is already starting to use its fuzzy math overseas. In a press release issued today in Great Britain, Humane Society International (HSI) claims to have “11 million supporters globally.”

Here we go again.

Let's get this straight. HSI—which receives a lowly one-star rating from the watchdog Charity Navigator and is $11.7 million in debt—is claiming to be every bit as robust as its own parent group? According to Charity Navigator, HSI is literally insolvent. The watchdog group recently named it #1 on its Top Ten list of “Charities in Deep Financial Trouble.”

If there are 11 million HSI supporters, why isn’t Wayne Pacelle dialing for dollars in London to save the group from bankruptcy? For starters, it wouldn't be a very successful fundraising operation. HSI’s 2008 tax return (filed under penalty of perjury) declares that the organization only has “tens of thousands” of UK supporters.

Are we really supposed to believe that an animal rights group that’s been around for just 20 years, and is in serious debt, has somehow earned the support of 11 million people?

We're not buying it. A more likely scenario is that HSI is just co-opting HSUS's numbers and hoping no one will notice. Which is a bit like Mercedes-Benz using its own sales figures to suggest that there are 11 million "Smart" cars on the road. Or Burger King re-purposing Whopper sales numbers to say that the BK Veggie is a huge hit with consumers.

Anyone can put it in a press release, but that doesn't make it true.