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Door-knocking and Boards: Foreign Fundraising Fundamentals with Linda Lysakowski

Linda Lysakowski

Nonprofits are businesses with different requirements, tax status, and purposes. When raising money for nonprofits globally, what issues are encountered? Linda Lysakowski, one of just around 100 Advanced Certified Fund Raising Executives (ACFRE), presents some fundraising fundamentals which Americans may not think of and which can determine success or failure with a nonprofit’s overseas initiative.

Highlights:

Linda’s journey into nonprofits

Fundraising internationally

Cultural issues in fundraising

Adjusting appeals for different cultures

Linda Lysakowski Bio:

Linda is a consultant to nonprofits, and it’s important to emphasize that nonprofits are businesses with the same issues in terms of for-profit businesses; the main differences are their social mission, their tax status, and how their revenues must be spent.

But overseas, the challenges are still the same. Linda is one of just over 100 professionals worldwide to hold the designation AFEC, Advanced Fundraising Executive Certification. She has helped nonprofits raise more than $50 million and has trained more than 50,000 development professionals worldwide. She has 15 online courses on all aspects of fundraising, is the author of more than three dozen books, and is currently working with a colleague in the Netherlands on a book on global fundraising in Europe and the USA.

Connect with Linda:

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Full Transcript

Hello everyone, and welcome to Global Gurus. Every Friday, we explore stories of international business and speak with industry leaders operating around the world. I’m your host, Philip Auerbach with Auerbach International (www.auerbach-intl.com). Thank you for joining us. 

If you’re joining us for the first time, we start each podcast with a running segment called “Faux Pas Fridays,” where we explore a funny blooper or mistranslation that does not quite convey the professional image that your organization wants to project. So, as an example, a sign in a Paris hotel wanted to say, “Please leave your valuables at the front desk,” but instead this hotel in Paris had a sign in English that said, “Please leave your values at the front desk.” Not quite accurate. 

Today’s guest is Linda, Lysakowski. Linda is a consultant to nonprofits, and it’s important to emphasize that nonprofits are businesses with the same issues as for-profit businesses; the main differences are their social mission, their tax status, and how their revenues must be spent. 

But overseas, the challenges are still the same. Linda is one of just over 100 professionals worldwide to hold the designation AFEC, Advance Fundraising Executive Certification. She has helped nonprofits raise more than $50 million and has trained more than 50,000 development professionals worldwide. She has 15 online courses on all aspects of fundraising, is the author of more than three dozen books, and is currently working with a colleague in the Netherlands on a book on global fundraising in Europe and the USA. 

Welcome, Linda. Thank you so much for joining us.

Thanks so much for having me.

So, before we dive in, could you perhaps please explain a bit about your background and your professional background? How did you grow up? How did you get into international fundraising?

OK, well, I grew up in Pennsylvania, and I spent the early part of my career raising a family. I have a very large family; five children, nine grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild who comes from a very different culture.

I have a whole bunch of great-grandchildren that are 14, I believe only three of them are Caucasian; the rest are multicultural. But I was a banker then. After I raised my children, I was in banking for 11 years. And then I discovered fundraising. I was paid to do this, and I thought, “Oh, here’s a career for me. I’ve been doing it as a volunteer for a long time, so I worked for a university and in a museum.

And then I started my own consulting business because I wanted to help emerging organizations, which is always the most challenging thing to do. Uhm, trying to get emerging organizations, whether US-based or foreign-based, to get them set up with the infrastructure that they need to succeed. And as you said, the difference between non-profits and charities is that first of all, they need to raise money. That’s one big difference. Businesses need to raise money, but it’s usually for investing. Or maybe they’re selling a product or a service. Where nonprofits need to raise money from funders who have a philanthropic bent, they want to support it. 

The other big difference between businesses and nonprofits, I think, is that the Board of Directors plays a very different role in a nonprofit than a board of directors or a big corporation would. So those are two of the challenges that I think nonprofits, both here and abroad, are facing. Just getting started they need to raise money and need to build their boards and build infrastructure. 

I’m based, by the way, in Boulder City, Nevada which is the home of Hoover Dam. If people have visited the Hoover Dam, they probably drove right past my house.

That’s great. But you’re from Reading, PA, or something?

I am. Yes, I am. I lived there all my life, and instead of my children leaving home, my husband and I decided he wanted to retire early, so we picked up and moved across the country. We love it here in the desert. I love it here now that he’s gone, but I love it in the desert.

It’s wonderful. What a great, great background. The big story is I lived in a small town near Reading for a few years, so that was fun. Tell us a bit about some different fundraising methods and how it’s done internationally.

OK, well, one of the things that I found on my first international trip, other than trips to Canada, which is almost like the United States, was that my first trip abroad was actually to England to speak at a conference, and I got my husband to go along. He never wanted to do international travel, but I got him to go along. He said, “Well, they speak English there.” But of course, the Queen’s English and our English are two different things. And when we got into the hotel and they told us where to get the lift, my husband was like, “What are they talking about? 

So, even though it’s an English-speaking country, sometimes the English is slightly different from ours. But one of the things I found that was different in European fundraising from American fundraising, and I found this also working in Mexico. I’m not sure if they still do a lot of this, but I know that one of the clients I worked with in Mexico did a very successful door-to-door fundraising campaign and in the US, I think that kind of thing has just gone by the wayside.

I think when people knew their neighbors and you would go knock on neighbors’ doors, it would be successful. I know I did that years ago for the Heart Association. But now I think that’s not true. It is not very acceptable in this country. But I think Europeans have a different outlook on life than we do, and so they do succeed with some door-to-door fundraising. So that’s one thing that I found very different. 

The other thing that I found is that a lot of emerging nonprofits, and I get a lot of contacts and calls from them. They were all based in Africa, and they all seemed, and sometimes US-based nonprofits do this same thing. They seem to think that all they have to do is have a good case for support and they’ll be able to get grants without any history, but they don’t understand how US foundations work, but most of them will want to see two or three years of audited financial statements. And when you’re emerging, it’s very tough to raise money from foundations. So, I think that’s one of the things that I try to educate some of the foreign bosses on.

 Nonprofits need to build their infrastructure, they need to build a board, they need to get their board to support them, and they need to find individuals that will support their cause so they can establish a nonprofit. And then, once they’re established and up and running, they can apply for grants. It’s frustrating to me because I want so much to help these organizations that are just getting started, but some of them just don’t seem to understand how it works.

Very true. You know, on the subject of door-to-door, you know, when I was a kid, we did trick-or-treat for UNICEF.

Oh yeah.

You know, on Halloween, we all had UNICEF boxes, and you got candy as well as dimes, quarters, and other coins for UNICEF. So that was certainly wonderful. I remember that my mother went door to door for a group called March of Dimes

Oh yeah.

but I don’t know if that would work here. That was certainly big when I was a child as well. 

And I guess I did that too. And I believe the plastic lapel pins featured in Easter Lily were sold by March of Dimes. And they always went out in spring and said, “You know, I did that as a teenager.” I think a lot of teenagers did it because they got a day off from school. 

But I enjoyed standing outside a grocery store asking people to contribute to the March of Dimes, and then they would get a little Lily pin to put on to show that they had supported it. But you see some of that today with the veterans’ groups, I think, selling poppies. At least they do that in my neighborhood, at my neighborhood store. But in general, I think in the US, people are reluctant to give to total strangers, and maybe we’re just less trustworthy than the Europeans or the rest of the world.

Well, it’s part of our impersonal business culture or impersonal US culture and business culture.

Right, the way it works.

What about some cultural issues that you’ve encountered? Is this specifically in terms of fundraising? Can you give us some examples of those?

Yeah, cultural issues in fundraising. 

One of my interesting trips was with my former business partner to Egypt, which is, of course, a predominantly Muslim country, and a very different culture. So, we were careful to do our research before we left, and we took a supply of head coverings because we didn’t want to offend anybody in the country. 

And one of the things that happened–this doesn’t have much to do with fundraising. I was there on a fundraising trip. I am doing some training for American University in Cairo. On our day off, we went to the Egyptian Museum, and we came across a busload of German tourists, and I was actually kind of offended by the way they were dressed, of course, It was hot. It was July in Egypt. July in Egypt is a lot like July and the Las Vegas area, but the women were dressed in short shorts and halter tops. And I found that a little offensive, I thought. Did they realize they’re in a Muslim country and women cover themselves more? 

And we were very conscious of the clothing that we wore when we went there because we didn’t want to offend anyone. They then began mocking women who wore burqas, which irritated and bothered me. And I thought when you go to another country, whether it’s for business or pleasure, I think you need to  understand the culture of that country because it can be very offensive. I know that we had an experience. We had a guide that took us on our days off and took us to different places around Cairo and we, of course, went into a mosque, and as soon as we walked, our guide got our head coverings out, and he said, “Oh, you’re not required to wear head coverings because you’re not Muslim, but you must take off your shoes.” And so, we, of course, obliged and took off our shoes. We entered the mosque and we were very sensitive about that. 

And some people don’t understand the culture of where they’re going, and maybe they’re offended by some things. or surprised by some things that can become offensive. So, I think when you’re going to a country, especially one with a very different culture, it’s really important to do your research before you go, so you’re prepared to behave and dress appropriately, and things like that.

When I took my family to India, we went into a mosque, and my wife and daughter just automatically put on a headscarf, and they expected it. The Muslim officials expected it. And so, it’s interesting that in Egypt they didn’t, and In India, they did.

I was kind of surprised because he said, “Well, you don’t have to wear one.”. I don’t think there was anybody else in the mosque at the time. It was just the two of us. My former business partner is also a female. We know, and so did our guide, so maybe that’s why he said we didn’t have to worry about the head coverings, but we brought them to make sure that we were appropriately dressed anytime we were going to be doing something like that.

That’s very sensitive and, yeah, that’s how it should be.

Right. 

What other issues have you encountered in terms of international fundraising, whether cultural or business-related?

Speaking, rather than fundraising, is something I do a lot when I travel abroad.

I’ve worked with some international organizations doing fundraising, but a lot of that has been done virtually. But one of the stories is about the first time I went to Mexico. I was speaking at a conference in Mexico City, and it was a hemispheric conference, so they provided me with a headset. All the participants had headsets because some spoke Spanish, and some spoke Portuguese. There were people from Brazil there, so I had the headset on, and everything went fine. The presentation seemed to go fine, and at the end, I said, “Does anybody have any questions?” And so, a person raised their hand and started asking me a question. And I went, “Oh my gosh, there’s something wrong.” My speaker, my headphones are reading to me in Spanish. And then I realized what happened was she was asking her question. And so it translated it into Spanish for me. So, I was a little embarrassed because there I was, you know, trying to answer a question, not understanding the words because I do not understand or speak Spanish. 

But we resolved it pretty quickly. I took off the headset and said, “Oh, wait a minute, you know, we have to come up with a process here. If you’re going to ask a question in English, hold up two fingers. If you’re going to ask it in Spanish or Portuguese, hold up one finger. And that way, I’ll know if I have to take my headset off so I can understand your question.” So, it was a little embarrassing, but we resolved it pretty quickly and easily. When I realized what was happening, I was taken aback when I started hearing this question coming through in Spanish and didn’t know what the question was at all.

No, that was certainly very disconcerting. You try to answer something and you  can’t understand it. Have you ever had to adjust non-profit appeals when you send it in the United States? Of course, you know who you are. You sort of tug at the emotions, and you tell stories about them, you know, to get an emotional reaction. Is it any different when you do it internationally, or is it the same method?

In some ways, it’s the same, but I think again, knowing the culture. 

For instance, I had a client in Mexico. It happened to be a Catholic seminary that trained priests, and we did a mail appeal for them. And I know that Spanish culture is very family-oriented. So, we included a little holy card with the Holy Family and a prayer for peace among families. 

And we had … I wrote the letter for the archbishop to sign. And they were raising money in the United States, but they were raising it from people…we had purchased a list of Hispanic people in certain cities and over a certain amount of income, so we. But we targeted that appeal and made it very family-oriented. 

One of the other really funny things that happened to me during this process though. I wrote the letter, but it was signed by the archbishop, and we hired a firm, a direct mail company based in the United States, to send out this letter. And most of the people sent their money directly to the seminary. We had an envelope in there, but for some reason, some people sent their money to the mail house. And they sent it to me, and one day I went to my mail, and there was an envelope that said Linda Lysakowski Archbishop of Monterey. And we all got a good laugh out of that. You know, who says the Catholic Church doesn’t promote women? I’m an Archbishop.

It’s good. Well, I hope so.

I saved that envelope by the way. because I just drew a lot of laughs from some of my friends. And I always, you know, tell my pastor I outrank him because I’m an Archbishop.

So that’s one of the funny things that happened, and I’m not sure if it was a US-based company that did it, because I don’t know. I don’t know what made them direct it to me at large, but it was kind of funny.

It’s great that they did. It’s good to get that kind of promotion. It can pay well, so that’s great. When you’ve done fundraising, do you fundraise for your groups in Africa, for example? Are you raising money from people in the developed world, in the United States or Europe? Are you also raising money in Africa among wealthy Africans?

But some of both? 

But one of the international groups we worked with, they were based in the United States. But they were raising money for programs that, mostly at that time, were being conducted in Africa. They’re an international group, and they have a lot of other countries asking them to provide services. So, they’re growing, and they need to raise more money.

But one of the things that I noticed immediately was when they engaged us to help them was that all their board members were in the United States. And I said that if you want to start raising money from wealthy people in Africa and other countries, you need to diversify your board of directors. So, they did then engage several board members from Africa, which made their fundraising much more successful because they identified with them more.

Did they have Black Americans on the board?

No, I think they were all white. When they started, they did not only engage an African American woman but also several Africans on their board.

Of course, it makes a lot of sense to make your board reflective of the people whom you’re assisting.

Right. 

And, of course, whether it’s corporate boards or not, they should hopefully reflect the diversity of the audience they serve. Most people in this country are multicultural or diverse, so for example, is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

But one of the things that I’ve noticed in my international travels, whether it’s for business, like I said, for business, I’ve been to Bermuda, I’ve been to Egypt, England, Canada, Mexico, and for pure pleasure, I was in Italy. But one of the things that I noticed is that a lot of Americans think that we kind of know it all and that we’re smarter, better, or more advanced than other cultures. 

And I think this is so wrong because other cultures can teach us a lot. Yesterday I was talking to a woman whose business took her to Japan. I have never been to Japan, but we were talking. This group was talking about climate change and the environment. And she said the Japanese are so much smarter than Americans. She said they have square bathtubs to use less water, and they have it on the back of their toilets. The sink is on top of the toilet tank so that when you wash your hands, that water then goes into the tank for the next person to use the flush. So, you’re getting clean water to wash your hands, but that water then goes into flush and so they’re saving the environment. They’re much more advanced than those things than we are, and we sometimes think we kind of know it all. And I find that attitude, you know, sometimes if people think, oh, I’m going to this poor country. However, some of those poor countries are way more advanced than we are. in many, many different ways. 

So, I think that my advice is when you’re traveling, don’t go there and be an ugly American. I read that book when I was a teenager. And it still sticks with me that a lot of times we think we’re so advanced and we know it all, and we don’t.

Especially around the Fourth of July.

Oh yeah.

In sociology terms, it’s called a myth because there’s a story, and a myth is a story that you like to tell, that each country or people talks about itself. And the great American myth in this context is that this is the greatest country in the world. And looking at statistics of many different kinds, it is certainly not.

So, you know when you mentioned July 4th. It just brought to mind something else. It was funny the first time. I went to England, and I was able to take my husband along on that trip because he said, “Oh, I’ll go there because they speak English.” But the conference was being held in July. I believe it was the 2nd through the 5th. And my husband just unknowingly said, “Why on earth are they having a conference on the 4th of July? And I said, “Hey, these are the people that we got our independence from. They don’t celebrate the 4th of July. I tell you just instinctively think that way. It wasn’t that he was being, you know, prejudiced or anything, but, you know, why would they have a conference on the 4th of July?

Well, it’s the American tourist who goes to London at around that time and says to the British in London, “Do you people have the Fourth of July?”  Right. The Englishman answers, “Of course, we do. It’s between the 3rd and the 5th, Isn’t it? Is that the case in your country?”

Very British. Oh, that’s good.

With that, thank you so much, Linda. It’s a pleasure to speak with you and get your insights and your wonderful experiences and stories. So, thank you very much. Thanks for joining us.

So, when you’re going to any foreign country, learn the culture, have fun, and get to see the people you know. The tourist spots are great, but one of the neat things that happened on our trip to Egypt was the last night we were there, our guide took us in his car with his wife and kids and took us to parts of Cairo that tourists don’t go to. So, we got to see authentic Cairo and see people and interact with real people, and sometimes we just get hung up on all the touristy stuff.

Absolutely. It’s very, very true. Well, thank you. So, this has been Philip Auerbach of Auerbach International (www.auerbach-intl.com).  Please join us again next week for another edition of Global Gurus and their stories of international business.

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