Ready to ‘Go International’?
‘Think local, act global” is an interesting opportunity. If you’re successful and you know your business well within your own market, why not consider reaching into new markets?
Charities based in developed markets are finding it increasingly difficult to grow at reasonable rates, and the cost of acquiring each new donor can only continue to rise. We all know that in domestic markets the keys to future success are well-defined and well-resourced donor development and stewardship programmes; we also appreciate that the future is “donor share” not “market share.”
The starting point in our thinking has to be to ask: Why? Perhaps it fits your cause, vision or mission, and by going international you can reach new heights; you could simply have a basic need to expand your operations and build on your success; your domestic market is saturated, and you need to find new, more cost-effective routes to fund programmes; or any number of other reasons that you need to discuss and identify. Several U.S. charities “went international” a few years ago with the sole objective of fundraising. While at the time this met with some success, the general view nowadays is that you need to have a wider set of objectives that link to your vision and brand, and that you should not simply view a market as a cash source.
The world really does offer vast new opportunities for not-for-profit organisations, but instant communications across borders mean that a well thought-out, consistent strategy is a key starting point that defines what you are trying to achieve.
At this stage, you also should consider competitors and room in the market for your cause area, set of solutions and particular approach.
Are you really ready?
Next is a careful consideration of internal readiness. I would start by asking if there are easier options at home to achieve your objectives. In other words, have you really “maxed out,” and is your market really full in relation to your cause and fundraising approach? This article is about the excitement of going international; however, never believe that this is an easy option. Do you have a successful domestic portfolio of techniques from which to build? Moving into new markets is about leveraging your skills, propositions and brand, so you need to build from strong foundations.
Out of your existing activities, you will need to define a new market product — one that is relevant, dramatic and often life-threatening. We also now realise that focusing on a programme of securing regular, automated gifts is central to success. Cash programmes are high-risk and rarely reach sufficient volume quickly enough to be sustainable. The most successful new market product undoubtedly has been child sponsorship, but this has been successfully followed with propositions, like “$6 pays for a cataract operation in India” or protecting charismatic animal species from extinction.
Who’s got your back?
What is the level of buy-in across the organisation? Moving into new markets requires the thinking and support of people across the organisation; it is not something that can simply be driven from the marketing department. Complete buy-in also is important in relation to the fact that entering new markets is never a short-term activity. Once started, it will take three to five years to begin to bear fruit, so people will have to stay with you. Staying with you also means supporting the right level of investment.
There are many examples of organisations that have gone down this route with either one year of funding or simply insufficient funding and then had to withdraw before the tipping point to success was reached. You need to think about three-year projections that will allow you to sustain and grow current operations while supporting the growth of a new market over that period. There are many variables here to assess the investment levels, but a reasonably deep war chest is pretty essential for success.
You also need to consider the speed at which money may be required to follow through on successes as they are achieved. As well as the money invested in a new market, you might have to invest in support systems at home, donor care, reporting, database, etc. So the key is to leave no stone unturned.
What about your brand?
We all know how central your brand is to success in the modern world, but moving into new countries brings a whole new set of challenges — not the least of which is will your brand “fit” a new culture? Some charities have developed subbrands for their international expansions simply to help people understand who they are and what they stand for. Once on board, donors usually are pleased to hear of the main brand/organisation, which then lends credibility to the relationship.
You also need to consider how you will control and protect your brand, especially if it has to be lodged with a new, independent charity in the country you are entering.
There are many more factors that need to be worked through to assess readiness, including such things as policies, structure, governance, ethics, etc. In general terms, remember the mantra of a carpenter: “Measure twice, cut once!”
With some of the groundwork done, you can begin the process of identifying markets that might match your objectives, cause and resources. Start by plotting out a global map of fundraising markets using data to assess where each one is in its lifecycle of professional fundraising opportunity. Systematically assess each emerging market against criteria for market development, and then overlay your own criteria. All of this should limit the globe to a few key markets that might match your needs.
Choose markets where you are not necessarily following everyone else. Prioritise these markets, and then begin to use more detailed research to compare their suitability and opportunities against a well thought-out matrix of factors. With the right level of investment, this work should provide you with one to three key prospects. Ideally, these should be narrowed further; to reach the next stage, you really need to visit the short-listed countries to engage with the not-for-profit sector, suppliers, non-competing causes and, ideally, funders.
At this point you need to move into a detailed market-entry strategy that literally outlines every possible aspect and includes all the due diligence and risk assessments.
Remember, market entry takes many forms: setting up an operation in market, marketing across a border between two countries, in partnership with an existing player in the market (may in time be a merger or acquisition), through an alliance with other organisations or through virtual market entry using the digital world. So a thorough strategy is critical to making the right choice.
Going international is one of the most cutting-edge opportunities in the not-for-profit world today. It isn’t easy. It’s extremely competitive, and it requires considerable resources. But it is most definitely worth it and will most certainly keep your organisation “ahead of the curve” if you succeed. FS
Do you raise money for a U.S.-based nonprofit that recently “went global”? Or perhaps you represent an organization based in Europe or other parts of the world.
Either way, if you’d like to share your story, insights, tips and caveats on issues pertaining to global fundraising, contact FundRaising Success Editor-in-Chief Margaret Battistelli at email@example.com. We’ll be following up on our Global Fundraising Special Report in upcoming issues and in the weekly, free e-letter, FS Advisor. We’d love to hear from you!