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Enhancing International Development & Fundraising Strategies

Colleges and Universities attract more than a million international students to the United States each year. These students matriculate through U.S. schools and then go out into the world with the education that they’ve gained – just like our domestic students do. So why not maintain relationships with them, as we do with the students who stay stateside?

Tessa Fjelland, Associate Director of Research Strategies at Iowa State University Foundation (ISUF), recently spoke about how she and her team have been doing to identify and engage their international alumni.

Over the last three years, more than 700 colleges and universities have used LiveAlumni data to enhance their prospecting practices. The real-time data that the ISUF Team has gathered has unearthed an entirely new task for them – international fundraising.

The ISUF Team captured employment data on over 1,200 international alumni. This list includes alumni who have returned to their home countries, as well as expats that have built their careers on foreign soil – information that helped their Advancement Team get started on solid prospecting leads.

Is There Really a Benefit to International Fundraising? Absolutely!

There are presently fourteen countries that have more than 100 Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (ULNWI). While the U.S. tops the list with more than 1800 individuals on ULNWI; China, Germany, Japan, and Hong Kong round out the top five countries – with more than 1600 individuals between those four countries with personal wealth exceeding $500M each. That’s a lot of discretionary income outside of the U.S. A closer review of your international alumni’s professional profiles can show you who you know in these countries that hold leadership roles. By focusing on international alumni with titles such as CEO, founder, president, or owner you may find that you now have a connection to one of these high net worth individuals!

Is International Fundraising a Project or a Program?

That answer depends on your institution and the resources that you can apply to international cultivation and solicitation. ISUF is at the cusp of determining the scope of this initiative at their school. They have gathered significant data about where their international alumni are located and how they are doing in their professional careers. Now ISUF must determine what kind of time, personnel and investment they are ready to allocate toward international fundraising.

Using knowledge about the geographic regions that have the highest population of Iowa State alumni, and how much time a Development Officer could spend making visits to those regions, Tessa’s team are working to ensure is that they aren’t creating a one-size-fits-all approach to international fundraising. An alumnus living in Belgium may have a different business and philanthropic cultural norm, then an alumnus residing in Hong Kong.  Each fundraising environment is influenced by its own local customs and relationships that need to be authentically understood and practiced by the people who cultivate relationships with your international alumni.

Occasional visits to the countries where your alumni reside, don’t create a true international fundraising program. Building an international fundraising program is a strategic, long-term investment that requires persistence through many fundraising projects. Research completed by fundraising consultants Campbell & Company found that while closing a gift that might take 12 to 18 months domestically, it can take more than 18 to 24 months internationally. Colleges and universities have to be willing to invest in travel and cultivation – however that investment can yield fantastic results.

Make it Personal

Just like cultivating and soliciting gifts from your domestic alumni, your Advancement Team will need to build personal relationships when making efforts to connect with your international alumni. While some cultures enjoy recognition when making gifts, others prefer anonymity. You will find that alumni from varying generations will also hold different levels of value in what your school is offering to the global marketplace today.

Whether you are scheduling your first visit to your alumni’s home country or have made multiple visits, it is important to build a relationship through listening to what they care about, how they are developing in their career and what they gained through their education at your institution to better engage them.

Request A Recording: If you’d like to watch the full Webinar on International Fundraising & Development Strategies, let us know using the form below.

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Sources & Additional Reading:

[3] Fundraising in a Global World,


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