Acquiring International Donors

News | April 12, 2018

By: Lara Kadylak, Manager of Annual Giving, American Chemical Society

As association fundraisers, we are always trying to expand our donor base. We engage younger members through Facebook and Twitter, test donation options in membership renewals, send targeted direct mail appeals and communicate the importance of estate gifts. Yes, international members can be included in all of the above (even estate gifts!) but you may be limiting your response from this group if you only have a one-size-fits-all approach.

When I first had the task of increasing our international donor base, I thought to myself “Why would a member who lives outside of the United States want to fund programs that only support students and teachers in the United States?” I was certain the answer to this question was key to communicating the right message. I sent emails to our international donors thanking them for their past donation and asked why they supported a program only administered in the U.S.

I did not receive the one-size-fits-all answer for which I hoped. International donors have individual reasons for including an association in their philanthropic endeavors just like domestic donors. Some went to school in the U.S. and felt a connection to the students they supported and others just simply wanted to give back to their profession.

A donor in Japan responded, “Supporting this program in my small way is what I think can be the best place for me to start to encourage young people to do research. It is not research for America, but research for all people everywhere.”

This compelling quote communicated the global impact of the program as perceived by one of our donors outside the U.S. I recognized that there needed to be more emphasis on this cohort, so I began to profile international donors in newsletters throughout the organization to convey their different reasons for supporting our programs. Each electronic newsletter had a direct link to donate.

The international community was now able to better identify with their fellow members as donors so it was time for more targeted acquisitions. Appeals often acknowledge holidays in the U.S. such as Thanksgiving with the hope that it will trigger an emotional response and lead to a donation. International donors need to know that we value them just as much, so I began recognizing some of their holidays. I sent emails to donors in countries that celebrate Chinese New Year and mailed cards to Japanese donors featuring cherry blossoms during that season.

Now, how do I cultivate major donor prospects as budget constraints are hindering overseas travel? Associations with international memberships are likely to have Board Members and staff attending meetings and conferences in different countries throughout the year. I had a colleague traveling in Japan meet with a donor there to thank him for his generous donations. Since I established a relationship with this donor over email, I sent along a little gift. This has resulted in increased donations each year since the visit.

Finally, we all know that in order to get renewed and increased donations we must say THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! Donors are bombarded with emails and it is becoming harder to reach them through this cost-effective medium. Postcards seemed like the next best option. The most successful postcard featured a map with the words “Thanks to You…” It had lines pointing to different locations in the world with pictures of a student in her lab, with her mentor, and in front of her school. The reverse side was a handwritten note from that student discussing the positive impact of the program on her life. This did not list the web address or ask for gifts, yet produced numerous online donations.

Share your “best practices” for acquiring international donors on the AFG LinkedIn page!

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