Dates and International Research: Surprisingly Complex

By Sabine Schuller

“I’ve been on a calendar, but never on time.” – Marilyn Monroe[1]

Using your very creative imagination, picture yourself in 2003 finding an article about a prospect who’s not from your home country.  She made the news because she successfully sold her very large company.  This is exciting because your NGO’s fundraising leadership have just the proposal that will greatly benefit a cause she feels strongly about – a significant contribution from her could make that plan possible.  Before you show this information to anyone else, you want to know when the large sale took place.  Was it just last week? Or was it years ago and you’re much too late?

To your surprise, the only date available on the article is 01/09/03.  But what does that mean?  There are several options to choose from:

  1. 1 September 2003 is a date format from Latin America and Europe.
  2. January 9, 2003 is found primarily in the US and sometimes Canada.
  3. 2001, September 3rd is common in Asia and is the ISO format.

Until everyone decides to adopt the International Standard Organization’s date format –  ISO 8601, you will need to use your best judgement or find a way to definitively confirm the date using other unambiguous sources.

This encounter with multiple date formats can lead to a discussion about birthdates, a very popular data point in some circles.  When you start researching in other countries, you realize how difficult (or easy) it can be to find that information.

Starting May 2018, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation will provide even more privacy for its residents.  This Helen Brown Group blog post,  “Is Your Nonprofit Ready for GDPR?” provides a nice summary.  In Canada, prospect researchers report you’d need written permission from someone to have and use their date of birth (DOB).  The Canadian federal government doesn’t ask for it in their census.  It only lists general age brackets to indicate your demographic.  In the US, data providers sometimes do not share dates of birth for certain age groups.  US minors receive some special protections; some firms don’t share DOB for those over 65 attempting to shield vulnerable seniors from the unscrupulous.

You might also begin to question why you’re collecting that information.  One common answer could be to send birthday greetings to your supporters.  Would they be touched you remembered their 80th birthday or would they suspiciously wonder how you knew it was their 27th? Because your digital native Millennials share their birthday with next to no one.  For example, when I was researching this topic, a Tokyo-based colleague forwarded me this Japanese newspaper article.  Written by a mail order consultant, she advocates for cordial and heartfelt messages and to avoid any “depressing” interactions whose only aim is to push for another sale (or in non-profit terms, a donation).

You’d also be wise to check that country’s birthday culture.  If your donors are Latvian, you will definitely endear yourself if you send them flowers on their name’s day.   Similar to Latin@ Saint’s Days (día de su santo), Latvia and some other European countries have a saint or other name associated with every day in the calendar. Those days are celebrated with cake and friendly greetings from friends and family.

Do you know of any noteworthy birthday celebrations or date resources you’d like to share with your fellow researchers?  Feel free to include your ideas in the comments.  Or, if you’re attending Apra’s Prospect Development conference this August, fuel up on caffeine and visit Jen Filla’s and my presentation on international research Saturday morning, 11 August.   (see what I did there?)


About Guest Blogger

Sabine Schuller, MLIS works at The Rotary Foundation, a volunteer organization of professional and business leaders that initiates humanitarian projects worldwide. As a donor researcher, she identifies and analyzes donors around the globe. She was also a program officer for Rotary, coaching grant applicants in Latin America, Europe, and North America. Sabine’s first experience in the nonprofit world was at Northwestern University. She developed industry analyses for new commercial opportunities at an international business development center. Sabine is a proud member of the Illinois donor research chapter APRA-IL and also supports her local business librarian association, SLA-IL. Connect with her on LinkedIn.