International Research Part 1: Is International Research Right for You?

international research

By: Jill McCarville

Let me guess: you’ve been hearing a lot about international research and fundraising lately, right?  If you work in the fundraising department of a nonprofit, chances are you’ve heard the buzz or someone has told you you’re missing out.  It’s true that international fundraising is on the rise, but is it worthy of the hype?  Is it right for every organization?

Philanthropy is Increasing Worldwide

On a global scale, charitable giving is increasing.  According to the 2016 Global NGO Online Technology Report, the number of people donating money to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) increased from 1.2B in 2011 to 1.4B in 2014.  Based on the CAF World Giving Index 2015, the top five countries ranked according to the World Giving Index are Myanmar, United States, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia.

Where is the Wealth?

With travel and global communication becoming ever more accessible, the world is literally at our fingertips.  This is good news because according to the 2016 Capgemini World Wealth Report, the global high net worth individuals (HNWI) population is growing.  It increased by 4% between 2014 and 2015 and it’s expected to continue growing.  By 2015, the global HNWIs population is projected to increase by 41%.

Where we are seeing the growth in wealth might surprise you, however.  In 2015, Asia-Pacific became number one, overtaking North America in both HNWI wealth and population:

  • North America saw 2.3% growth in the wealth of HNWI to US $16.6 trillion and 2.3% growth in number of HNWIs to 4.8 million.
  • Asia-Pacific had 9.9% growth to $17.4 trillion HNWI wealth and 9.4% growth to 5.1 million HNWIs.

 So we know that there is both wealth and a history of philanthropy in many nations of the world, but that still doesn’t automatically mean that international research makes sense for your organization.  There are many factors to consider prior to conducting international research. In Chapter 10 of the Prospect Research in Canada book, Allan Berezny, Assistant Dean at the University of British Colombia, breaks it down to 5 simple factors: “Who, what, when, where, and why?”

Making the Case for International Prospect Research & Fundraising

WHO are you as an organization?

It’s important to know your mandate, mission, and vision.  Based on a survey on international philanthropy, health is the most popular philanthropic cause worldwide. 65% of survey respondents pointed to health causes, followed by the environment (52%), education (44%) and social change, diversity and inclusion (42%).  Thus, if you work at an organization like Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders it probably does make sense to do international research and fundraising.  Or if you work for a University with internationally-based Alumni and a research project based on improving drinking water worldwide, you can probably also make a case.  But if you work for a human services organization focused on improving services in your State or Province, it may be hard to justify international research.

WHAT specific initiative are you fundraising for? 

It’s not always a general question of whether or not it makes sense for your organization to do international research in general, but whether the specific campaign you are fundraising for would be appropriately supported by international research.

WHEN does it make sense to explore international prospects?

If you’ve established that it might make sense for your organization to implement international research and fundraising, it then becomes a question of when.  When are you starting a specific campaign that international prospects would have an affinity for?  Is it the right time to approach based on the state of the prospect’s local and global economy?  Has your organization dedicated enough time to putting in place a specific plan for international research?  This also includes time to get buy-in from management to pursue international prospects.  Ad hoc research or fundraising could result in a waste of time and lack of success.  Asking “when” also includes whether you have the resources to pursue prospective international donors as you are most likely not proficient in their language and culture.

WHERE in the world should we focus? 

Just because there is proven growth in wealthy individuals in the Asia-Pacific doesn’t mean that there are prospects there with an inclination or affinity to give to your organization.  Are there specific individuals, corporations, or foundations in certain regions of the world that would have a connection to what you are fundraising for?  Or where would there be prospects who have a vested interest in the benefits of donating to your region – receiving favorable tax consideration, media profile, or community recognition?

WHY is international research appropriate for you at this time?  

The “why” of international research and fundraising has many interlocking factors to consider.  As Berezny questions, is there a clear and logical reason to do international research other than that everyone else is doing it?  Are you just doing it because it seems easy, so why not give it a try?  Or does your organization truly possess qualities that are deserving of international attention?

As Jason Briggs outlines in a recent blog post, “International prospect research is commonly considered high risk in the sense that it often fails to bring satisfying results and takes considerably more resources.”  It’s for this reason that it is so important to consider the factors above before pursuing international research and prospects.

With that said,  if you have considered the reasons above and feel that international fundraising likely does make sense for you, stay tuned for Part 2 of the International Research series: You’ve Decided that International Prospect Research is Right for You, What Now?


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