Nine conversational tips for inter-cultural fundraising

publication date: Apr 27, 2012

You've done your prospect research, you've studied the new-to-you cultures that your charity wants you to engage, but you're still feeling awkward and ill-prepared. Fundraising authority Lilya Wagner offers these practical communication tips to help you feel at ease in your first conversations.
  • Be careful about statements like "I went to school with many Indo-Canadians" or "My best friend was Black."  These platitudes, while well-meant because they are intended to show acceptance, can be offensive.
  • Avoid phraseology such as boy, gal, fella, guys (for both genders), you people, your people or they, which may be insulting, at least to some degree. 
  • Be alert to your own speech quality, rate, pitch, and volume.  Realize Canadians tend to speak very fast.  Try for a measured pace.
  • Avoid colloquialisms such as "Let's all pull together."
  • Beware of clichés and phraseology that are uniquely North American, such as "ballpark figure."
  • Be aware that hand gestures and signals can have various interpretations, even when they're innocent in your own cultural context.
  • Remember that some cultures are very open in matters such as asking a person's age or talking about money.  Others are far more private.
  • Humour is situational even in our own country.  It is even more of a landmine in another culture.
  • Learn to speak plain, direct English.  Instead of saying "We need a level playing field," say We need things to be fair.  Instead of "Let me run this idea past you," try Let me tell you my idea.  And try to imagine what "There is no magic bullet" may mean to someone who has just learned English. It's much better expressed as There is no universal or quick solution.
Lilya Wagner is director of Philanthropic Service for Institutions, an internal consulting group serving North American organizations affiliated with or operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  She is a long-time faculty member of The Fund Raising School, and is on the philanthropic studies faculties of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and St. Mary's University in Minnesota. 

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