Heifer International CEO Pierre Ferrari Stresses Performance

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

Both Heifer’s revenue and profile further increased when the nonprofit began marketing its Christmas catalog, which allowed donors to symbolically buy livestock for a project family. The photographic combination of smiling children and fuzzy animals was a potent donor motivator, and other nonprofits that do global development work adopted the strategy.

In 2006, Heifer moved into a new $17.5 million, 94,000-SF LEED-certified headquarters in downtown Little Rock adjacent to the Clinton Presidential Library. The former president spoke at the dedication ceremony.

The Heifer headquarters at 1 World Ave. was envisioned as the first phase in a three-phase development at the nonprofit’s 33-acre campus. A $13.5 million educational facility, the Murphy Keller Educational Center, was Phase 2. The third phase was to be a $64 million “global village” to educate the public about solutions to hunger and poverty.

In 2008, Heifer revenue — primarily small donations from many individual donors — hit a high-water mark of $130.1 million, more than double the $64 million it had brought in just four years earlier. The recession, however, caused revenue to tumble, and in 2009, in a cost-cutting move, Heifer laid off more than 200 employees, both in the United States and globally. Even Heifer executives took a 3 percent pay cut. And the grand $64 million global village, which had never had broad-based donor support, fell by the wayside. The Murphy Keller Educational Center is now known as the Global Village.

Jo Luck retired as Heifer CEO in January 2010; in June 2010, she was named a co-recipient of the prestigious World Food Prize.

And in May 2011, the nonprofit confirmed reports of a “strategic realignment,” though it declined to give specifics.

Ferrari said the changes he has led at Heifer are three-fold: First is the diversification of revenue to ensure stability. Second is the “scaling up” strategy to increase efficiency. And third, Heifer has invested heavily in financial accounting, project management and content management systems to enhance efficiency, improve communication and provide better data.

Financial accounting that once operated using unwieldy spreadsheets maintained by offices around the world is now done using a software system that captures “all the data in the same way everywhere,” he said. “We can actually consolidate our books on a quarterly basis now literally with the push of a button.”

When Ferrari first arrived at Heifer, the comments from the auditors were “the size of a Russian novel. Now it’s the push of a button. They say, ‘Great. That’s the way you should run a company.’”

Ferrari said Heifer International had embraced change because the nonprofit, its employees and its supporters understand that alleviating poverty is a matter of both “heart and mind.”

“We’re committed to the mission,” he said. “We want to change poverty, but you’ve got to show results too.”



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