Heifer International: World Sees Our Charitable Culture

Heifer International: World Sees Our Charitable Culture Heifer International is not the largest nonprofit organization in Arkansas. Even together, the assets of Heifer International and the related Heifer International Foundation are dwarfed by the likes of the Walton Family Foundation and the University of Arkansas Foundation.

It probably isn’t the best known of Arkansas’ nonprofits either. The Rockefeller name lends widespread recognition to the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust.

Heifer isn’t even a native Arkansan, having been founded by an Indiana farmer and long headquartered in St. Louis.

But Heifer has become an Arkansas icon thanks to unforeseeable fortune and leadership savvy enough to take advantage of the opportunity.

For most of its 60-year history, the organization originally known as Heifer Project International labored in relative obscurity. Even after relocating to Arkansas in the 1970s, it quietly went about making “living loans” of breeding livestock to families in developing countries. Jo Luck became president of Heifer in 1992, the same year her former boss, Bill Clinton, was elected president. She had been his first cabinet appointee — as director of the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism — when he became governor in 1979.

Clinton’s frequent endorsements, during his administration and after, of the hometown charity raised Heifer’s profile. And Luck, a marketer at heart, took advantage of the attention. She spent three years pulling the organization out of the red and began using other celebrities to solicit donations.

In 1998, Heifer achieved its own measure of celebrity within the nonprofit industry by launching an Internet site that accepted credit card donations. Online donations quickly grew to more than $2 million a year.

The connection between the president and the charity will continue into perpetuity as Heifer has broken ground on a new headquarters building adjacent to the Clinton Presidential Library site in downtown Little Rock.

The connection between Heifer and the White House have continued as well. In a 2003 episode of “The West Wing,” fictional President Bartlet had a photo op to promote its international mission.

A Giving Culture

Arkansans dig deep when it comes to charitable giving.

Arkansans rank second in the nation for donating a percent of their total income to charity, according to the Massachusetts-based Catalogue for Philanthropy’s Generosity Index.

Only Mississippians were judged to be more generous in a comparison of average income with the amount of charitable donations listed as itemized deductions on federal income tax returns.

Arkansas also has been home to world-class philanthropists such as Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and his heirs; former Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller; and billionaire financier Jack Stephens. And the state has been the beneficiary of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of grants from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, established by the estate of the media magnate whose fortune was built in part by newspapers he owned in Arkansas.

Arkansas has the kind of nonprofit organizations that require philanthropic support even in more populous, more affluent parts of the country: arts and cultural organizations, animal shelters, environmental and conservationist groups, and local chapters of medical research organizations like the American Heart Association and the March of Dimes.

But the state’s relatively low average income and the high percentage of families living in poverty have inspired a charitable culture to fill basic human needs.

While tremendous wealth has been created in Arkansas, tremendous poverty also persists. A charitable culture has developed to respond to that need in the form of community foundations, food banks, educational organizations, health clinics, homeless shelters, parenting assistance, women’s shelters and the like.

According to “A Comparison of the Nonprofit Sectors in Arkansas, Nevada and Oklahoma,” a 2002 study by Carol J. De Vita and Eric C. Twombly, about 40 percent of the IRS-designated 501(c)(3) organizations operating in Arkansas are human services providers. The national average is 34 percent.

At least 80 percent of the state’s nonprofits are grass-roots organizations unaffiliated with outside groups, and the average revenue of an Arkansas nonprofit is about half the national average of $1.6 million. The most important source of revenue for human services providers is client or user fees, accounting for nearly $4 of every $10 dollars.

Although private gifts, government funding and client fees are a critical source of income, local nonprofits tend to rely less on these sources than national groups. Instead, they rely on other sources, including fund-raising events, three times more than the national average — thus the seemingly unlimited photo opportunities for society pages and magazines.

Charity As Industry

In January 2002, Angela Duran, executive director of the Good Faith Fund at Pine Bluff, published a study that found 5,956 nonprofit organizations in Arkansas. Only 1,914 of them file with the IRS, indicating that the vast majority had less than $25,000 in annual revenue.

“Counties with the largest expenditures tend to be in central and northwest Arkansas with the exception of Craighead, Independence and Jefferson counties,” Duran stated in the report.

Good Faith Fund was named the Nonprofit Organization of the Year last month in the 16th-annual Arkansas Business of the Year Awards sponsored by Arkansas Business.

Forty-four percent of the statewide nonprofits provide human services, 16 percent provide education and another 13 percent are health related. Organizations geared towards the arts or public or social benefit account for about 8 percent.

While human services account for a large portion of nonprofit activities, about 80 percent of total nonprofit expenditures are health-related, with 10 percent to human services, 7 percent to education and 3 percent to the arts or social benefit. In 1999, Duran wrote, nonprofit expenditures were $4.8 billion, roughly 7 percent of the gross state product.

Duran’s report also estimated that more than 486,000 Arkansans volunteered more than 25 million hours to nonprofits in 2000, man-hours worth an estimated $479 million.


When Donald W. Reynolds, founder of the Donrey Media Group, died in 1993, he was worth nearly $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine. After his death, Donrey was sold to Stephens Group Inc. of Little Rock and the proceeds were used to endow the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation of Las Vegas.

The three states that had contributed the most to Reynolds’ fortune — Nevada, Oklahoma and Arkansas — have received special philanthropic attention from the Reynolds Foundation.

Some of its more notable gifts to Arkansas include $20 million to the expansion of Reynolds Razorback Stadium at the University of Arkansas; a $7.2 million grant for construction of the Donald W. Reynolds Center at Fayetteville; and $12 million to establish the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Educational Excellence at Midsouth Community College in West Memphis.

And that’s just a sample of the largess that has plastered the Reynolds name on buildings across the state.

To date, 19 regional construction projects worth about $146 million were awarded in Arkansas, and another $109 million has gone to projects in the areas of food distribution, children’s discovery and women’s shelters.


Former Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, grandson of oil financier John D. Rockefeller, arrived in Arkansas in 1953 and left the state a legacy of philanthropy.

“He gave a gift that keeps on giving and is making the lives of Arkansans better,” said Dr. Sybil Hampton, president of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

During Rockefeller’s lifetime, he gave away some $20 million. He is often remembered as the original benefactor of the Arkansas Arts Center, but he also personally bankrolled economic development efforts for the state, subsidized the public schools of Morrilton near his adopted home on Petit Jean Mountain and performed a host of other good deeds.

After his death in 1973, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust were formed.

The foundation provides grants to Arkansas-based nonprofits focused in areas of economic development; education; and economic, social and racial justice. It has awarded more than $76 million in grants to charities and organizations across the state.

The charitable trust has given away even more money, some $165 million since 1973.

Sustainable Giving

Dan West was a Church of the Brethren mission worker during the Spanish Civil War in 1939. The supply of powdered milk he was handing out to children on both sides of the conflict dried up, but the line of children didn’t.

It was then that West realized these families needed “not a cup, but a cow.”

That realization was the seed of Heifer International, which promotes sustainable economic development worldwide by training project recipients to care for the female animals — and not just cows — they receive as “living loans.” Heifer considers the loan repaid when the recipient passes on the first female offspring to another family in need. By providing for a single family, an entire community can eventually be strengthened.

After World War II seagoing cowboys delivered thousands of heifers to Europe and Japan. In many developing countries, rabbits or chickens provide not only a source of protein, but extra money.

During the 1970s, cattle farming itself became a nonprofit industry for many breeders. During the industrywide price slump, Heifer began a national campaign asking farmers to donate unprofitable cows for shipment overseas.

Heifer, then headquartered in St. Louis, needed a suitable location to hold the cattle. It purchased ranches on the East and West coasts and at Perryville. The organization’s headquarters eventually came to Arkansas as well.

These ranches were eventually turned into learning centers, and Heifer estimates that more than 40,000 people have visited or participated in learning projects at the ranches. Today Heifer has impacted the lives of 4.5 million families — approximately 30 million people — in 128 countries, spokesman Ray White said. It is currently operating 350 projects in 48 countries and sponsors more than 80 women’s projects.

West died in 1971 before Heifer received two presidential awards — the Voluntary Action presented by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, and the Presidential End Hunger Award by President George Bush in 1990. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton also have recognized the organization. Worth magazine recognized Heifer as one of America’s best 100 charities, and The Motley Fool has it on a list of recommended charities.

Two years ago, the Heifer International Foundation became a separate legal entity from Heifer, though the organizations are financially interrelated.

For the year that ended June 30, 2002, Heifer International reported an unrestricted income of $45.9 million and expenses of $47.8 million. Of the unrestricted income, two-thirds came from individuals, while churches and businesses contributed more than a quarter.

“Heifer International takes pride in its role alleviating world hunger, but we often overlook the benefits of our work in spreading good will and aiding peace,” Heifer President Jo Luck said.

In addition to its overseas efforts, Heifer has a North America program that has worked with families in Canada, Mexico and 23 American states.

And in the best spirit of charity beginning at home, Heifer has spent $102,542 on the Dunbar Garden Project in Little Rock and another $43,089 on the Inner City FutureNet providing economic opportunities for at-risk and low-income youth.

“We’re looking hard at the Delta,” White said.