Heifer Project Hopes Contributions Hit All-Time High in 2000

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After sending out more than a million copies of its 2000 holiday gift catalog, expectations are high at Heifer Project International. The nonprofit, which provides livestock and training to more than 4 million families worldwide, has increased staff and is encouraging donors to visit its Web site for online giving and to download gift cards.

"We learned last year that we need enough people on staff to be able to process the gifts people want to send," said Anna Bedford, director of communications at Heifer Project. "We've learned that many people are last-minute shoppers. So we've increased customer service -- adding staff to answer phones, respond to questions and open envelopes. ... We're expecting our biggest response yet this year."

Tom Peterson, director of development, said the Web site, at www.heifer.org, was created less than three years ago and is the Heifer Project's biggest growth area, accounting for $1 million in donations.

Donors can purchase animals such as heifers ($500), water buffalo ($250) and goats ($120), as well as flocks of chicks, ducks or geese (each $20 per flock). They also can buy shares in the larger animals, for example, heifer ($50), water buffalo ($25) and goat ($10). Packages such as the Gift Ark ($5,000) allow donors to send a combination of animals two by two.

The catalog shows pictures of the animals and the people who have received them. Short articles explain how a cow or a goat has enabled a family to be self-sufficient, thus benefiting the entire community.

Using lists rented from other nonprofits and other available lists, the Heifer Project sent out more than 1 million catalogs Oct. 15, Peterson said. With a response rate of less than 1 percent, the organization needs to send out many pieces. The majority went to both the East and West coasts, where the response rate for international development agencies is the greatest. Most were control catalogs with a picture of a sheep wearing a Heifer Project label around its neck. This catalog's look and content have remained fairly consistent over the years.

Seven different test catalogs also went out in groups of 10,000 to 50,000. In these catalogs the Heifer Project may test different covers; in one catalog the sheep is replaced by a Guatemalan named Francesca and her goat. The group also may test different ways of bundling the animals by type -- for example, wool-producing or milk-producing. Bundling is an attempt to bridge the gap between a single animal or flock and the more expensive Gift Ark, said Dixie Ost, direct response marketing manager. One catalog tests the effectiveness of adding a commemorative gift plaque as an incentive.

In addition, the nonprofit sent out 250,000 house catalogs. Because these catalogs go out to people who are already Heifer Project donors, they change every year. "The stories and design change radically," Ost said.

During the first 50 of its 56 years of existence the Heifer Project did not market to the general public. Instead the faith-based organization, which was founded by a Midwestern farmer and Church of the Brethren youth worker, depended on religious and community organizations for donations. Now the agency is attempting to reach a much wider group.

"We're in the early stages of a major strategic plan to make Heifer Project a household name," Bedford said. Part of this is a branding process to create an image "that more truly reflects who we are today -- making clear that we give to people of all faiths, and we see ourselves as having the kind of values and philosophy held by people of good faith whatever their religion."

Heifer Project's direct marketing campaign is backed by public service ads, in-school programs and study tours that invite donors to see Heifer Project sites at work. The combined efforts seem to be paying off. Contributions have grown from $5 million in their first year of direct marketing to $23.5 million in 1999.

"We are expanding quite rapidly," Bedford said. "And that has a lot to do with our direct mail program."

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