Managing Multilingual Communications at Associations and Nonprofits

GALA reps at the ASAE conference in 2022.

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A Crash Course in Localization for Association Professionals

To prepare for a presentation at the annual conference of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), GALA staff interviewed some of its nonprofit and association members to better understand how they operate their multilingual communications programs. By hearing from their peers, attendees at GALA's ASAE session got practical examples of the concepts discussed in the presentation. 

Allison Ferch (GALA), Alicia Deadrick (GALA), and Patrick Nunes (Rotary International) delivered "Delighting Members Worldwide: Managing Your Multilingual Communications" to an audience of association professionals looking to build or grow their localization programs. The session's goal was to share key components of a successful multilingual communications program and build awareness of best practices.

The Challenge

A fundamental challenge for global organizations is communicating effectively with their various audiences who speak different languages and have different cultures. A sense of connection is important and companies aim to deliver an experience that feels authentic. There are many reasons why organizations tackle this challenge: accessibility, inclusion, compliance, growth goals, customer service, differentiation from the competition, and more.

It can be a complex challenge and there is no singular solution. Rather, there are best practices that can guide and shape program development. 

The People

The first key component of a successful program is the people. Internal teams must be cultural advocates, collaborators, and trainers. They must build buy-in and get support from key internal stakeholders like upper management, marketing, engineering, product development, customer service, and content creation teams. A global mindset is essential

The core team — even if only a team of one — must know their audiences well and be adept at building an extended team that may include language services companies, linguists, DTP specialists, and more. Language services vendors feel more like partners or teammates when things go well.

The Processes

Ideally, it starts with strategy development, and ideally, localizers have a seat at the strategy table. Language strategy should align with organizational strategy. Decisions on which markets, which languages, and which countries to target should be based on organizational goals. For some organizations, like Khan Academy, decisions are based on multiple factors including the number of potential users, the need for educational materials, and the support of local and regional education ministries and NGOs. For other organizations, like PADI, decisions can be based on the P&L, or ups and downs of certifications in particular regions.

Operations vary across organizations but generally include strategy development, project management, vendor management, content management, and technology management. Handling requests, file sharing, managing translation and review, and managing linguists form the majority of operations tasks. Operations should also include a system for tracking metrics and measuring success.

The metrics that matter depend on where you sit, but collecting metrics is an essential part of localization operations because it helps team prove their worth. Localizers love to look at word counts, turnaround times, and project completions while upper management wants to see impact-specific metrics related to growth and cost ratios. Be prepared to "translate" departmental metrics into the language of executives.


Technology is an essential component of any multilingual communications program. CAT tools remain the most impactful apps in the tech stack and are useful even for those not doing the translating. They're also essential for terminology management.

Organizations' tech stacks depend heavily on the type of content they produce and may include content management systems, content authoring tools, learning management systems, translation management systems, QA tools, and interpreting technologies. Ideally, there is interoperability and integration between systems, allowing automation and efficiency gains. Many companies have engineers that work on integrating and enhancing off-the-shelf tools.

Prioritization in technology choices will depend on factors like time-to-market, costs, scalability, and UX goals. And it may seem obvious, but think twice about using raw machine translation, like output from Google Translate.

Linguistic and Cultural Considerations

Remember that translation is just one part of localization. Localized content, which takes cultural norms into consideration, gives audiences a more "native" experience. A global mindset in content development is essential. Remember that not everybody understands American baseball references, for example. Have local, native-speakers review finished products to make sure they resonate and make sense, both linguistically and culturally.

Always consider the meaning and intent of content, take cultural relevance and sensitivity seriously, and understand local and regional differences in target audiences.

Internationalization, a concept of global readiness, is another important consideration, especially for content creators and software engineers. Conventions for dates, temperatures, times, seasons, and currencies all change across cultures. Furthermore, text expansion (e.g., English to German) and the use of bidirectional languages will impact design and layout. 

Finally, consider trends in inclusive language. This is an emerging area in the global language industry and should be followed closely. (GALA will be launching a SIG on this topic soon.)


Leaders of multilingual communications programs need to be excellent listeners, collaborators, and influencers. They should be advocates for multilingual audiences and promote a global mindset within their teams and organizations. Finally, they should know their value and be able to convey it clearly to key stakeholders in terms they understand so that multilingual is considered a value-add, not a cost-center.


If you're ready to take a deep dive, look at the Globalization Strategy Playbook, which was the basis for this presentation and which goes much deeper into each area. It is an excellent resource written by talented, experienced, and respected industry professionals, many of them GALA members. 

Special thanks to our association and nonprofit members who spoke with us and let us use their video snippets in our presentation at ASAE:  Dorota Juska-Fairbanks (PADI), Anna Berns (Khan Academy), Mindy Marks (Lions Clubs International), Serge Ansar (International Baccalaureate), and Erica Goldberg (Million Dollar Round Table). 

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