Expand to 20 Countries in 15 Years for About $500,000

Learn how to take your organization global and make it successful when you only have limited resources.

There's a lot of talk these days about going global in our nonprofit world. If you are giving it serious consideration, there are pivotal strategic decisions and tactical challenges to be addressed. But it's important to remember that you can effectively go global with limited resources.

Before you get started, there are two fundamental strategic questions to ask.

What are our goals? A lot of American-based organizations view the global opportunity as one for increased revenue and expanded membership. Although these are positive potential outcomes, they should probably not be the driving goals.

If you think about it, going global provides opportunity to do what we already do domestically: bring people together to share information and exercise leadership globally.

If you think about it, going global provides opportunity to do what we already do domestically: Bring people together to share information and exercise leadership globally for the industries and professions we represent. The first real international meeting of POPAI—The Global Association for Marketing at Retail took place in 1994. We had a staff of about 15 people and a budget of about $3 million dollars at the time.

At that first meeting, which included people from the United States and around the world, we asked, "Why are you at the table?" Our domestic members said, "We want to grow our business internationally." Our international colleagues said, "We want to share information and strengthen our industry." Going global needs to address both if there is to be opportunity for success.

What governance model should be observed? As our global entities gain strength, they require a voice in policy and strategic decisions. Governance needs to be established to account for the good ideas of our colleagues everywhere.

One other general note on governance: Our boards may direct us to go global, but we need to do everything to ensure they understand what we are doing to accomplish this and the potential implications for  the organization when globalization is recognized (e.g., some American authority will need to be sacrificed).

Although these two strategic questions are pivotal, small-staff organizations are also faced with the reality of how to go global with fewer resources.

At POPAI, our budget for going global seldom exceeded three percent of our annual operating budget and we never had one person totally dedicated to the mission. In hindsight, we should have, but resources did not allow for it.

Yet over 15 years we established chapters in 20 countries. Along the way, we learned a few things:

  • Account for travel time. International trips take more time, and host countries often want to take advantage of every waking moment one is there, leaving room for not much else. Also, they will likely want the CEO to make the trip.
  • Pick a language. In the beginning, we made clear to our POPAI colleagues that meetings and calls would be conducted in English. Perhaps it was a bit assumptive, but it made management more efficient.
  • Protect your trademark. At POPAI we required our local affiliates to register our name and trademarks at their cost, which, in addition to the financial aspect, helped us ensure that we protected our name globally.
  • Provide for autonomy. You want people to manage their own fate, and they want to as well. After initial development, in-country management can often become the source of great ideas to be implemented domestically as well.
  • Combine education with events. We often held an educational conference in conjunction with a tradeshow or other major conference being staged by a larger organization. POPAI's brand was maintained and all parties benefited.

Beyond these lessons, we discovered broader tactics for global success.

The first was requiring global chapters to achieve a threshold of membership commitment before approving the use of our name and to document at least a two-year plan and budget for board approval. The others were to encourage them to hire a staff manager, establish a board of directors with people of industry influence and leverage, and not to take on too much too soon.

In the end, we came to realize that by plan, by luck, and sometimes in spite of ourselves, we had established an effective global presence. It made one of our core values, inclusivity, even more meaningful. Bottom line: Going global can certainly be accomplished on limited resources. It takes time and travel, but the upside is nearly limitless.

Dick Blatt is the principal of Planar World Consulting LLC. He served as CEO of POPAI—The Global Organization for Marketing at Retail for 17 years. Email: [email protected]