Building a next-level optimization program with Heifer International

By: Natasha Wahid
10 min. read Last updated: August 27th, 2020

A little over a year ago, Harper Grubbs, Director of Digital Marketing at Heifer International, began his search for a conversion optimization partner.

As luck would have it, one of Heifer’s partners pointed Harper in the direction of WiderFunnel. Harper did some research and decided to reach out…and so began a very exciting partnership.

This is the tale of how an international charity organization and a growth agency joined forces to the benefit of all: client, agency, donors, and so many in need.

Heifer’s Director of Digital Marketing, Harper Grubbs, tells his side of the story.

Who is Heifer International?

Founded in 1944, Heifer International is a charity organization working to end hunger and poverty around the world by providing livestock and training to struggling communities.

Based in the “teach a man to fish” philosophy, Heifer International provides livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to help farmers around the world who are struggling for reliable sources of food and income.

client spotlight teach a man to fish
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

Their holistic approach is designed to help communities become drivers of their own change by cultivating income and nutrition, improving the environment, empowering women around the world, helping communities create social capital, and encouraging families that receive support from Heifer to “Pass on the Gift®” to others in their communities.

Of course, to do what they do, Heifer relies heavily on donations made on their website.

Harper Grubbs

We receive a significant percentage of our donations as an organization through the website. So, it’s very important that our website be effective, that it work as well as possible and provide our visitors with an optimal experience. And that’s where WiderFunnel has come in for us.

– Harper Grubbs

Searching for the right partner

Harper and his team had been doing conversion optimization in-house and with the help of external digital marketing consultants for a number of years, but they just weren’t seeing the desired effect.

They found that they were running a lot of experiments, but were not getting significant, projectable results that would actually impact Heifer’s bottom line.

Harper wanted to take Heifer’s conversion optimization efforts to the next level. So, he began the search for an external partner: a new team and new resources that he could rely on to supplement his existing team.

Harper Grubbs

We realized we needed a more structured approach to our optimization efforts, and we needed more resources to do it. We were really taxing the resources we had and weren’t devoting as much time into conversion optimization as it needed.

– Harper Grubbs

When Harper heard about WiderFunnel, he did his due diligence and discovered our LIFT Model framework and structured approach to optimization: “We were really impressed with the strategic approach [WiderFunnel] brings to optimization,” says Harper.

WiderFunnel's LIFT Model details the 6 conversion factors.
WiderFunnel’s LIFT Model details the 6 conversion factors.

Harper reached out, and before long, we were LIFT-ing Heifer’s website, together.

Getting in the donor’s head

With Heifer, the WiderFunnel strategy team really wanted to dig into donor motivations and develop experiments that would help answer questions like:

  1. What fundamentally motivates someone to feel charitable?
  2. Are donors sensitive to how others site visitors are donating? Do they respond to social proof?
  3. How many product choices is too many?
  4. Does positive versus negative messaging/imagery have an effect on donations?

Some of the experiments we have run tap into psychological principles, such as Robert Cialdini’s Rule of Consistency, which states that people want to be consistent in all areas of life; once someone takes an action, no matter how small, they strive to make future behavior match that past behavior.

We put this principle to the test in one experiment, asking Heifer users to self-identify as a donor type when they land on the site.

client spotlight psychological persuasion
What kind of donor are you?

We found that once someone starts thinking of themselves as a “donor”, their need to remain consistent kicks in, resulting in more donors for Heifer! This is just one of the many psychology-inspired tests we have run and are running with Heifer.

“WiderFunnel has incorporated some really interesting psychological and behavioral principles into the strategy of our optimization efforts. This has given us the ability to learn things we never would have understood on our own, it has given us better insights into how people are thinking and what they’re doing and why they do what they do on our website.

This has given us the ability to apply these aspects to other parts of our work so that when we are developing new features and functionality, we can consider ‘How do these principles apply to what we are doing currently?‘” explains Harper.

Harper emphasizes that the psychological testing we have done has yielded some of the clearest test results he’s ever seen, which has led to better overall website results.

The science of partnership

Several months into the engagement, the partnership had really begun to gel.

WiderFunnel Optimization Strategist, Michael St Laurent, and Optimization Coordinator, Ervin Cho work closely with Harper and his team to continue to transform Heifer’s conversion optimization program and overall user experience.

“We aren’t just optimizing their digital experiences, we are optimizing the relationship,” explains Ervin. The two teams need to be properly integrated to ensure that all of the valuable ideas from each side are being heard and tested.

We credit several of WiderFunnel’s consistent process requirements for the partnership’s success.

client spotlight partnership
A good partnership has many touchpoints.

Weekly meetings

Each week, Mike and Ervin meet with Harper and his team. Together, they review the experiment pipeline: What’s in the pipe right now? What are the new ideas each of us have? After some discussion, they prioritize what to tackle next and funnel each test idea into their shared pipeline.

Mike also recently went on-site with Heifer and some of their partners to brainstorm ideas and determine the best ways to share WiderFunnel’s learnings among partners (and the best ways to learn from what Heifer’s partners are doing).

One key decision-maker

Rather than going through multiple contacts for experiment approval, Mike and Harper are able to determine next steps together.

Open communication

Transparency is a necessity. Both the WiderFunnel strategy team and Heifer’s team are open and communicative about what is working and what isn’t working. We don’t hide anything from them and they don’t hide anything from us.

Collaboration and fresh ideas

Harper Grubbs

The team that we’ve worked with has been really impressive in terms of their level of knowledge and their sophistication with how they approach testing. They have brought a lot of insights to the team that we would not have had ourselves through their experience with other companies they have worked with.

They have just really exceeded our expectations in terms of delivering good strategy and delivering a sound project management approach, and having a good structure for how our website is optimized.

– Harper Grubbs

Harper and his team know their mission and their donors, but, at WiderFunnel, we have run thousands of tests. We have seen what works over and over again, and we have seen what fails over and over again. When Heifer approaches us with upcoming changes, we are able to give their team expert advice on how to improve the experience.

“Behavioral research drives a lot of what we do with Heifer,” explains Mike. “It’s not necessarily about knowing the specific industry, it’s about understanding what fundamentally motivates people to feel charitable, and looking at ways we can leverage that across the site.”

Harper explained that he is really excited about the level of partnership his team is achieving with the WiderFunnel team. “We’re really working to integrate the WiderFunnel team with our own team and are working more collaboratively, to integrate the strategy, approach, and ideas that they have.”

Harper’s goal for the future of Heifer’s partnership with WiderFunnel: “Every piece of work that we do informs the next, and we have one, single, combined approach to our website strategy.”

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