Books help bridge cultural chasm


March 09, 1992|By LESTER S. PICKER

When Alexis de Tocqueville visited America some two hundred years ago, he marveled at the volunteer spirit of its citizens and their passion for charitable works for the betterment of their communities. That spirit has grown to the point that today philanthropy is culturally ingrained into the American experience.

But American-type charity has spread far beyond our borders. With globalization, the pace of change throughout the world has increased, bringing with it intense social problems. Many of these problems can be addressed more efficiently, and with greater permanence, through the application of charitable efforts. Many developed and newly emerging nations have adapted American-type charitable practices to augment their government social programs.

The influence of American philanthropy can be seen most clearly in Japanese corporate charity. In the postwar period, Japanese corporate philanthropy was viewed strictly in the context of providing workers with lifetime jobs. Now, with Japanese business synonymous with internationalism, the Japanese have had to learn to give back to the community.

Corporate charity is good business and Japanese corporations have been fast learners in this arena, too. In several areas of philanthropy, they are showing signs of leadership. Yet the differences between Japanese and American cultures has proven to be a formidable barrier to those American charities seeking funding from Japanese companies in their communities.

To bridge that cultural chasm, a company called Corporate Philanthropy Report, telephone (206) 329-0422, has just published two excellent references for those non-profit organizations seeking funding from Japanese corporations. The Seattle-based company has pioneered providing the non-profit community with information on the Japanese connection. Now, with the publication of the "Japanese Corporate Connection: A Guide for Fundraisers" and "Directory of Japanese Giving," this entrepreneurial company has provided a high-value service to the non-profit community.

For the uninitiated, "Japanese Corporate Connection" is a jewel. The book begins by taking the reader through an explanation of a five-part process for cultivating Japanese donors. In following chapters, it offers a wealth of information on Japanese culture as it relates to giving, including sections on funding for the arts, the environment, social causes and education. The $90 price, while steep, is worth every penny. The book is exceptionally well written, and thoughtfully organized.The judicious use of white space, marginalia, spiral binding and subheads are designed to facilitate use.

Similarly thoughtful and comprehensive, "Directory of Japanese Giving" provides fund-raisers with an indispensable tool in seeking and cultivating Japanese corporate donors. The 318-page work is so well organized, I hope it forces the industry to up the ante in terms of user-friendliness and utility. The 188 corporations profiled are divided by industry groupings, with helpful introductory comments. Due to the difficulty of researching Japanese philanthropy, the coverage of individual companies varies in depth. The book sells for $190, certainly prohibitive for most non-profits. According to Jenny Warwick of Corporate Philanthropy Report, more than 200 Japanese companies will donate to American non-profits this year. With these success stories, a body of knowledge has emerged concerning generic practices that work. Corporate Philanthropy Report recommends a five-phase process, with each phase incorporating several steps. These are detailed in "Japanese Corporate Connection."

In Phase One, the non-profit needs to conduct a feasibility study. In this usage, feasibility refers to an internal assessment of how realistic it is to pursue Japanese corporate moneys and relationships. As the authors point out, Japanese funding is definitely not for everyone. It is a much longer, more difficult and inherently more frustrating process than courting American corporations.

Next, the organization must construct a detailed and comprehensive internal plan, so that the cultivation process and the resulting support are consistent with the organization's mission and vision.

The third phase is prospect research. However, for American non-profits that involves learning about, and experience with, Japanese culture. In "Japanese Corporate Connection" specifics of prospect research are detailed.

The fourth phase, networking, has proved to be the most difficult for colleagues I queried who work with Japanese corporate donors. Japanese philanthropy is built upon arduous, painstaking networking and relationship building. Americans, used to the McDonor, quick-fix approach to funding needs, have trouble justifying the time and expense needed to land a Japanese corporate donor.

The final phase involves cultivating a donor who has already come on board with the organization, wise advice no matter what the corporate nationality.

Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.

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