International Research Part 2: Designing an International Development Strategy

international development

By: Jill McCarville

In Part 1 of this International Research series, we addressed a number of questions that your development department should consider before deciding to research and solicit major gift prospects internationally.

Now that your organization has decided to pursue international development, what are the best practices involved?  How do you get started?

Allan Berezny, Assistant Dean at the University of British Colombia, sums up international development quite nicely in the Prospect Research in Canada book, “going global” requires:

“…a healthy dose of common sense grounded in economic, geographic, and political reality, cultural and religious sensitivity, and awareness of one’s organizations strengths and weaknesses, these provide a solid base on which to build an international development program.”

Specialization is Key

Berezny recommends collaboration between researchers and fundraisers but stresses the importance of having specialized roles.  Dividing the work is better than everyone doing a little bit of “ad hoc” international work with no one specifically owning it.  To cultivate the relationship with an international prospect, one person should remain the primary contact.  It can be damaging to have a rotation of different individuals meeting with the same prospect, especially on an international scale.

If you dedicate a specific prospect researcher(s) to international research (likely in addition to other national-based work), that person could become the go-to international research expert.  As Berezny outlined from his experience: “Having a researcher involved from the beginning in developing our strategy for engaging an international prospect and being ‘on call’ throughout the process is essential in successfully securing a gift at the end.”

Do Your Homework

It’s tempting to jump in and go full steam ahead with international development, but making a plan and outlining a specific process are crucial steps.  First, decide which countries present the best opportunities. Consider the country’s economic, social, and political landscape.  Then consider the prospect’s individual characteristics, such as their biographic information and business affairs.  Be sure the prospect your team will dedicate several hours on is worthy of that time and energy.

Berezny also notes that you’ll want to stay away from “Philanthropic Tourism.”  With international development in particular, it can be tempting to hold a large event in a foreign country once or twice per year to bring your prospects together.  For logistical and budgetary reasons, this might make sense.  But more now than ever, it is important to help prospects feel they are part of an inner circle and that their perspective counts.   A transparent, personalized giving experience will solidify the relationship between donor and organization. Consider choosing this approach instead of (or supplementary to) expensive galas and other functions.

It is also important to understand potential legal implications, etiquette, and cultural sensitivities of particular regions.  For example, don’t assume that privacy laws are the same everywhere.  Information that is readily available to use in one country may be prohibited in another.  For instance, United States real estate holdings information availability is vastly different than Canada or the United Kingdom.  In the US, mortgage and property values are readily available based on mailing addresses.  But in other countries, the best property value you are likely to find and use is an estimate based on postal codes.

On the other hand, just because something is legal in a country doesn’t necessarily mean that it is culturally acceptable.  In some countries it is rude and unacceptable to ask your prospects for information on other potential prospects.

A Good Tip: Cultural understanding is key!  Leverage colleagues, peers, or friends in other countries to get their take on the tips and tricks of privacy, etiquette, and culture.

Be Informed and Comprehensive

If you’ve tried researching an international prospect, you’re probably aware that information on that prospect can be difficult to find.  For this reason, we recommend you don’t edit information as it is collected.  Instead, gather as much individual prospect data as you possibly can.  Then, begin the validating process.  If you edit information as you go as you would with local prospects, you risk missing important pieces that could help complete your international prospect’s story.

When sourcing international information for your research, you may want to look for a prospect research tool that contains information on international individuals.  In some tools you’ll have access to the international information within databases like: Dun & Bradstreet, Relationship Science (RelSci), VeriGift, and Thomson Reuters.

Standardize Your International Research Process

As Jason Briggs, Research & Prospect Manager for The University of Sheffield, explains in this blog post, prospect researchers are key to international fundraising.  They possess resources and strategies that others may lack, and they are often willing to go the extra mile when information is scarce.  Work with each member of your team to create international research guidelines.  Consider including these basic best practices:

Record Everything:  As Briggs stresses, keep records of who researched whom, which prospects were researched, and what data was found.  “This obsessive recording is why we have been successful in securing healthy funding for our team – especially for additional resources like international students – because we can estimate accurately how long each project will take and demonstrate our impact. Departmental budgets seem more forthcoming when you can prove that you won’t need that budget indefinitely.”

Set a Data Review Date:  Briggs also suggests setting a date to review research that was previously conducted.  For instance, research different countries (each for a specific period of time) and then review the results for each after a designated period.  This establishes structure and direction in the research process.  It also helps you troubleshoot what is or isn’t working.

Consistency is Key:  Try to keep international research consistent for the different “target” countries.  For example, try to stick to one calculation for giving capacity.  As Briggs suggests, if there are different calculations for each country, there is more room for confusion and error.  The same is true for reporting.  Try to standardize the way you create prospect profiles and make recommendations.  Doing so requires collaboration between gift officers and researchers, and over time will help strengthen your team.

International research and fundraising is no small feat for any organization.  As we mentioned in Part 1 of this series, your organization should perform major due diligence to first determine if international development even makes sense for your organization.  If you’ve decided to take the plunge, remember to get organized, standardize your process, and do your homework.  If you follow these best practices, you can establish new and promising relationships with donors from every corner of the globe.

It’s a small world after all!

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