Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Doing what Heifer.org says they do...

(Originally posted 1/18/2007)
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...

Update: 04/24/2008:
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!

Update: 12/01/2009:
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)


Anonymous said...

As a lead volunteer for Heifer (Seattle area), I have many times encountered people's disappointment at learning donations are "symbolic gifts." We always want to have a personal connection to exactly where our gift goes; it takes some trust to know the gift is being put to good use somewhere and to relax about where and in what form that might be.

I have that trust in Heifer Knowing that 8+ million families have been lifted out of extreme poverty by symbolic gifts keeps me hooked. I like knowing that - even if it doesn't actually go towards a flock of chicks - my $20 gift WILL be effectively used to help someone to help themself.

And, I like Heifer's model. Heifer is entirely community-driven. The community in need approaches Heifer with a proposal and works to identify what animals it would benefit from, as well as who needs the animals first and who can wait for the "passing on the gift."

"Passing on the Gift" is a requirement - everyone who receives a gift animal from Heifer must pass on an equal gift to someone else in their community, typically the animal's first offspring. Passing on the Gift turns a receipient into a donor, a partner in helping to end hunger. I have seen first-hand the change in pride & self worth that comes from Passing on the Gift.

I also appreciate the work Heifer does in teaching humane animal care, organic, sustainable agriculture, business skills, and its emphasis on gender equity.

Heifer won the Hilton Humanitarian Award several years ago, and just this year was awarded a $42.8 million grant from the Gates Foundation. Such awards would not be granted if Heifer's overhead were seen as outlandish - and Jo Luck's salary is certainly appropriate given the size and impact of the organization.

Heifer does good work in the world.

Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

"Jo Luck's salary is certainly appropriate given the size and impact of the organization." I think not. No one has ever explained sufficiently why--prior to Jo Luck, when most of the best work was done and most of the good will was created--a more modest salary was adequate but she needs so much more. I haven't been entirely happy with the focus on her. In recent years, the Heifer print materials have been full of her picture and the center. I've looked for third-party news about the organization but haven't found much.

Anonymous said...

I am researching microfinancing opportunities in the name of family members for Christmas presents and was shocked to see the compensation Heifer Int.'s Jo Luck receives. People who expect that kind of salary don't belong in charitale organizations - take your salary demands to the corporate world, Jo. I will donate elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I keep getting calls from various organizaions for a "compensated fundraiser." Often times the amount donated to the organizaion is just a small percertage of what a person donates. People need to check the organization and see how much of what they are donating actually makes it to who they intend it to go to. I love KIVA.org You can choose to donate to the organization or send all your money to small businesses throughout the world, and you receive your money back because you loaned it. I will not be donating to Heifer.org anymore after seeing the salary of the president and urge you not to also.

Anonymous said...

I am a retired minister who has specialized in small churches, and I was raised on a farm. The information in this website about the CEO's salary has dissuaded me. I truly wish there were some way my funds could be used to buy an animal rather than support a person beyond what is needed.

Kimberline said...


I came to your site to see comments about Heifer International. You have a lot of complaints. The title of your piece sort of implies that you are DOING what Heifer international says they do. Is this not a bit of journalistic license? I don't see anywhere on your site that you do anything charitable at all. Why would you criticize an organization that does, even if ALL of the donations don't get to the needy?

Do you realize that if I were starving and 75 percent of the money went toward providing me a goat, I'd be so much better off than if this organization didn't exist?

If you rank Heifer toward typical charitable organizations, 75 percent or upwards is still doing much good.

I am afraid your negative comments are doing HARM to their good. Think about it? Could you give a more balanced approach?

My greatest concern is that this is an older article and will remain in the cyberworld for perusal until you remove it. Are you just pointing out a plank in their eye when you have done nothing to benefit starving people? When you have an organization that is giving 95 percent of its donations for the cause, then perhaps you could compare. Meanwhile, I think you are definitely pointing at their plank while all the while having one in your own eye.

I'd change that title line if I were you. You are not "Doing what Heifer.org says they do" are you?

Please feel free to discuss further if you care to.


Kimber Dixon

Rodney Wilson said...

Just got the Heifer International catalogue. But I don't give to charitable groups if the top man or top woman makes over $100,000 per year. I called Heifer Intl. and asked how much the CEO makes. The customer service person, after several minutes of figuring it out, brought me to this document that shows (page 43) that the CEO makes $258,000 and has $30,000 a year in benefits. No money from me for Heifer International.


Anonymous said...

I received the Heifer.org catalog and was all gung-ho, discussing with family what we'd give & where it would go. Then I saw the small print & it just wasn't the same. Obviously it was selfish, but all the same it made me wary & start to investigate the organization itself. Of course, I lost momemtum and based on their stats, I am now hesitant. Too bad - if it actually worked they way they portrayed it, I would have been a cheerful giver instead of a cynic.

Anonymous said...

Wow, a lot of complaints about the CEO's salary. Most not for profits have CEO's that make the same or more! You should look at overall administration fees and not just the salaries.

Jon Moes said...

I believe Daniel Webster would 'roll over' the definition of "not for profit" now'a days!

Heather said...

Heifer is a joke. I actually DO what they SAY they do, at least in southern Peru. I spend 1-2 months a year in the poorest department of country, Puno, working with Peruvian counterparts through an all-volunteer nonprofit that employs only one staff member-- a Peruvian. We have helped communities finance over 300 barns, 200 smoke-free stoves, a vicuna project, and we've launched a community-based clean water network. Heifer funds a handful of projects in the area, but they are unsupervised and largely fail. I've seen the ruins of their projects in several villages. They unfailingly bring groups of donors through the area on Potemkin village tours, having their wealthy givers stay in a fancy hotel and go for brief visits to places where they are supposedly doing things. But woe to the person who makes an inquiry of Heifer Peru in Lima. They don't answer the phone, don't staff the office, don't respond to inquiries. that goes for the Arkansas folks too. I tried calling every week for seven weeks to try and get more information about their Peru operations. NO ONE would take the call.

Marsha E said...

Thank you!!! I wondered how much they donated . I will not give to a place that does not give a high percentage to charity. I will use your suggestion and give to,,,no I will not. I am sick of Ceo's getting huge salaries (I am a 99% and do not have much money but thought I would ask my Christmas gifts from my family be given away to charity. I do not need a phony warm fuzzy feeling...I want real work done with what little will be given in my name) Thanks again. I will keep on searching. Maybe Unicef will be a good choice. I will check it out.

Joy said...

binraThank you for all of this information. I'm going to give to families who are in the process of adopting special needs orphans and facing exhorbitant costs to bring these children home from other countries.

I received the Heifer.org brochure this week and so liked the idea of a sustainable gift for those in need of food but cannot support a CEO's salary of this amount.

I will check out some of the other sources for giving that won't take so much for admin costs. Her salary and benefits are rediculous when you're trying to help hungry people.

Anonymous said...

How very sad I am. I thought I had found the perfect gift for each family member until I read all of the comments--especially the one from the person who donates time in Peru.

Anonymous said...

I donated $500 to Heifer after the Haiti earthquake. HUGE MISTAKE! Before I even received a confirmation of that donation I was solicited for more money. HUNDREDS of emails, US mail and phone calls (every day, all day and evening, including weekends) later they have more than used the amount of my donation on solicitation. I believe that just like Habitat, they have outgrown their capability for reasonable fundraising and now hire it out. Ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

You Know I have just finished reading all these comments and the self center nature of the writers make me sick. For someone running a $120 million company that salary is very reasonable, it just happens to be more than most of us make, but the job has more responsibility than most of us have.
The pettiness over the symbolic gift is mind-blowing. The is added because in this litigious society someone could sue, (and has sued) because the $20 that was donated for a water buffalo was used instead for a goat to meet and immediate need instead of waiting till the water buffalo fund had filled up. I mean after is isn't it more important that the goat family all die so that your $20 was spent to fulfill you micro managed self-centered ego. The real needs of people just don't matter.
Come on folks, yes it would be great if they were at 90% instead of 75% but really, do you give 75% of what you possible can? Probably not. When you have done more good then them, then throw your rocks.

Anonymous said...

Folks, if 75% for administration is too much for you, try this charity.
This charity funds Cancer research and combats Domestic Violence. The administration's share is only 3%! So 97% goes to the charity.

That's because the Company supports it. Go to MaryKay.com and Charitable Foundation.

Some of the monies may even be used in your town.

Anonymous said...

If 75% is too much in costs for you, try this charity.

97% goes to Cancer Research and to combat Domestic Violence. That leaves only 3%. How? The Company supports the Charity.
Check out MaryKayInc and their Charitable Foundation.

Your town may even be receiving some funds for your Safe Place etc.

Anonymous said...

very informative posts - the insights and recommendations all helpful. Thank you. Nice to know that people care to help AND to do it efficiently.

Cuddly Rat said...

Jim758 thank you for putting into words exactly what I was thinking. Under paying the person that you want to oversee a multi million dollar organization is madness. I'm a 99%'er and whilst it would be nice to see altruistic people running non-profits the reality is that you have to pay someone who is going to sustain the organization. If the CEO is doing a poor job then they need to be fired, if they do a great job then PAY them!

Anonymous said...

Red Cross uses 91% of their funds to actually help people, 2012 figures.

Anonymous said...

I am looking at charitable opportunities for "honor gifts" and on 10/16/13 came across this blog. Our church promotes Heifer International; however per Charity Navigator for FYE 6/2012 the CEO of Heifer Project International, Pierre Ferrari, received compensation of $290,625. Yes,this seems high; perhaps it can be justified because the position demands a lot of responsibility and oversight. I was more discouraged with Charity Navigator's 2 out of 4 star rating with only 69.8% of the funds going to actual program expenses and 22.8% going toward fundraising expenses. Seems like things are going in the wrong direction.

Anonymous said...

So far none of these comments have mentioned the real reason not to donate money to Heifer International (HI) and it is this: Animal agriculture is devastating to the environment, and there’s now a massive peer reviewed literature showing that animal source food is damaging to human health.

I just received HI’s cutesy pie “Most Important Gift Catalog in the World” full of happy kids holding happy alpacas, chicks, goats, heifers, lambs, llamas, pigs, rabbits, sheep, etc.
(which will all in the end die violently at the hands of their beneficiaries) but there is not a single essential nutrient in any of these animals that could not better be furnished from the plant kingdom and without the saturated fat, cholesterol, and auto-immunogenic proteins inevitably present in all animal food.

Much like our own 4H clubs, Heifer International is pushing third world farm kids to become permanent wards of the state. Fruit and vegetable farmers can make it on their own on the free market but animal agriculture never has, never will, and its level of dependency is reflected in the subsidies of the United States Department of Agriculture which go mainly to feed grains and thus are de facto subsidies to meat and milk production.