By Dr. Lilya Wagner
A timely article in the October 15, 2018 issue of Chronicle of Philanthropy Daily Update featured an article on “Immigrants Are an Often Overlooked Force in Giving.” This has been a topic of discussion, off and on, for probably the last two decades, and one more nudge in this positive direction is a positive factor for fundraising professionals and their leadership. But actually embracing the concepts related to giving by immigrants and putting knowledge into practice may require more steps than just lip service.
Harvard Business Review featured an article by Andrew L. Molinsky, a specialist in organizational behavior, which noted that even seasoned managers who appreciate diversity and have international experience can sometimes find it difficult to work in other cultures. He states that many persons lack a skill called cultural code-switching—the ability to modify behavior in specific situations to accommodate varying cultural norms.[i]
As nonprofit organizations, we are on a journey to develop and improve organizations and therefore serve clients. Allowing various cultures to integrate into our work should be one of the joys of our journey as well.
Culturally proficient professionals make it their responsibility to be aware of, respect, and communicate across cultural and subcultural lines. Our demographics are changing globally, as they have done in North America since early times. Therefore the savvy professional will realize that we need to broaden the definition of philanthropy to include traditions, preferences, and ways of giving by diverse populations and not attempt to function under the comfortable “one size fits all” mentality. To ignore or remain unaware of the rich and varied giving traditions of the many population groups in North America is not only unwise but leaves our fundraising practice incomplete and unbalanced.
In North America, for example, as we become more diverse we may notice or be concerned about differences to some degree, but it still makes sense to recognize how philanthropy differs among various cultural groups, whether recently arrived or of second or third generations. It makes sense to conduct responsible prospect research that includes not just the basics to which we are accustomed but the additional layers of information which aid our success in cross-cultural communication, management, and fundraising from diverse sources—perhaps sources that either have been ignored previously or not tapped in appropriate ways. Understanding the giving traditions and habits of the diverse populations in North America is not just an add-on; it’s a necessity.
For more information, see Diversity and Philanthropy: Expanding the Circles of Giving, by Dr. Lilya Wagner, published as a Praeger Imprint, ABC/CLIO, 2016. This is a comprehensive look at how culture affects and influences generosity, and provides suggestions for practice. Also check out diversityandphilanthropy.com, where the topic of giving by diverse populations is kept current and alive through guest columns and listing of current resources.
Dr. Lilya Wagner is director of Philanthropic Service for Institutions and is on the faculty of The Fund Raising School and the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Previously, she was Vice President for Philanthropy at Counterpart International in Washington, D.C., an international development organization. She is a frequent speaker and workshop presenter in North America and internationally. Her published writings include articles and book chapters on philanthropy, fundraising, and the nonprofit sector. Her book Diversity and Philanthropy: Expanding the Circles of Giving won the 2017 Skystone Ryan book award.
[i] Andrew L. Molinsky, et al. “Three Skills Every 21st-Century Manager Needs,” Harvard Business Review (Jan-Feb 2012).