Insight-driven innovation: The transformation of Heifer International

Client Heifer
Industry Not-for-profit

Heifer International leverages donor insights and experimentation to increase its fundraising efforts and expand its network.


The culture of experimentation is ingrained in all aspects of Heifer’s identity since its founding, including both its program work and its fundraising efforts. Experimenting to expand their donor network and find more cost-efficient ways to raise the funds needed to end hunger has long been a part of Heifer’s digital strategy. Recently, Conversion has helped Heifer International to:

  • Increase its experimentation velocity by 10X.
  • Validated insights that increased the conversion rate and average gift (AOV) per donor.
  • Understand the underlying motivations behind holiday and non-holiday donors.
  • Build a solid foundation with validated donor insights for a successful identity transformation.

“Experimentation is critical. It’s critical to growth and you cannot grow without trying new things or without testing and experimenting. Having that culture of trying new things and the permission to fail, you’re opening the door to innovation and you’re allowing the potential for growth. If you’re not into experimentation, you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to grow.”

— Harper Grubbs, Sr. Director of Digital Marketing, Heifer International

Business Goals

– Building the foundation for a formal and structured approach to digital experimentation.


– Building momentum and leveling up the experimentation program at Heifer.


– Expanding the horizons to understand more around donor contexts, seasonal nuances, and donor types in order to drive both innovation and optimization.


– Transformation: put all the learnings and pieces together to re-platform and rebuild the website and user experience.

2020 and beyond

– Continuous learning and transformation to adapt to a changing economy and non-profit landscape.

Lack of a well-structured program to build a solid foundation

Heifer was evolving to become more digitally focused in its fundraising and had a solid strategy of putting the donor at the center of all of their work. However, their existing experimentation program lacked structure and was not producing consistent or meaningful results. Due to having lean internal operations, Heifer set out to search for a partner with the expertise to help them build a formal and structured experimentation program that can help them better understand their digital audience as they grow their online presence.

Rebuild an appealing digital experience

Heifer needed to better understand its donor segments if they wanted to rebuild an appealing digital experience. That meant exploring three key challenges:

  • Understanding the underlying motivations for monthly donors.
  • Differentiating how donors behave during the peak holiday season and the rest of the year.
  • Creating relevant messaging that resonates with different donor segments to attract and inspire new donors.
Transformation and evolution

While Heifer’s digital journey has come a long way since the beginning of the engagement, there was still a lot more to be done. Based on learnings from completed experiments and behavioral science studies, Heifer recognized the need to re-platform and rebuild their digital experience from the ground up. The question is, how to leverage the years of donor insights as Heifer moves beyond their existing holiday catalog fundraising model to better showcase the full impact of the work that Heifer is doing to eliminate hunger and poverty around the world?


Accelerated experimentation velocity and increased AOV – Wins without drastic changes

Together, the Conversion and Heifer teams built a solid foundation and ran a number of experiments–especially during the giving season. Heifer ran 10X more experiments than they did before and increased the average gift (AOV) per donor while also improving the site conversion rate.

The team found that, though some of the changes may be small, they led to a significant increase in the website conversion rate. It’s not about the drastic changes, but more about what motivates donors to act. Sometimes the simplest changes have the biggest impact.

Heifer example 1
The brief thank you message from the CEO of Heifer was effective in increasing donor transactions.
Structured, mixed-method approach to understand the “why” that drove the results

Conversion provided Heifer with a strategic, structured approach to experimentation. While behavioral science found out why people are making donations during non-peak (non-holiday) and peak (holiday) seasons, experiments validated the learnings.

Heifer example 2
Add-on choices during the checkout process increased average value per donor during non peak season.

However, not every experiment led to successful results. Failure also provided valuable learnings; one experiment failed without explanation. The experiment was then used as a study to find out how people perceived it, which led to key insights for future experiments.

Heifer example 2
But, add-on choices during the checkout process decreased average value per donor during peak season.


One key discovery:

Donors are often overwhelmed during the holiday season. The solution? Reducing donation choices and simplifying the website donation process.

Identity evolution and reinvention

Heifer was a pioneer in the donor catalog fundraising model that is focused on giving animals to friends and family as gifts during the holidays. However, realizing the need to evolve, Heifer developed new brand messaging with a people-centered approach. This approach focused on supporting communities to earn living incomes and empowering them to change their lives for the better. It is critical to evolve the Heifer online experience to include this new message to attract new donors without alienating the loyal donors who give Heifer gifts each holiday season.

Heifer example 4
The new people-centered brand attributes that focus on empowering communities and individuals.

Insights drove innovation. Leveraging the insights learned over the years, the Heifer and Conversion team formulated new strategies and designs to discover new potential avenues for growth. The ongoing goal: continue to improve the digital channel and attract new donors.

Dedicated team & valued partnership

Heifer and Conversion built trust over years of working together as a single team. Conversion has a deep understanding of Heifer’s business, helping to align on Heifer’s goals. The two teams work like one, seamlessly ensuring that the most effective strategies are put forward. Conversion keeps in mind the reinvention required in the non-profit sector, and the mission of eliminating hunger and poverty.

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