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Engaging International Donors

By Angie Joens

What I wouldn’t give to jump on a plane set for exotic foreign lands like—China, Singapore, India, Europe, Australia, or Canada. But alas, while this pandemic still looms over our world travel anywhere out of the country is very limited.

So, what do we do when we have donors who live out of the country? How do we connect with them? What can we do to engage them in the life of our organization? Is a donor a donor no matter what their zip code or country code? This is the $100,000 question.

One truth regarding our donors who are far flung—is that there is a direct correlation between distance and affinity. The farther away a donor lives the stronger the affinity and connection with the organization. I have worked almost my entire career in higher education and have found this to be so true. My donors who live across the country tend to be more interested in what is happening on our campus. If we take this as our baseline then we can see how possible it is to build deeper relationships with our international donors. We just have to find unique ways to engage them.

BP (before pandemic) we planned trips, events, and activities for our donors in other countries. We connected them with other alumni, parents and friends. We asked them to serve as ambassadors for our institution. Now that we are all grounded we have had to think creatively about how to stay connected with our international donors.

Here are a few ways we have found to do that:

  • Virtual Events – The best by-product of this pandemic is we have become experts at hosting and executing virtual events. Virtual events allow our guests from anywhere in the world to join us. When UC Davis launched its campaign in October 2020 we had hundreds of our donors from 18 different countries tune in to join us. And because we taped the event and added subtitles in both Spanish and Mandarin, we could send the event link to other donors post-event so they could watch the event at their own convenience.

  • Hybrid Events – Our donors in other countries are able to gather safely so we recently hosted a hybrid event for major donors in Taiwan. They are gathered at one location and we hosted an event with speakers both in the US and in Taiwan. The event was moderated by a development officer and we had our Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, and key faculty members all on line to participate. It took some planning on our end but we were able to pull off a special event to honor them and connect with them—virtually. After our event they enjoyed lunch together and shared stories about their days at UC Davis.

  • Personal Stewardship Meetings – We do not have to be in the same room to have a meaningful conversation or show a donor something. All we need is the technology to connect. Thanks to Zoom, WhatsApp, and other digital meeting spaces we have meaningful conversations. Honestly, it is almost easier to coordinate time with donors and their recipients than to try to do this in person. If you have international donors on your boards, make certain there is a virtual option so they can participate. One of my gift officers used google earth and took donors on a virtual tour of campus. Now this is engagement at its finest.

  • Digital Content – We need to share impact stories and be creative with our content and we need to make it available digitally. Electronic newsletters, videos, social media all are amazing ways to keep connected with our international donors.

  • Social Media – Connect in all ways with your donors on social media. This is a tool that can be so effective—LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube—if our donors are using them we should be able to communicate with them and share stories. One important note—in some countries access to certain websites are blocked. For example, in China—Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are blocked. So, pay attention to what is and is not available.

  • Have Fun – Create social hours for them to interact with other donors. Create game nights or trivia nights they can participate in. Take them on a tour of an obscure place in your organization. Have your organization leader stop in for a surprise visit to say hello.

  • Be Inclusive – We just celebrated our Give Day campaign and we had challenge gifts from international donors and wanted to find ways to engage them. We asked them to send us video clips from their home countries so we could include them in our videos during the 36-hour campaign. We also had staff available around the clock so we could answer questions for them in real time.

So back to the $100,000 question—is a donor a donor no matter what their zip code or country code? To me the answer is a resounding yes! It does not matter where a donor lives—if they are important to your organization then it is incumbent upon you to find ways to engage, recognize, acknowledge and steward each and every one.

How do you engage your international donors? We'd love to hear about your work in the comments below!


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