Fundraising in a Global World: Engaging an Increasingly Diverse and International Donor Base

Economic and cultural globalization has made American philanthropy an undeniably international affair. Nowhere is this more visible than in academic institutions, where the continued exponential  growth of international student enrollment from countries like China, India, Hong Kong, South Korea, and many others has changed educational culture and the fundraising environment that supports it.

InternationalFundraisingCover.jpgThis shift raises new questions about fundraising in different cultural contexts, as fundraisers explore motivations for giving from outside of the U.S., strategies for engaging international donors, and new competencies for fundraising professionals. Successfully courting a diverse, international donor pool depends on both time-tested development methods and new practices that reflect thoughtful cultural awareness.

In the summer of 2016, Campbell & Company set out to explore emerging best practices in international fundraising among universities, colleges, and independent schools. Based on our research, Campbell & Company developed a series of recommended strategies for successful international fundraising.

  1. Understand the cultural landscape. Each fundraising environment is influenced by its own local customs and relationships that need to be authentically understood. This is especially true when creating effective international fundraising programs, where development team members must operate within a foreign context. Take note of social and cultural norms around food, business, and family in order to carry out development activities comfortably.
  1. Visit early and often. Our research found that targeted fundraising trips were the most effective form of outreach to international donors. In-person cultivation is crucial to building relationships overseas, especially in academic institutions where parents of international students and alumni have less access to school or university. Invest time and money on travel to areas with a critical mass of prospects, beginning with exploratory trips to investigate if a region is the right fit for more regular prospect visits.
  1. Invest patiently. Building an international fundraising program is a strategic, long-term investment that requires persistence and commitment. Our research found that closing a gift that might take 12 to 18 months in the U.S. can take as long as 18 to 24 months internationally; travel and cultivation can be a multi-year investment before seeing results.
  1. Tap into the right motivation. People may be motivated to give to an institution overseas for a number of reasons, including a reciprocal feeling of “paying it forward,” a personal connection to an alumnus or benefactor, prestige or recognition, or corporate interests. Know the difference for each prospect, and let that be your guide to your fundraising strategy.
  1. Listen more than you talk. Fundraising—whether at home or overseas—is about relationship-building at its core; building a sense of rapport and trust can increase a donor’s likelihood to give over the long-term. Listening to prospects and their unique interests and motivations is an especially important consideration when forming networks in new cultures and environments, where a development team member may be perceived as an “outsider.”
  1. Engage volunteers judiciously. Relationship-building overseas relies on the engagement of volunteers in the region who can activate networks on your behalf or support on-the-ground events. When engaging volunteers, be sure to know the limits of what to ask. Our research found that, depending on the country, volunteers were happy to lend their names or connections, but didn’t always want to solicit their peers directly.
  1. Bring senior leaders from your institution. Our research showed that, when senior leadership is involved in international fundraising, institutions tend to be more successful at securing major gifts. Involving senior leaders in fundraising efforts at the right time, can communicate your respect and commitment; leaders should demonstrate a genuine interest in the region to build credibility and trust.
  1. Do your homework. Though international fundraising programs are sometimes limited by the difficulty of conducting prospect research abroad, it doesn’t mean you can’t do your homework. In scenarios with government restrictions, closely held companies, or a lack of reputable international data services, in-person research is especially valuable.
  1. Look for cultural competence in a development officer. The most important quality to seek out in a development officer working in international fundraising is cultural competency—knowing how to interact and engage with parents, alumni, and prospects and being flexible to adapt to another culture’s norms. Speaking the country’s language is not required, though it is a distinct advantage.

International fundraising need not be complex, though it does require a significant investment of time and resources to achieve the cultural literacy necessary for true donor-centered fundraising. If institutions meet donors where they are, both geographically and culturally, they will be more likely to tap into immense potential for funding, engagement, and recruitment overseas.

For more information, download the study or listen to the webinar “Fundraising in a Global World: Engaging an Increasingly Diverse and International Donor Base."

About Campbell & Company

Campbell & Company is a national consulting firm offering fundraising, communications, executive search and strategic information services for nonprofit organizations in the education, health and medicine, arts and culture, environment, social service, and professional society fields. 

Through 40 years and thousands of engagements, Campbell & Company has helped nonprofit organizations anticipate and manage the challenges of the philanthropic marketplace. The company maintains offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, DC.  For more information, please call (877) 957-0000, email, or visit