Transitioning International Students into Your Donor Pipeline

Photo of the Great Wall of China

With the balance of wealth shifting overseas — and with more colleges and universities increasing their international enrollment — international fundraising is likely to play an increasingly larger role in development at North American institutions.

To learn how institutions can get started in such an effort, we interviewed Gretchen Dobson, the senior associate director for alumni relations at Tufts University and the principal and founder of Gretchen Dobson Go Global, a consulting firm focused on helping educational institutions, non-profit member organizations, and consulate/embassy education officers facilitate alumni engagement and advance international programs. Dobson has also authored the book Being Global: Making the Case for International Alumni Relations (CASE, 2011).


After speaking with Dobson, we’re offering these two articles to help you think through some initial steps for getting started with international fundraising:

  • Transitioning International Students into Your Donor Pipeline (read below)
  • Engaging International Alumni (click here to read)

Reaching Them While They’re Students

Dobson notes that international alumni are “hard enough just to find”; if you are serious about cultivating lifetime relationships with this growing body of alumni, the key is to begin building the relationship while they are still students.


The article you’re reading covers some of the opportunities for international students specifically, but the first step is to involve your international students in your broader student philanthropy programming.

Dobson suggests that building engagement and affinity between international students and your institution requires:

  • Making intentional efforts to identify and meet international student needs
  • Involving international students in philanthropic efforts early
  • Taking an intentional approach to transitioning international students to alumni during the senior year

Investing in their Success

It’s important that your institution’s investment in its international students not end with recruitment. This is a prerequisite for asking international students to invest in your institution in the long term. Be intentional in your strategy for cultivating a lifetime, two-way partnership with your international students.

“Studying in another country is often a formative time for the student. I hear this when I talk with our alumni in Korea, Japan… Fund programs that make an impact during this formative time.”
Gretchen Dobson, Tufts University

For example:

  • Provide support with acculturation (see our article “Steps to Support International Student Success”)
  • Check your data on international student demographics at your institution; if, like many institutions, you have rising enrollment not only from international students of affluent families but also international students from a lower socioeconomic background, look into opportunities to provide internships, an apprenticeship model, or faculty/staff hosting; consider establishing funds to assist students in need with items such as laptops — or even winter coats
  • Invest in career services for international students – “Stress opportunities for students to develop career-critical skills; look at industries within the country of origin, and ask whether they aspire to work in those industries; provide opportunities for international students to get involved with the career office, internships, and short –term, one-week internships”

Involving International Students in Philanthropy

As with any of your student cohorts, it’s important to both raise awareness in the role of philanthropy in providing the education the students are receiving, and invite them to take an active part in the institution’s advancement work. Dobson suggests involving international students, as early as possible:

  • In the activities of regional alumni chapters during summer and winter break
  • As student ambassadors; have your development officers train them to meet with prospects
  • In your annual fund phonathon
  • In opportunities to tell their stories to donors and to the larger campus community

“Involve them in writing and blogging,” Dobson suggests, “and invite their help with communications initiatives. For example, ask them to help with materials sent to donors about student scholarships. Invite them to do Youtube videos about their college experience, with the authenticity of their own voice.”

“Build these relationships while they are still students. Educate them about philanthropy and the type of lifetime relationship you want to foster, while they are still on campus.”
Gretchen Dobson, Tufts University

Senior Year and the International Student

Dobson emphasizes the importance of offering structured opportunities in the senior year for international students to give back to the international student community on your campus.

For example, for your international seniors:

  • Offer an international capstone program — “You could invite your seniors to mentor first-year international students, advising them on how they can make the best of the next four years”
  • Rather than just an exit interview, hold a series of focus groups or workshops that invite international seniors a chance to leave a mark by advising residence life or international program directors — “They’ve invested, they’ve taken a risk in attending a school abroad. Recognize their investment and invite them to continue investing”
  • Invite international student participation on the senior gift committee or in your senior campaign — “offer opportunities for international students to help create an international student summer resource fund or scholarship fund”

As students prepare to transition to alumni, show that the institution is committed to continue investing in international students, and invite your graduating seniors to act as partners in the effort. For more advice on taking an intentional approach to senior giving, check our article “The Student-Alumni Transition: Encouraging Meaningful Giving“; while the article is not focused on international students, many of the strategies discussed are applicable.