Ace response

GFI response to Animal Charity Evaluators’ 2021 review

On Tuesday, November 23, Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) released its recommended charities for 2021, and for the first time, GFI is not on the list. 

GFI is proud to have earned “top charity” status from Animal Charity Evaluators every year of our existence (five years in a row). Last year, we were tied for the highest marks across every single standard.  Every year before this one, ACE has found GFI’s leadership and culture to be excellent (2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016)

So we were deeply saddened to learn from ACE about anonymous allegations with regard to “retaliation and a fear of retaliation from top leadership for voicing disagreements at the organization.” While ACE continues to be impressed with GFI’s work, they decided not to give top charity or standout charity status because of concerns they have about GFI’s culture due to these allegations. ACE’s comprehensive 2021 review of GFI is largely positive, highlighting our team’s many accomplishments and recognizing our significant impact as an organization. 

We agree entirely with ACE that excellent, inclusive leadership and culture are absolutely essential to running a maximally impactful organization, and we are committed to addressing these concerns, which we take extremely seriously. While based on the information available to us, we do not believe that anyone has been retaliated against, we lament even a perception or fear of retaliation, and we will work hard to make sure that GFI’s culture is one that encourages open and honest feedback and input, even where that feedback disagrees with leadership team decisions. 

We have been extremely proud of the culture we’ve developed at GFI, which encourages a robust airing of all ideas, followed by making a decision and moving forward — “disagree and commit.” According to ACE’s anonymous survey of GFI staff, 96 percent of staff responded positively to the statement that GFI’s leadership team guides the organization competently. 

ACE is not able to share any additional information (beyond what is in the review) about any of the anonymous allegations, so we encourage the current and past team members who raised these concerns to report the details to us via our anonymous hotline.1 We have also expressed to ACE that GFI would be happy to participate fully in an investigation of the complaints to better understand and address them, and we offered to hire an external investigator. ACE declined (for reasons we understand), so we have facilitated a conversation about the allegations during a staff meeting, and will solicit staff member ideas for ensuring both that retaliation does not occur and that staff feel confident disagreeing with management. We are also conducting an anonymous survey of staff to ask for details, and we will add a question about this issue to our December pulse survey.2

GFI will also implement training for all leadership and managers focused on ensuring that staff feel confident and secure when voicing dissenting opinions, reiterate our encouragement of staff to report actual or perceived retaliation to our anonymous reporting system, and take action on the basis of any reports that are brought forward. We will also conduct a review of best practices for creating an environment free from the fear of retaliation for raising disagreements and will implement lessons learned. We will continue to listen, learn, and reflect on what further actions we can take to strengthen our internal culture. We welcome additional suggestions from ACE and anyone else who wishes to reach out to us.

To be clear, we believe that overall our culture at GFI is largely excellent and that these very unfortunate allegations are an exception, rather than the rule. GFI conducts an annual anonymous survey and then builds action plans to improve our culture and systems, and we measure our progress using pulse check surveys, which are administered twice per year. At our “ask the leadership team anything” sessions, the questions (submitted anonymously) are direct and often critical, and all submitted questions are put to staff for a vote and then answered in order. ACE’s own engagement survey of GFI-US staff found that engagement at GFI is high, with a score of 6.4 out of 7. 

As a science- and evidence-driven organization, GFI’s success relies on a professional team environment that encourages the full and robust sharing of ideas and critical thinking, including dissenting perspectives and healthy debate. We are proud of creating an environment that enables dissenting voices to be heard and respected, which ultimately leads to better, more informed decision-making. Given how central critical thinking is to who we are, retaliation for disagreements—or even the perception or fear that retaliation might take place—must not be not tolerated. We plan to do all in our power to ensure that: 1) retaliation for disagreements does not occur; 2) staff do not fear retaliation; and 3) staff know that they can safely report actual, perceived, or feared retaliation.  

Core to GFI’s DNA is the persistent pursuit of forward progress and growth. We continuously seek ways of getting better, stronger, more strategic, and more impactful in all we do. As a mission-driven nonprofit funded entirely by donors, our organizational mandate is to use our finite time and resources to transform our global food system. Our people—GFI’s global team of critical thinkers, capacity-builders, and problem-solvers—are the primary way we do this. The caliber of our staff, coupled with the ever-evolving complexities of our mission, make critical discussions and diverging viewpoints essential to informing and shaping our work in a rapidly changing world.  

We are more committed than ever to encouraging and cultivating exactly this type of work environment and culture, where diverse input leads to the best decision-making and priority-setting. Addressing head-on the concerns raised in this year’s ACE review is an opportunity for us to grow professionally as individuals, as a team, and as an organization that works in partnership with others across the global food system to propel lasting systemic change. We are deeply proud of the incredible, highly-leveraged outcomes and impact that our team of dedicated staff is delivering in the United States and around the world, and we look forward to the opportunity that this process represents to further grow and improve as an organization.

1  GFI’s anonymous reporting system is administered through a third party to guarantee anonymity (Navex EthicsPoint).

2 We conduct an annual anonymous culture survey using CultureAmp, after which we focus on the 2-3 areas where we are underperforming; at 4 and 8 months, we measure our progress (“pulse check”). Our next pulse check is slated for December (annual survey occurs in April).