Intercultural Communication in Transnational Work – Unit 4 – Module 3

Complex Toolbox for Volunteers

[nextpage title=”SHORT DESCRIPTION”]This Module shows why it is important to work on the image of an organisation also in the non-profit sector. It will introduce you to the reasons why it is helpful to consider cultural aspects when working on the image of an organisation and it will focus on some particular aspects related to culture you should consider on your way to internationalisation.

[nextpage title=”Quiz”]-

[nextpage title=”Working on the intercultural image of the organisation”]

Why should you as a volunteer organisation work on the image of your organisation?

A positive image is important to be successful. As a volunteer organisation you don’t need to “sell” a product, but you will have to make yourself known as an organisation and in this role present your ideas, your values and goals. There may be other volunteer organisations with a similar mission from which it is important to differentiate to become more visible. You might want to get more members, bind existing ones, raise more funding, increase the amount of donations and have more active partners. Maybe you even look for other organisations to work with. With a positive image it will be easier to reach these goals. [Link Unit 1] (See also Missoni and Alesani, 2014, pp. 365 and 368f.)

Information, facts and emotions circulating in various on-line and off-line media channels and connected to the image of a certain organisation are often perceived intuitively. Organisations feel that they may not have control over how their organisational image is perceived by others. This is why they naturally wish to channel their own public perception and why they put quite some effort in strategies to lead the perception in a wished direction.

[nextpage title=”What is the “image” of an organisation?”]

Just take a minute to reflect: What do you associate with WWF, Greenpeace or UNICEF? What kind of emotions come up when you hear the names of these associations? Can you remember their logo? Do you associate particular tag lines, symbols or colours?

All the elements you may have associated with these organisations are part of their image. In the following we will discuss some helpful items for the work on the image of your organisation.

According to some the organisational image is

“The perception people have of your business when they hear your company name. A business’s image is composed of an infinite variety of facts, events, personal histories, advertising and goals that work together to make an impression on the public.”

The image, in other words, is what others associate with a company’s name. Companies actively work on their image in order to model it according to their vision to be more successful by better meeting the expectations of the target group.

In many cases it seems probably more natural to think of an organisational image referred to a company and its marketing strategies (Missoni, 2014, 368f.). But also non-profit organisations have an “image”. Randomly asked people would probably easily be able to answer the question “What do you associate with WWF, Greenpeace or UNICEF?” thus giving an idea of what they intuitively think of these well-known non-profit organisations.

One of the most well known public images is that of the “International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies”, which is the umbrella organisation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies. The colours red and white are the same for all organisations, but the symbols differ according to the cultural background of the localised organisations. Colours and symbols together have a high recognition value.

[nextpage title=”Why should you adapt the image of your organisation to cultural premises?”]

Just take a minute to reflect: Imagine you would like to start an information campaign for your new volunteer project. You personally like the colours orange and green. Green because it remembers you of the colours of nature, and orange because you associate it with positive energy. Most probably most Western Europeans would have the same associations with these colours. But then your colleague tells you, that for him being of Muslim religion green is a religious colour. Would you still want to use this colour for your campaign?

Colours have a cultural background and they are one of the speaking elements in many communication strategies of organisations. When creating the image of your organisation you should be aware of cultural signals like in the example.

When it comes to establishing long-term relationships in business, it is said that trust “is a key variable when structuring and developing any relational exchange” (Usunier and Lee, 2005, p. 495). According to Usunier and Lee (2005, p. 481), credibility is the basis for trustworthiness in business relations.

However, trust can be withdrawn. In an international context, one of the reasons for this is that cultural differences lead to mistrust (Usunier and Lee, 2005, p. 495).

In fact, from an intercultural point of view, trust has much to do with finding similarities in people from other cultures. Just think of this quote “when people are like each other, they tend to like each other” (Tony Robbins). When we discover sameness in views, beliefs, values etc. – when we seem to share a common culture – we naturally trust because we do not perceive elements of otherness. [LINK Unit 3 Module 1] (16.7.2020)

Interestingly, the importance of trust as a value in the business world builds a link to your work.

For you as a volunteer or non-profit organisation wanting to internationalise it is highly important to be perceived from the outside as trustworthy and coherent in values in order to be able to reach, for example, stakeholders, partners, volunteers and donors. This is why you should be clear about which elements contribute to a positive image of your organisation.

It may be interesting for you as an organisation wanting to establish international contacts to reflect in which way you could mold your intercultural image enhancing at the same time your credibility and trustworthiness of your work. Although you may be hesitant in applying to your organisation similar strategies as profit-organisations, because you may see them as a contradiction to you social ideals and humanitarian values, it may be helpful to cast a glance at those approaches.

[nextpage title=”How can you work on your intercultural image?”]

How to build a public image, is a vast topic which cannot be treated here in its due completeness. What we do here is to give some tips and starting points for further reflection.

  1. Enhance Trust: “If actions are inconsistent with the declared values and mission, this will result in a negative image in the long run” (Missoni and Alesani, 2014, p. 370).

So work on the definition of your values and work on your mission as a volunteer organisation. Ask yourself the questions Missoni and Alesani (2014, p. 370) suggest:

  • “What are the essential characteristics of the organisation and its mission?
  • What are its values, social positioning, expertise and qualities?
  • What are the internal and external representations of the organisation?
  • Which are the elements that make the organisation and its expertise unique?
  • Does the organisation’s identity correspond to the externally perceived image?”

In relation to your intercultural image ask yourself:

  • Which elements relevant to the image are culturally especially important?
  • Are culturally relevant messages communicated clearly enough to be perceived also by partners from other cultures?
  • Do our messages signal respect and appreciation of diversity?
  • How accessible is our organisation for those with physical and mental handicaps?
  1. Be transparent, be accountable (Missoni and Alesani, 2014, pp. 228f. and p. 374): To see what this implies check the International Non-Governmental Organisations Accountability Charter (accessed 20.7.2020).

There you will also see which elements are important to comply to when you want your organisation to answer for the values of transparency and accountability.

  1. Be visible: Visibility is “the visual identity of an organisation” (Missoni and Alesani, 2014, p. 371). Elements of the visual identity should be:
  • Recognisable
  • Symbolic
  • Coherent
  • Unique
  • Applied systematically to all element of the visual identity.

A logo, social colours and a font system are elements that contribute to the creation of a visible identity (Missoni and Alesani, 2014, p. 371).

From an intercultural point of view, please remember that the elements contributing to the visible identity of your organisation can be interpreted differently according to the culture-specific perception.

Which elements should be handled with care from an intercultural point of view?

  • Colours: colours may have different meanings in different cultures. Here are some examples (Usunier and Lee, 2013, p. 265)

  • Sounds and naming: When choosing the name of your organisation, take into account that not all sound combinations are equally pronounceable for speakers from other countries. If your organisation already has a name, be prepared to hear an unusual pronunciation.

If you look for a name for your organisation which should work internationally, here are some tips (Usunier and Lee, 2013, p. 350f.; Luthe, 1994, p.88f.):

  • Be careful to choose sound combinations easy to articulate for most speakers.
  • Choose rather short words which are easy to remember.
  • If you opt for an acronym, make sure it is one that works also for speakers from other cultures.
  • Check double meanings in other languages.
  • Consider that not all speakers are used to the same reading direction. Speakers used to the Latin alphabet read from left to right, Arabic cultures, for example, are used from right to left. The same is true for the interpretation of images or symbols.
  1. Create your network: Networking is important for enhancing your visibility and making you known as volunteer organisation (Missoni and Alesani, 2014, p. 373). How can you let your international network grow?
    • Look for organisations working internationally either in your country or abroad with similar interests and values.
    • Think of the best way to contact interesting organisations. Different cultures have preferred ways of communication. Some, for example some Mediterranean countries, may prefer personal, verbal communication more than others.
    • Look for public events where you can meet stakeholders.
    • Organise an event where you can meet people with similar interests.

For more tips please look here


In summary: Working on the intercultural image is a process you can shape. Once the image circulates in the world your influence on it is restricted. So be mindful of how you shape it. The elements discussed above will help you to find your way to internationalisation.


[nextpage title=”EXTERNAL RESOURCES”]

Luthe, D. (1994). Öffentlichkeitsarbeit für Nonprofit-Organisationen. Eine Arbeitshilfe. Augsburg: MaroVerlag.

Older, but still valid guide on public relations in the non-profit field.

Missoni, E. and Alesani, D. (2014). Management of International Institutions and NGOs. London and New York: Routledge.

A comprehensive overview of important aspects relevant to the management of non-profit organisations.

Usunier, J.-C. and Lee, J.A. (2005). Marketing across cultures. 4th ed., Edinburgh: Pearson Education Limited.

A comprehensive overview over culture related topics in marketing theory.

Usunier, J.-C. and Lee, J.A. (2013). Marketing across cultures. 6th ed., Edinburgh: Pearson Education Limited.

A comprehensive overview over culture related topics in marketing theory.

[Accessed 20.7.2020]

Charter developed and signed by the members of Accountable Now ( , a membership helping other non-profit organisations in being transparent and accountable.

[Accessed 23.7.2020]

Online encyclopedia for business

[Accessed 23.7.2020]

Homepage of the German Red Cross Society.

[Accessed 23.7.2020]

A platform for gathering information about possible fundraising. It offers also tools how to write proposals, network etc.

[Accessed 23.7.2020]

Homepage of Salto Youth, a project by the European Union – working within the Erasmus+ Youth and the European Solidarity Corps programmes offering support, advanced learning and training opportunities for the younger generations.