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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 12.3


Cultural Sensitivities

To successfully engage with constituents from a variety of countries, you must tailor your communications and approach to each country’s customs and practices. You must do your research diligently and discover:

  • How to address the constituent (in writing or orally). Be aware of customary salutations or terms of respect, as well as if the surname is first or last (e.g., in many Asian countries, the surname typically proceeds an individual's given name).
  • Customary introductions and formalities.
  • Attitudes to money. In many countries it is impolite to talk about money or ask people for a set amount.
  • Religious observances. You need to be sensitive to the religious beliefs of different nations (e.g., do not offer refreshments to Muslim guests during Ramadan).
  • Significant dates. Look at local calendars for major holidays and other significant dates, as well as the typical local working days.
  • Attitudes to food. In some countries it is impolite to leave anything on your plate; in others you must always leave a small amount of food to demonstrate to your host that the hospitality you have enjoyed has been abundant.
  • Attitudes to alcohol.
  • Attitudes to gender and sexuality.
  • Differences around body language. What is an inoffensive hand gesture in one culture might be totally taboo in another.
  • How to behave when invited to someone’s home. Do you bring a gift? What other customs exist?
  • How to give and receive gifts. What is appropriate? Should a gift be wrapped? Should you open a gift immediately or wait until the meeting is over?

There are numerous online resources relating to the cultural differences between countries, and often a friendly local constituent will also be happy to advise you. The CIA World Fact Book is a useful resource, as are articles such as 'Mastering Cross-Cultural Communication'.

Action Items
  • Tailor your communications and approach to respect each country’s customs and practices.
  • You may want to keep a list of key customs and practices for your institution’s target international communities/constituents.

You Might Also Want to Read:

Articulating the vision and setting the priorities
Role of leaders and academics in the cultivation process
The cultivation process
How to engage the international community

Dugga talks about adapting a UK fundraising model to the Nigerian context and recognizing cultural sensitivities.
Leisl Elder, former director of development at the University of Edinburgh, describes the context of fundraising in the UK versus that in the U.S., and how to adapt for different cultural norms and sensitivities.