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How to Approach Fundraising in More Than One Language


By Contributing Author

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Between 2010 and 2015, the demand for bilingual workers more than doubled, according to a report from New American Economy. The researchers looked at 40,000 jobs boards, analyzing postings daily. In 2010, there were about 240,000 job postings requesting bilingual workers; by 2015, that number had risen to around 630,000.

However, the job force isn’t mirroring the demand for bilingual workers. In fact, 93% of people who responded to the survey said that they “value employees who…are able to work effectively with customers, clients, and businesses from a range of different countries and cultures.” Further, 10% of respondents said that new hires need to speak at least one language besides English.

There’s a definite need for multilingual services in the workplace, like independent translators and translation services. This is especially relevant for nonprofits, which often serve individuals from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Below, we outline some steps you can take to ensure that your fundraising campaigns appeal to these distinct demographics of supporters, even if you don’t have the in-house skill sets on staff.

The Importance of High Quality Translation

Trust between your organization and your supporters is one of the most important factors that can help drive donations. If you work overseas, that trust is even more important as you often have to convince donors to give to your organization rather than a local one. That means your messages have to be word-perfect, to help donors trust that you’re a professional organization that puts their money toward the right causes.

Sites like Consumer Reports list which charities are the most trustworthy and which are not. Watchdog groups like Charity Navigator and Charity Watch, meanwhile, keep tabs on charities that spend too much of their donations on administrative costs, as well as flagging those that are outright scams.

It doesn’t help that disreputable charities frequently make news headlines either, like with CNN’s reporting of the worst charities in America. There are even sites that have entire hall of shame pages for scams and otherwise untrustworthy charities.

With so many charities eroding public trust in donations, anything that makes your charity appear less than professional can be a red flag to donors. A bad translation or a culturally insensitive graphic can make your cause look unprofessional and untrustworthy. As such, it is essential to source high quality, professional translation services for your work.

The Importance of Localization

Localization ensures you’re targeting cultures for donations in the most effective and appropriate way. Different countries are motivated towards charity in different ways, which can affect your campaign translation significantly.

For example, donors in developed countries tend to prioritize giving money, while those in developing countries are more likely to reach out and help a stranger. According to the Charities Aid Foundation:

“The charitable activity that people in developed countries are most likely to engage in is donating money (40%), whereas those in developing countries are most likely to help a stranger (52%). Volunteering time achieves similar participation levels across both the developed (23%) and developing (21%) nations but is less common in transitional economies (15%).”

This illustrates just how differently some parts of the world approach helping others. Further, certain cultural backgrounds can also influence where and how people give, meaning you may need to include different content in a campaign translation.

For instance, Latino communities tend to have giving motivations that are strongly tied to their experiences as immigrants, as reported by the education organization Learning to Give. Latino giving is rooted in the family and close community, while a major motivator for the community to give beyond family and church is trust, along with identification with the cause in question.

Cultural values and how they relate to giving in any community are complex. You need a strong understanding of the community and culture you’re appealing to, which is why translation and localization services are a must if you’re fundraising in more than one language and outside your own culture. Ideally, you should source a localization expert from the target country.

Be Open to Change When Translating and Localizing Your Campaign

If you’re localizing a fundraising campaign, any element of the campaign could need to change during the translation and localization process. Some of these elements could include:

  • Text
  • Images, as these often need new models to mirror the demographics of a specific area or culture
  • Small details like currency symbols or measurement formats
  • Audio and video re-recording
  • Personal stories and testimonies that fit the new culture

Even logos and organization names may need to change during the translation and localization process. It can be confusing to realize your favorite brands have different names in other countries. For example, Lay’s goes by Chipsy in Egypt and Walkers in the UK.

There are a host of cultural and legal considerations to factor in when taking your fundraising into a new culture, which is precisely why localization experts are so important. Maintain clear communication with your translation and localization professionals and keep an open mind when they suggest changes. Remember that their goal in providing professional translation services of this nature is to make your fundraising materials as appealing as possible to the target audiences.

Why Using Machine Translation is a Mistake

It may be tempting to plug your text into an online translator and let a machine take care of it. However, machine translation still has a long way to go before it can catch up to human translations.

Google Translate took a large step forward in 2016 when it switched over to a form of machine learning and saw a 60 percent increase in accuracy. Further, humans were asked to evaluate the tool based on the accuracy of its translations, and it scored a 5.43 out of 6 when translating from English to Spanish.

However, that margin of error can still mean missteps in a translation. And those missteps can mean glaring typos that erode your campaign’s professionalism and reduce donor trust. A machine translation app also can’t assess the very human element of what might be culturally appropriate or not across different regions.

How to Assess the Quality of Your Translated Materials

Since fundraising in more than one language requires you establish trust while keeping cultural knowledge in mind, conducting a multicultural fundraising campaign can feel daunting. Even when you get a professional translation back, you will still need to check it, despite not speaking the language yourself. There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Find a multilingual proofreader to check a translation for you
  • Recruit support from a native speaker on your staff or who is known to your staff personally
  • Get together a focus group in the native tongue to assess the new message
  • Find multiple checkers through online crowdsourced translation communities

By choosing quality professional translation services and localization services to undertake the work for you in the first place, checking the quality of the translation should go smoothly.


With all this in mind, your nonprofit is in a strong position to start preparing campaigns and begin fundraising in more than one language. Above all, remember to be flexible in your approach and to carefully analyze what works in which languages, so that each subsequent campaign has an even higher success rate.

Louise Taylor has been writing about translation and localization for Tomedes, a translation service with clients around the world, for the past six years. Prior to that, she spent over a decade working in the non-profit sector, so has a deep understanding of the issues that non-profits can face when it comes to fundraising and working across international borders.

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