Bill Gates Is Recommending Heifer International for Giving Tuesday - Should You Take His Advice?

December 2, 2013

"We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift." 1 Corinthians 8:20

In an effort to promote Giving Tuesday, Bill Gates and his wife Melinda sent out a message highlighting four non-profits they believed donors should consider contributing to, including Heifer International. When the world's richest man suggests donors consider a Christian ministry as a recipient of your gift on Giving Tuesday, it is news if for no other reason than the apparently secular Gates family is recognizing a Christian ministry. Additionally, the Gates Foundation clearly has enormous resources available to it with which to evaluate the effectiveness of a ministry and has concluded Heifer is worthy of your donations. There is no doubt Heifer has performed admirable work helping alleviate poverty over many decades. Heifer provides a hand-up to the poor by giving them farm animals which can be used to feed a family rather than give them a handout. According to Heifer, it has provided life transforming help to almost 21 million families translating into nearly 100 million men, women and children over its 70 year history.

Despite this track record of helping the poor and the impressive endorsement from the Gates, MinistryWatch.com believes donors would be wise to look elsewhere in assisting the impoverished among us. While Heifer was founded by a Christian man from the Church of the Brethren, it is not a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). This is disturbing for a ministry the size if Heifer, which had $112 million in revenues almost all of which were from donations, last year. The absence of membership in the ECFA may indicate an unwillingness of Heifer to live by the standards the group requires of its ministry members. One of those requirements is adherence to a statement of faith and it appears Heifer does not have a formal statement of faith. Moreover, from a financial perspective, Heifer runs up substantial fundraising costs. At 20% of every dollar donated, Heifer's fund raising costs are 4 times as large of those of the average ministry in the MinistryWatch.com database. Heifer also closed out 2012 with over $55 million in cash on its balance sheet, roughly half its annual donation income. While MinistryWatch.com is not opposed to Heifer holding some cash to insure the smooth running of its operations, $55 million appears to be excessive. As a result, MinistryWatch.com gives Heifer only a 1 Star rating for Financial Efficiency. While Heifer clearly does effective work in alleviating poverty, the ministry could continue its work without donors help for several months just by using its excess cash and also burns up too much of a donor's gift in soliciting it. More financially effective options, where more of your gift reaches those in need, can be found in our MinistryWatch.com database.

While Bill Gates is very smart, in the case of Heifer we believe it would be best to ignore his advice and look for ways to help the poor via Christian ministries willing to clearly espouse their statement of faith, adhere to the standards of the ECFA and who utilize donations more efficiently. Many such ministries can be found at MinistryWatch.com.