Heifer International CEO Pierre Ferrari Stresses Performance

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Jun. 16, 2014 12:00 am  

Few people familiar with Heifer International doubt the sincerity of the nonprofit and its mission: Who is so callous as to deride working to end world hunger and poverty?

But five years after the organization laid off about 20 percent of its workforce because of a falloff in revenue and almost four years after it announced a new CEO, Heifer is placing new emphasis on measuring its impact on the mostly rural families it seeks to help.

At the same time, it’s adopting a new attitude toward revenue, one of diversification.

“The focus on revenue as an indicator of health is, I think, overemphasized,” said that still relatively new CEO, Pierre Ferrari. “It’s always good to grow revenue, but it’s not really one of our objectives. The objective is to increase impact, to have more families engaged so that we can take more people out of poverty.”

“The culture has shifted from a culture of effort to a culture of performance,” he said of Heifer, based in Little Rock but operating in 30 countries. “That means that we are capturing all these data in terms of outcome, impact measures. We’re much more systematic.”

However, Ferrari reassured, the nonprofit is maintaining its dedication to “values-based holistic community development,” which he described as a “sort of theology here.”

Ferrari, who came to Heifer in October 2010, called the nonprofit’s fiscal 2015, which begins July 1, “the tipping point year.” Most of the new poverty-alleviating projects during the year will be incorporating a new model, one that has established a baseline for the projects and then measures impact based on 21 objectives. The model will enable Heifer to determine much more precisely how effective its projects are.

Ferrari cautioned that results won’t be instantaneous. “Some of the measures take time to develop,” he said. “Development is not like planting roses. I mean, it takes a long time for changes to happen, in all sorts of conditions. So we’re going to track them over the five years using those measures.”

As for revenue, the nonprofit learned lessons from the recession, when its donors, many of them individuals giving relatively small amounts, were forced to cut back. Heifer’s donations took a hit, and they’ve fluctuated in the years since (see chart in slideshow above). Before the recession, individual donations comprised about 80 percent of the nonprofit’s revenue. Now, after working to diversify contributions, that individual donation figure is closer to 60 percent, with a goal of the mid-50s.

Heifer has been adding corporate and foundational support to broaden its portfolio.

One recent example is the $25.5 million awarded to it in January from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The money was given to expand Heifer’s East Africa Dairy Development project, which is working with more than 136,000 farm families in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

The EADD project was implemented in 2008 with an initial grant from the Gates Foundation of $51.3 million.



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