Cover Story: Teach a Man to Fish ...
Eight hundred million. It’s a big number and a lot of money. But if you want to grasp the real magnitude of it, give that number a human face.
According to statistics released by the United Nations, 800 million represents the number of people worldwide who are chronically hungry.
It’s also, coincidentally, the amount of money that Arkansas-based Heifer International is looking to raise by 2010 in order to bolster its work as an international hunger-relief and education organization. It’s a huge leap for Heifer, which just last year had a contributed income of $62.5 million, with 80 percent of that coming in through direct mail efforts.
And even though thousands of people support Heifer through its unique catalog- and Web-based giving program each year, it probably wouldn’t reach its goal through direct mail alone.
Which is why, on Oct. 23, Heifer introduced its massive Hope for the Future campaign, a highly concerted effort with specific goals, both financial and mission based. The announcement came amid a celebratory flurry hosted by celebs such as Ted Danson and his wife, Mary Steenburgen — both supporters of Heifer. But don’t confuse all the revelry with frivolity.
The Hope for the Future campaign has been in the works for a few years and will involve every aspect of fundraising at Heifer. The main focus, however, is on its newly organized major gifts initiative. Until recently, major gifts was something of an ad hoc proposition for Heifer and responsible for a mere 3 percent to 4 percent of its contributed income.
“We’ve always received major gifts, but we haven’t had a formalized program with a dedicated staff,” explains Donna Jared, vice president of development at Heifer. “It’s only in the last couple of years that we’ve had the processes and policies in place. Revenue from major giving has doubled since last year, and we’re continuing to identify our prospects and work on cultivation plans for them. The difference is we’re now aggressively working our plans.”
Heifer closed FY 2003 with $1.44 million coming from major gifts; at the end of FY 2004, that number had increased some 50 percent to $2.16 million.
Still, most of Heifer’s donations come in from individuals who use the organization’s offline and online catalogs to “purchase” animals in the names of friends and family members. The animals then are given to families in needy communities around the world, along with education on how to care for them and use them to enhance the family’s quality of life. In turn, the receiving family agrees to give the first female offspring to another family in the community — “passing on the gift,” as Heifer calls it.
But the beloved and highly successful catalog campaign might have given some potential donors the wrong impression, according to Christi Woodworth, national director of development at Heifer.
“We have wonderful, dedicated donors who came to Heifer from the catalog or online or direct mail,” Woodworth says. “But for folks coming in through direct mail, there isn’t as much propensity to give [major gifts of $25,000 or more]. Heifer traditionally isn’t seen as wanting that kind of gift.
“The Hope for the Future Campaign is a balance to the wide net that direct mail set out. We have projects all over the world that could fit [major gift donors’] interests,” adds Woodworth, whose job it is to coordinate Heifer’s national major gifts program.
Major gifts as a dedicated effort began in the fall of 2001, nearly 60 years into the organization’s history. After Sept. 11, 2001, Woodworth says, it became clear that it was time to encourage people to give what Heifer calls “transformational” gifts. It was then that Americans seemed primed to look at “the big picture” and were ready to make a difference in the world.
“We found that following Sept. 11, Americans as a whole turned their eye toward the international community a little bit more,” she explains. “They became more interested in what is happening around the world and began realizing that if people had hope and the opportunity to create better lives for themselves, then we would live in a much more peaceful world.”
How it will work
Like many organizations in the new millennium, Heifer is taking an integrated approach to fundraising for its Hope for the Future campaign, combining efforts from all of its development arms: major gifts, which works with individuals, corporations and some family foundations; foundation relations, which handles larger private foundations and public granting vehicles such as federal, state or local programs; and the community relations team, which works with grassroots organizations, congregations, schools and civic clubs, etc.
Capital campaigns come under the auspices of foundation relations and major gifts. The backbone of Heifer’s fundraising efforts, direct marketing (the catalog and Web site) sits within the communications and marketing department. Planned giving is handled by the legally separate Heifer Foundation.
For the new campaign, Heifer added some staff members and refocused the efforts of others. The major gifts arm now has a staff of 10, with six of them located in regional offices around the country.
Being a major gifts staffer means traveling a lot, Woodworth says, since they are responsible for meeting with potential major gifts donors in person and arranging special events to match their interests. And while plenty of organizations arrange such events when courting major-gifts donors, Heifer stands out in the sheer variety of its offerings.
A potential major-gifts donor could be invited to a wine-and-cheese reception at someone’s home; an educational session at one of the organization’s ranches; a holiday “live gift market,” where they can meet gift animals up close and personal; or an all-out study tour of Heifer’s ranches and partner communities around the world.
“Regional events can take on any kind of look,” Woodworth says. “We want them to be as varied as possible to attract different kinds of donors.”
Can’t forget DM
Both Jared and Woodworth are quick to point out that the new emphasis on major gifts will in no way take away from the importance of the direct marketing program. The well-designed direct mail, the stylish yet charming catalog and matching Web site are, after all, the open end of the funnel and have been transmitting Heifer’s simple, consistent message to the public for 60 years.
“The majority of major-gifts donors come up through direct mail,” Woodworth says. “It’s amazing the number of people who respond to that message.
“We’re so lucky,” she adds, “and yet it’s not just luck. We have a team of folks in the marketing department making sure we’re telling the accurate message of Heifer. That message resonates. Heifer is a simple organization with a very simple idea that hasn’t changed for 60 years.”
And Jared concurs, explaining that when the Heifer catalog was introduced 10 years ago, it brought in a million dollars. Last year, that total was $10 million. The Web site came into the mix about four years ago, and Heifer recently was named the No. 1 fundraiser for Web activity by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
“Direct mail and the Web site are clearly where we shine,” Jared says. “We have a grassroots effort that has built our 60 years of success. Our community relations team and regional offices around the country work with volunteers to get our message out to churches, schools, civic clubs.
“These groups are so inspired and touched by the simplicity of the message that they are willing to take that message to other people in their community,” she adds.
Once a person makes his first gift via the Web or other direct marketing venue, he receives the appropriate “thank you” and then goes into the system to get other contacts from Heifer — e-mails, the World Ark newsletter, etc.
If he begins to respond, the Heifer team will start to personalize contacts more heavily and eventually make invitations to events tailored to the donor’s interest — in the hopes, of course, that a major-gifts donor will be born.
Those contacts are followed up by phone by major-gifts staffers, leading up to face-to-face meetings and, they hope, a substantial contribution.
A shared belief
Folks you speak to at Heifer talk freely about the organization’s success. And while no one mentions it specifically, the staff’s enthusiasm and deep belief in its mission have to play an integral part in that success. Listen as Woodworth talks about Heifer’s unique program:
“When a family accepts an animal, they then are obligated to pass on the first female offspring to someone else in the community. I was on a farm, and a family had just completed the pass-on requirement. It hit me that this man who doesn’t have much spent a year raising this cow, feeding it, keeping it healthy before it could be passed on. In some ways, that cow was 30 [percent] to 50 percent of his total wealth in the world. How many of us give away half of our wealth?
“I keep a picture of this man and his son with the cow in my office, and when I find myself in back-to-back meetings, talking about numbers, who visited, their reactions, etc., I see this man and his son and I remember this is why we’re doing all this.
“I’ve never seen people so happy to sign a contract. It’s amazing that even though people agree to pass on one animal, very often they’ll pass on two or three because it makes them feel good. They’ve never had an opportunity to give before; they’re discovering what a joyous experience it is to give. It’s a powerful thing to help people make that first gift.”
Heifer International recently was awarded the prestigious Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, which could be considered the Nobel Prize for humanitarian organizations. In the nine years since the award has been presented, Heifer is only the second U.S. nonprofit to receive the honor.
“We couldn’t be more pleased and proud,” Jared says. “The cash gift is extraordinary, and we are pleased to receive it, but the recognition is worth so much more than that. It adds to our credibility and recognizes Heifer’s work in making a difference in the world.”