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Moving Beyond Diversity

December 8, 2014

H grangeBy Hamlin Grange 

The fundraising profession is one of the most rewarding careers. Fundraisers are often helping worthwhile causes – for example, children, families, or the disadvantaged in our society. But fundraising can also be among the most challenging professions – after all, asking people for money isn’t always easy.

Every fundraiser knows the importance of building relationships with people in order to have a successful campaign. That exercise, however, may become more challenging when cultural differences arise between the fundraiser and the potential donor.

Canada is becoming increasingly culturally diverse, which offers tremendous opportunities but also challenges. It’s no surprise that Geert Hofstede, a pioneer in the field of international communication, says “Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster."

Fundraisers can avoid “disaster” by becoming more interculturally competent: developing their capability to shift their cultural perspectives and authentically change their behaviours when confronted with cultural differences. In other words, fundraisers must learn how to better navigate differences.

The modern fundraiser understands that cultural differences matter and can have an impact on the outcome of a campaign. But few take the time to develop their ability to navigate cultural differences and develop their level of intercultural competence. In fact, research shows that most people do not receive any training and tend to overestimate how interculturally competent they are.

The modern fundraiser must move beyond “diversity” towards true inclusion and ultimately develop a higher level of personal intercultural competence. It takes work but this process must be intentional. Fundraisers can improve their level of intercultural competence in many ways, including learning and development opportunities such as taking workshops, reading books or interacting extensively with people from other cultures.

Fundraisers may also want to consider using the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), a tool that measures a person’s level of intercultural competence. Among other things, the IDI increases self-awareness and allows deeper personal reflection on how that person navigates cultural differences.

Each of us reacts differently to cultural differences. Our orientations range from denial, where we see the more visible signs of culture but miss their deeper meanings, to polarization where we judge differences as “them vs. us” or minimization, where we ignore differences and search for common values and behaviours. The other orientations that lead to a more global mindset are acceptance and adaptation.

A deeper understanding of cultural blind spots is a valuable tool that every fundraiser should add to the already considerable skills they use to engage with people and build lasting, successful relationships. Being more interculturally competent allows that process to begin.

Hamlin Grange is a diversity and inclusion strategist and principal consultant with DiversiPro Inc. He recently served as chair for the African and Caribbean Advisory Group for AFP's Diversity to Inclusion in Philanthropy Series.

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