Heifer International CEO Pierre Ferrari Stresses Performance

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

‘Screaming for Data’

The heightened focus on project measurement is a response to donors urging Heifer to think bigger, Ferrari said.

“The screaming — not just asking — the screaming for data and information had been going on for decades,” he said.

Ferrari came to Heifer with years of experience not only in the nonprofit world but also with solid private-sector credentials, including several years as a senior vice president at Coca-Cola. And, he said, he understands the importance of accountability and results in the nonprofit sector.

The desire for proof of results is so strong that it led one donor to dedicate $1 million of a $2 million project solely for research to determine the efficacy of the project.

Ferrari said that Heifer International has a superb reputation in the field of agricultural development. “However, we were always playing small,” he said. “And when I first got here, I visited a lot of projects, and potential donors were saying, ‘You guys are terrific but you play small. And the problem is huge. It’s a billion people who are in extreme poverty and you’re playing with 150 families per project. Come on. Size it up.’”

So Heifer embarked on a plan to increase the size and scope of its projects. This “scaling up” strategy has two components, Ferrari said. One is to find partners in development projects who will match or even contribute more than Heifer’s investment. The other is to lower the per-family cost of its poverty-alleviating efforts.

When he came aboard, Heifer had about 900 projects with an average size of 125 to 150 families per project. Now, its projects target 10,000 families and the average cost to help one family has fallen from $660 to $200, tripling the nonprofit’s efficiency.

Success and Stumbles

Heifer, founded in 1944, provides livestock and other resources to rural farmers to not only alleviate hunger, but to allow them to sell surplus agricultural products to generate family income, which in turn helps families become self-sufficient.

What the nonprofit calls the “core” of its model is “passing on the gift,” requiring families that Heifer helps to pass on the first female offspring of their livestock — cows, goats, ducks, for example — to another family in need. The families in Heifer projects often hold powerfully moving “passing on” ceremonies that, in addition to helping another family, allow the original recipients to assume the role of benefactor to someone else.

Heifer’s revenue and profile began to soar during the tenure of Ferrari’s predecessor, Jo Luck, a former director of the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism who brought energy, enthusiasm and solid marketing skills to the role.



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