While many principles of philanthropy hold true no matter where in the world you are, there are unique challenges that cause international fundraising to require a skillset all its own. In interviews with development professionals experienced in international fundraising, we identified several key strategies for success in this growing field.

1. Know How to Find Your Global Alumni

Many universities have alumni all over the world—but they can be notoriously difficult to find. One development professional explains:

Most non-Western countries don’t have quite as much transparency as we do, so finding addresses can be difficult. Email tends to be the new mode that is most reliable for us. But, of course, we all know that students—[especially those] under 25—are relying less on email and more on other social media. So we’re trying to make sure that we have a pretty robust presence.

We recently had an event in Taipei where we thought we had about three dozen addressable alumni. We sent out notifications for a reception, and 65 showed up! So we had a whole bunch of people who were there that we didn’t even know, but through social media, learned of the reception and wanted to come have contact with their alma mater.

2. Translate More Than Language

It is common to need a translator in international fundraising. But if the translator is unfamiliar with the culture, the organization, and philanthropy in general, then certain words can convey unintended messages, making relationship building difficult. Consider the strategy this university implements:

There are many ways in which messages can get misinterpreted when the language is common. When languages are different, it’s exponentially more difficult. And when the cultural norms are different, that makes it even more complicated.

We work very hard to make sure that the people who are doing the translating are not simply translators, but they’re actually people on our team who understand the nuances and the culture, but also can speak to the values of the institution. They’re not mechanically translating words from English to Chinese and back. But they’re actually helping to build a sense of trust and relationship with the donor.

3. Utilize Resources to Prepare

Countless resources are available in print and online to help prepare for smooth intercultural interactions. But your institution may have even more resources that might not immediately come to mind. This development professional explains:

One of our great strengths at my university is diversity. It is a diversity of national origin. It is also diversity of gender and ethnicity and other kinds of things that I think really make a difference in terms of our ability to tap into internal capacity. We have people on our campus who were born and raised in Korea. So when we have questions about what kinds of gifts to take, how many to take, and who gets what kinds of gifts, we have someone on our team who really understands why it’s important to give one person one gift and another person another gift.

For example, one of the really strong relationships we have in engineering is led by one of our faculty members who is from Korea, with a Korean university. So we often follow his lead to be able to say, “What do you know of the group we’re meeting with and how should we approach this in a way that is sensitive and thoughtful and shows respect for the relationship?”

4. Build a Complex, Thoughtful Strategy

Development professionals are no strangers to travel, but travelling abroad is far less convenient than travelling domestically. Therefore, what may be accomplished in many visits domestically ought to be consolidated into as few visits as possible where international travel is involved. This development professional explains how this affects high-level strategy building:

I think we do a lot more planning logistically around international fundraising because we’re going much further, because we’re spending more money, and we want to make sure that the bang for the buck is there. And so each of these engagements really tends to be an exercise in figuring out who the right delegation is, which places they should be visiting, how they should be engaging with alumni, whether it’s individually or in groups at receptions or dinners.

So I think we’re more thoughtful as a public institution just because of the resources involved. We also are much more careful about how we start these interactions. Because we know that we don’t have the resources to have a strong presence in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Germany, France, England, and Saudi Arabia, you know. So we have to actually pick and choose carefully to make sure that our involvements are deep in specific places, as opposed to shallow across many, because we just don’t have the resources to do that.

5. Recognize the Global Philanthropy Climate

Attitudes toward philanthropy can widely vary in different cultures, and therefore expectations ought to be tempered against the realities of each nation’s philanthropic culture. This fundraiser from the United States describes the discrepancies he notices between expectations and reality:

I think that there is an assumption that there is pent-up philanthropic need and potential in Asia. That if you just send people over there, they’ll come back with suitcases full of money. Well, that’s not true. As a matter of fact, it’s even less true about Asia than it is about some places in the United States because there isn’t a developed culture of philanthropy in any of these countries. There isn’t the notion that people give away money. Americans give away more money than virtually any industrialized nation in the world on a per capita basis.

So the question becomes not how do you go to Hong Kong and come back with a suitcase of money? It is, how do you make your institution relevant to people who are in a different part of the world? How do you demonstrate the case for value? And how do you instill in the institution the patience to let that relationship develop?

A better understanding of international fundraising can open the door to countless opportunities. As one development professional stated, “There are people in every society across the world who want to help others through the resources they’ve amassed in their lives.” The question is, how can your organization seize this tremendous opportunity?

To learn more about effectively working with all types of donors, experience The Art and Science of Donor Development.

The Art and Science of Donor Development