Taking Fundraising Beyond Our Borders: An Interview with Laura Fredricks

Sarah Cornacoff is a recent graduate of the M.S. in Fundraising program at the Heyman Center for Fundraising and Philanthropy.  Last year, she served at the Technical Editor for PhilanthropyNYU.  Sarah, a Philadelphia native, is now working in Development at the Project Management Institute Educational Foundation (PMIEF) in Newtown Square, PA.  Follow her on Twitter: @WhatSarahThinks.





It is a challenge for any nonprofit to expand its fundraising efforts globally.  Even with our ability to utilize technology to reach others world-wide, one fact remains, every country has a different set of charitable laws and cultural norms.  As someone working for an internationally focused cause, you will start to meet great prospective donors abroad.  So, the question is: How do we, as fundraisers, reach these donors in a culturally-sensitive and legally compliant manner?

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Laura Fredricks about her experience fundraising abroad. 
Laura Fredricks, JD, is an expert fundraising consultant, internationally recognized public speaker, and best-selling author.  She is the owner of her own consulting company, where she works with nonprofit organizations and boards to inspire them to recognize that they have a cause “worthy of funding” and are fully capable of asking for monetary support.  Fredricks serves as a lecturer for the The Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising.  Most recently, she spoke at the center’s “Art of the Ask” one-day seminar.

I have come to face my own professional challenge of working with donors overseas, and I have found that there is always a new obstacle or challenge when communicating with international donors.  As Fredricks put it, there is a “fundraising language” that is not a part of other cultures.  We are comfortable using terms like “donor” and “campaign.”  However, these terms are not universally utilized.

Similarly, it is not uncommon for an international donor to explain to you that your standard development practices do not fit their philanthropic culture.  For example, I recently conversed with a corporate donor in Europe.  They asked me to take the amount of the gift out of their acknowledgment letter.  The organization did not want their employees to learn the amount of the gift.  However, in the States, our corporations pride themselves on showcasing how much we have given to a charity.

It can be intimidating and worrisome to start fundraising internationally.  Therefore, I wanted to get Fredricks’ feedback on reaching donors abroad in a culturally sensitive way.  Over the past few years, Fredricks has begun to challenge herself and expand beyond our national borders.  Most recently she has spent time in Russia analyzing cultural issues surrounding philanthropy.

Cornacoff: Laura, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions for the next issue of Philanthropy NYU. This issue highlights fundraising and philanthropy in various cultures.  You and I recently had a discussion about your current consulting activities in other countries.  What have you been working on for the past few years?  What countries have you had a chance to work in?

Fredricks: Over the past year, I have been working with Russia organizations.  My first book on The Ask was published in Russian in Aug 2011, the following Feb I was invited to speak with Michael Milken on philanthropy and the importance of investing in human capital at the Russia Forum – a group of 2,100 private investors from around the world. That led me to return in May to speak with women in Moscow who need to raise money for their businesses and political platforms, as well as teach a Master Class at the Moscow Humanitarian University.
The group that sponsored the Master Class is Evolution and Philanthropy, a dynamic and very powerful organization that manages several foundations that help youth and address poverty. Russia is trying to learn which ‘pieces of the American Model of Fundraising ‘ they can use very quickly to start addressing make social and economic issues.”  

  In the M.S. in Fundraising and Grantmaking program, we talk a lot about how philanthropy got its start.  Charities, while not unique to the United States, are often rooted in American History.  We also learned that many nations are just beginning to rely more heavily on donations where they were once primarily supported by government funding.  How do you think this will affect our profession and our nation’s philanthropic dollars?

Fredricks:  I do not think any one person can be the expert in fundraising, legal issues and understanding the culture for any country. Having looked into inquires for me to help organizations raise money in Brazil, China, and India I would need a cadre of people both inside those countries as well as myself and others if I could truly offer my services for that organization.    

Cornacoff:  In your book The Ask, you say ‘No matter how passionate one is about the mission or how much one believes in it, people still give to people, not causes.’ Obviously, not everyone can use their budget to visit with individuals in other countries.  How can we build meaningful relationships with prospects from afar?  In addition, if we do decide to make a trip, how can we ensure that we are fully prepared to make it a productive one?

Fredricks:  In reverse order, you can ensure that it will be productive if you line up a series of meeting and count on one or two to be canceled! Research and reach out is the best advice I can give when doing work in other countries.
The Distant Donor is a tough one – you have to communicate with her/him in the manner they wish to be communicated with – email, video conferencing, Skype, letters, reports, mail.

  The Heyman Center has a fairly sizable international student population.  I think, based on my own experience, a few of my international classmates/friends can occasionally get discouraged due to language barriers or following our American culture.  However, I think they are at an advantage when it comes to learning in the state but really knowing the culture of their home country.  What would you say to our students and international scholars about their careers in fundraising and philanthropy?

  I would say one thing: You are definitely in the right field. This training in philanthropy will open doors your entire life and do not be afraid to apply your “philanthropic” learning to businesses. Both sides of the house can and should learn from each other. Nonprofits that are run like businesses are successful…case closed!

Cornacoff:  I have traveled abroad, but I would not say that I am an expert in any other culture.  What can fundraising professionals, like me, do to start expanding their expertise internationally?

Fredricks:  Stay on top of trends, read as much as you can, and if possible focus on one or two countries that resonate the most for you. I never dreamed I would be working in Russia and now that I am, I inhale every bit of news and information about that country. You’d be surprised how now you see inserts in newspapers about the countries that interest you and bingo – you are drawn like a magnet.

If there was one key thing that you have taken away from your recent international consulting, what would that be?

Fredricks:  Stay open and absorb everything you can before you make a decision or give advice.

  How have you changed or grown as you have moved beyond our borders and explored philanthropy in other cultures?

Wonderful question – I am a better listener, I appreciate history, philosophy, and culture much more and I actually feel like I see the world in a much different lens than ever before.

  What are your next international fundraising goals?  Would you like to keep doing this type of work?

Fredricks:  Yes – I now want to make inroads in Brazil, India and China..just to even out the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

  Thank you for taking the time to speak with me!  I know that this article will mean a lot to the PhilanthropyNYU team and the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising.  I’m honored to have had the chance to, as we Americans say, “pick your brain."

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