International Prospects and Changing Canadian Demographics (Part 2)

This is the second part of our blog on International Prospects and Changing Canadian Demographics by Ibrahim Inayatali. Please read the first part here.


Identifying and cultivating prospects in non-mainstream communities—i.e., recent immigrants, ethnic and religious communities, and the Aboriginal peoples of Canada—require researchers and development officers to go beyond the publicly available sources. Many prospects who are recent immigrants have privately held wealth, with investments in their countries of origin or in third (safe) countries, not obvious when conducting research via available public sources. Penetrating this relatively closed network of individuals is a multi-pronged strategy and requires patience, persistence and strategic insight. However, doing so could be very rewarding for the institution in the long run, since success could open up many more opportunities, both in building long-term loyalty of the prospect and his/her family, as well as with other members of the community.


It is important to recognize that many philanthropists in non-mainstream communities give to their own community institutions where they are likely to be treated with respect and reverence and, in some cases, where they happen to volunteer as community leaders. In many cases, reaching out to these people requires an understanding of the dynamics of the community’s hierarchy and organizational model.

Our institution must have a genuine interest in getting to know these communities, rather than stereotyping them based on information available from mainstream media. Members of such diverse communities will quickly know if the outreach is less than sincere. The first step is getting to know the community from the perspective of someone in the organization from within that community, such as an employee (administrator, faculty member or physician), alumni, board member, business partner, etc. If one is not readily available from within, a teacher, community worker or another established person can make the introduction to other people, once they trust us and our motives. Securing this inside information requires nurturing and patience. A misstep could lead to a dead end (and potentially a negative outcome). It is important for the institution to select its “insider” very carefully and first build a relationship, without an obvious desire to reach out to the community.

Many communities of interest have a relatively rigid organizational hierarchy, either by position and wealth, or age and seniority. While one can gain an understanding of the community through an intermediary, the influence of top leadership is usually disproportionately large and requires involvement of the president or CEO of our organization in helping to bond the relationship at the appropriate time and with the appropriate person.


Many new immigrants in Canada have a network of friends and affiliates who are closely involved with members of their own community and family. Building trust is critical if we wish to ask for their help in sharing information, since many fled from oppression in their native countries or relocated in order to protect their families and wealth. Trust is hard to secure if the motivation for engaging with a community is of an exclusively philanthropic nature. Reaching out to the community has to be, therefore, multi-pronged. First, it is key to understand the mission of our organization (whether it is a hospital or a university) and how it interacts with its community (students or patients). Understanding the profile of the community is equally important and requires special efforts by the institution to participate in events and contribute to weaving the fabric of engagement. Getting involved will build up institutional knowledge and sensitivities to other cultures—and presence in the community speaks volumes about one’s interest and commitment.

Building trust is a two-way street, and both parties have to feel genuinely interested in each other. It is, therefore, important that our institution appoints a senior person who will take a personal interest in this relationship and provide a direct link between the leadership of our institution and the leadership within the community. While some organizations feel that they need to have someone from the community itself to become their point person, this need not be the case. It is more important to involve the right person with the right skill set. However, understanding and personalizing the relationship is crucial in building a successful partnership.


Researchers and fundraisers need to be aware of diverse values, meanings and cultural and religious sensitivities, and adjust their strategies to meet the needs of the communities they serve. Diana Newman and Janice Gow Pettey have compiled a few characteristics shared by different cultures and traditions. These are summarized below:

  • The appreciation of the wealth of wisdom and knowledge that generations hand down to generations by the guiding light of tradition is essential. It is often said: “If you want to organize something in the Native (Aboriginal) communities, you go to the elders first.”
  • The giver and the receiver are equally important in the Aboriginal cultures. When they receive a grant, they always want to give something back to the donor, so the donor can receive as well. This balance is very important.
  • Often, those in the Aboriginal communities make their gifts anonymously and privately. One must not ask for a gift directly; rather, explain the need and let the person choose to give of his or her own free will.
  • Many in the Aboriginal communities want their gifts to directly benefit individuals in need rather than through an organization. While this is changing with the increased level of contact with Aboriginal communities, it is still important to keep people who will benefit from their support at the core.
East Asian (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino) 
  • Asians take fundraising personally. Keeping face is critical. If one is asked up front and cannot give the money, they lose face. If they respond positively, they are giving face.
  • One sensitive approach is to carefully put together a solicitation team comprised of our prospect’s peers. One of the peers can later ask the prospect to be part of the team.
  • Prestige and recognition is very important. Researchers need to uncover our prospect’s connections, because he or she may not volunteer this information, so as to demonstrate a benefit by way of gaining prestige and recognition among the prospect’s peers.
  • Do not assume that Asians are knowledgeable about North American philanthropic traditions or protocol. Expectations should be clearly communicated to avoid misunderstanding.
  • Donors and prospects who are senior in age can be sensitive to protocol and etiquette. Key among the sensitivities is the notion of peer-to-peer relationships. For example, only the president or CEO of our institution should meet with the most senior member of the prospect’s family or organization.
  • The size and value of gifts presented to prospects and donors should reflect the relative position of the person who is being met, as a sign of respect and position in the community.
  • Memorial gifts are popular among Chinese, particularly for organizations that serve the elderly. These gifts relate to the custom of the Chinese elderly to give charitable contributions in honour of changes in the lives of their families and friends.
  • Acknowledging a gift quickly is important in Chinese culture. Tangible evidence of respect is a prompt and thoughtful thank-you note.
Hindu, Muslim and Sikh 

Traditions of giving and sharing mirror the great diversity and contrasts of cultural and religious traditions. The following section outlines some of the religious traditions of the relatively new arrivals to Canada, in particular, the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs of South Asian heritage.

Hindus follow a complex array of beliefs and practices, based on regional origin. Most Hindus centre their lives on three kinds of practices: personal or family worship; determining crucial times or seasons for important activities (astrology); and celebration of important festivals or holidays. An understanding of these traditions, especially the festivals, is important in our efforts to ensure appropriate engagement with members of the Hindu community.

For example, the Worship of the Goddess of Sarasvati is a festival for teachers and students in honour of the great goddess of learning; the Fourth Day of Ganesh celebration is when businesspeople, students and others seek blessings for their work from Lord Ganesh; and the Festival of Lamps signifies the reappearance of the sun and prosperity after the long rainy season.

The Muslim community is also diverse, but most members adhere to a common acceptance that their faith is a way of life. Many Canadians, accustomed to the concept of the separation of church and state, can find this confusing. The lives of Muslims revolve around five pillars. One is the notion of Zakat or Almsgiving, which refers to the individual and community responsibility for others. Islam emphasizes the need for giving to help others, extending to the broader community. An example of this is the Ismaili Muslim community of Canada that supports the less fortunate in the developing world through the institutions of the Aga Khan Development Network. One such opportunity is through the World Partnership Walk, an annual event organized by the Aga Khan Foundation that is becoming the largest event of its kind in Canada to address the challenges of global poverty. While this walk is a secular event, and benefits all communities, its underpinnings are based on an ethical framework, rooted in the faith.

The Sikh faith is one that practices the principles of equality of gender, race, religion and social class. A cornerstone of the Sikh faith is the concept of seva, the selfless service to the community—not just to the Sikh community, but to all others. According to Sikh theologian Bhai Gurdas, “Service of one’s fellows is a sign of divine worship.” This idea of service extends to philanthropy, as seen in the case study presented below.

In conclusion, the UK-based Charity Aids Foundation (CAF) publishes its annual World Giving Index. The Index measures the average percentage of people in each country who donate money, volunteer or help a stranger. In 2015, 145 countries were surveyed, representing about 96 percent of the world’s population. Survey findings are summarized below.

  • 4 billion people donated money around the world, one billion people volunteered their time, and 2.2 billion people helped a stranger.
  • Myanmar, which shared first place with the USA in 2014, tops the 2015 CAF World Giving Index. The USA and New Zealand make up the rest of the top three. Canada is ranked fourth.
  • Some of the world’s most generous countries are among the most deprived. The G-20, which represents the world’s largest economies, accounts for only five of the top 20 countries in the CAF World Giving Index.
  • For the first time since 2008, men are now more likely to give money than women
  • People from Iraq were most likely to have helped a stranger, replacing the United States, which came top the previous year.
  • There has been a recovery in young people’s generosity, helping to reduce the generational gap that sees much more giving among older people.

Canada is not only one of the global leaders in promoting generosity, it has built a superb civil society that espouses pluralism and inclusiveness. There are, therefore, tremendous opportunities to uncover prospects from different cultures and traditions, both internationally and, importantly, right here at home.

This [blog] provides a glimpse into the possibilities and invites researchers and other development professionals to explore the universe of prospective donors who await the call. However, before making this call, it is critical that the development strategy of the institution recalibrates its internal and external orientation with a view to becoming more inclusive in all dimensions of its operations. Engaging international prospects and diverse communities at home can be surprisingly energizing in ways that might be unexpected, such as with existing donors and volunteers, who will view such developments as progressive and exciting. The collective support of existing and new donors and volunteers will propel your institution to new heights and set you up for success in a competitive global marketplace.