I spotted this story on Metafilter, the video here is worth checking out.
It turns out Heifer.org (recent darlings of the media for some reason) have fine print on this page on their website that says the money donated to them is "symbolic" and will not actually go to buying a water buffalo for a needy family. Some of it will, but the way the website is worded you'd think all (or amlost all) would go towards the buffalo, and that you might get some feedback (a picture or info of the recipient family):
Nothing's more satisfying than finding exactly the right solution to a problem. That's the good feeling you get when you give an Asian subsistence farmer a water buffalo.
It looks like the small print may have been changed since this post . It now reads:
The prices in this catalog represent the complete livestock gift of a quality animal, technical assistance and training. Each purchase is symbolic and represents a contribution to the entire mission of Heifer International. Donations will be used where needed most to help struggling people.
What does Chariy Navigator say about Heifer? They give them a 3-star rating, and only 75% of the funds they raise go towards the program costs. The president's salary of $183,000 doesn't help much...
This post still gets a lot of views... To clarify a bit - I have not volunteered with or donated to Heifer.org. (Some readers seem to think I have).
Checking the Charity Navigator page a little of a year after I originally posted this, it's interesting to see the increase in the president's salary. From $183,000 to $213,490. That's a 16% increase!
I am amazed to see that this post still gets a lot of hits and generates a lot of comments - I had no idea it would be such a lightning rod when I posted it! Kimberline recently commented and I think it's worth responding to some of the points raised.
Firstly, the title of the blog post is in reference to the short film by Robert Thompson titled "4 Generations" (linked to at the top of the blog post). This is the person that "is doing what Heifer.org says they do".
I should be clear that I don't hate Heifer.org. Originally I was motivated to post something because I enjoyed the short film, found it opened my eyes, and provided some food for thought. Before seeing the film and reading the story, the only information I had seen about Heifer.org was what they showed in their advertising - turns out that was a bit misleading. (Shocking!)
At the time I posted this blog, Heifer.org had what I think was misleading advertising, which they since corrected to make it clear the donations they receive may not result in actual animals being purchased for the poor. So, while the title of the blog post is a little outdated nowadays, I presume folks can read beyond the title of the blog post and form their own opinion of how applicable (or not) it is today.
Kimberline says that he/she doesn't see any mention of donations to charity on my blog, and therefore I am not qualified to criticize a charitable organization. I've never felt the need to blog about my donations to charity, but I will say that I do give each year and have volunteered my time as well.
Kimberline makes it sound like we should be happy with any charity that gives money to the needy, and not worry too much about the efficiency. I disagree - while 75% may seem like a good ratio, it is not that great. If you want to make a difference, you should want to make the biggest difference you can per dollar, so efficiency is vital.
If you are really interested in addressing world hunger as efficiently as possible, I would recommend looking at the Friends of the World Food Program. They spend 94.5% of their income on program expenses and have a four-star rating on Charity Navigator (see here). The CEO does earn a large salary ($300,000 in 2007), which some may take issue with, but given that so little money is "wasted" by this organisation, the CEO must be worth the money! :)
In closing, I don't expect people to read my blog post and make a decision based solely on the information here. Hopefully people take the time to do a bit more research and reading, go to Charity Navigator or even ask the charities they like for more information on their overhead.
I'm not going to pull this post down simple because some people think Heifer.org should not have a spotlight shone on them.
* Photo from CharlesFred (Flickr)