Taking Your Message International May Seem Overwhelming – But It’s So Worth It

Shannon MillerFor as long as I can remember, I’ve always looked past the national and been far more interested in events abroad. It seems many Americans share my passion, especially when it comes to giving.

In 2013, Americans donated nearly $15 billion to international affairs organizations based in the United States and more than $35 billion to organizations in other countries (these figures do not include the American organizations that send money, expertise and more abroad). Website donation conversion rates and revenue per website visitor rose because, more than other sectors, people seek out an international organization’s website to donate rather than respond to an email. Even still, these organizations raise more dollars per 1,000 fundraising emails than any other sector. For the international sector, online revenue increased over 30% year-over-year and the average online gift increased by 9%. 

Yet, 2013 held only one major event: Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippians and Vietnam. So let’s think about 2014: Ebola, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Syrian civil war and resultant refugee crisis, Ukraine, the kidnapping of 200+ Nigerian schoolgirls and the rise of both Boko Haram and ISIL, the warning that the world faces “severe, pervasive and irreversible” damage from global CO2 emissions and a Republican Congress. 

When you think about it, unless you work within a specific locality, very few social causes stop at U.S. borders. One human suffering is one human too many, no matter where it occurs. Global warming and climate change affect everyone on the planet. An infringement on a woman’s rights is an infringement on everyone’s rights. No issue is isolated; every issue carries universal consequences.

Online fundraising messaging abroad is at once easy and hard to do because of all the integrated facets. I was lucky enough to host and moderate a panel at the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, Texas addressing this very topic. Graham Covington, the founder and CEO of Engaging Networks, a partner vendor that works with international organizations, and Polly Shannon, the director of marketing and communications at Humane Society International, discussed “The International Jump: Think Less Like a Local Org and More Like a Global Community” with me. It was great to “get in the weeds” about internationalization and marketing to our global brethren.

For marketers, the two biggest obstacles are language and currency. Language is an issue in emails and on websites. A good website, in addition to being mobile optimized, is a living organism that constantly grows, evolves and adapts. That’s a full-time job when you’re only working in English. When working internationally, you must decide early on the languages in which you’ll message and how to get them on your site.  Google Translate or Bablefish is not an option. Some things to consider are:

  • Will you translate all website pages or just some? Will you create a mirror-image translated site, one with select pages vital to your purposes or something in between?
  • Will a staff member be in charge of translating all the pages and emails? Will a professional service or volunteers do the translations? Even if there isn’t enough bandwidth to have an in-house person in charge of message translating, it is vital to ensure that someone checks the correctness of the translations.
  • Will you use a CRM that can create pages in different languages and sort that information into its proper place on the backend? Or, will your IT team use some “magic” to make pages work in various languages?

Even if you only work in English-speaking countries, you are not off the hook. Consider these intricacies within the English language:

  • March 11, 2015 versus 11 March 2015
  • Fall versus autumn; puppy mill versus puppy farm
  • Organization versus organisation; color versus colour 

Money is actually one of the easier challenges faced when working abroad. There are multiple merchant gateways (the companies that process credit card transactions) that work in foreign currencies. However, a fee for currency conversion may be assessed. So, consider that factor and advise donors about it.

There are many more factors to consider when going international, such as differing laws and customs. You don’t need to anticipate all of them and have answers at the ready, but you do need to recognize they exist upfront. Sometimes, the need to advocate rightly precedes strategy formulation. 

If you’re passionate about your international cause, then all of the hard work will be worth it. 

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