Heifer Project International

About this page

GiveWell aims to find the best giving opportunities we can and recommend them to donors. We tend to put a lot of investigation into the organizations we find most promising, and de-prioritize others based on limited information. When we decide not to prioritize an organization, we try to create a brief writeup of our thoughts on that charity because we want to be as transparent as possible about our reasoning.

The following write-up should be viewed in this context: it explains why we determined that we wouldn't be prioritizing the organization in question as a potential top charity. This write-up should not be taken as a "negative rating" of the charity. Rather, it is our attempt to be as clear as possible about the process by which we came to our top recommendations.

A note on this page's publication date

The last time we examined Heifer Project International was in March 2010. In our latest open-ended review of charities, we determined that it was unlikely to meet our criteria based on our past examination of it, so we did not revisit it.

We invite all charities that feel they meet our criteria to apply for consideration.

The content we created in March 2010 appears below. This content is likely to be no longer fully accurate, both with respect to what it says about Heifer Project International and with respect to what it implies about our own views and positions. With that said, we do feel that the takeaways from this examination are sufficient not to prioritize re-opening our investigation of this organization at this time.

Published: March 2010


Heifer Project International implements a wide variety of projects focused on international aid and development around the world.1

One aspect of Heifer's programming (not the only aspect) involves giving gifts of livestock to people in the developing world. We note two key points regarding such programs:

  • It seems like giving out livestock brings with it all of the problems and challenges of direct cash transfers.
  • It seems like livestock gift programs also bring additional problems and challenges that don't apply to giving out cash.

In our evaluations of Heifer we were unable to resolve the above issues, and therefore, we cannot recommend Heifer Project International to donors.

Details of our evaluations

We have considered Heifer at two times: Heifer applied for a grant in late-2009, and we reviewed their website in mid-2009. Details on each follow.

Table of Contents

2009 grant application

We reviewed Heifer in late 2009 as part of our process to distribute $250,000 in grants to organizations working on economic empowerment in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Our review consisted of reviewing materials Heifer submitted in response to our questions and two phone conversations with Heifer International staff members.2

Due to a non-disclosure agreement we signed with Heifer, we cannot share the details of our analysis of the materials Heifer shared with us. Interested donors should contact Heifer directly.


  • Arinez, Ingrid. Heifer Project International Senior Grants Officer. Phone call with GiveWell, October 2, 2009.
  • Arinez, Ingrid. Heifer Project International Senior Grants Officer. Phone call with GiveWell, November 17, 2009.
  • GiveWell. Cash transfer programs.
  • GiveWell. Gifts of livestock programs.
  • Heifer Project International. Annual report (2009) (PDF).

2009 website review

In mid-2009, we reviewed the Heifer Project International's website as part of a process to identify top international aid organizations. (How did we identify charities for review?) We reviewed Heifer Project International's website to determine whether it met either of the following two criteria, which we believe indicate whether a charity is likely to eventually be able to meet our full criteria for a recommendation: (Why do we rely on information found on a charity's website?)

  • Does the charity publish high-quality monitoring and evaluation reports on its website? A charity meets this criterion if it freely publishes - on its website - substantial evidence regarding impact that (a) discusses how the impacts of projects or programs were evaluated, including what information was collected and how it was collected; (b) discusses the actual impact of the evaluated projects. (Why is monitoring and evaluation so important?) We seek enough evidence to be confident that a charity changed lives for the better - not simply that it carried out its activities as intended. Different programs aim for different sorts of life change, and must be assessed on different terms. We do not hold to a single universal rule for determining what "impact" we're looking for; rather, what we look for varies by program type. (For more, see, What constitutes impact?)
  • Does the charity stand out for program selection? A charity meets this criterion if it focuses primarily on (or publishes enough financial information to make it clear that 75% of its recent funding is devoted to) what we consider "priority programs." These programs have particularly strong evidence bases, enough to lower the burden of proof on a charity running them. (Why do we look for charities implementing proven programs?) Such programs include administering vaccinations, distributing insecticide-treated nets, and treating tuberculosis, among many others. (For more, see our full list of priority programs.)

Heifer Project International did not meet either of these criteria.

  • 1

    "Heifer had 928 active projects in 54 countries and 28 U.S. states in fiscal year 2009." Heifer Project International, "Annual Report (2009)."

  • 2

    Ingrid Arinez, phone call with GiveWell, October 2, 2009.

    Ingrid Arinez, phone call with GiveWell, November 17, 2009.