by Meredith Hauser, Manager of Social Impact Journeys and Events Coordinator
Within the non-profit and fundraising sphere, a large gap exists in the conversation around how special events, such as travel, can support fundraising strategies. While I can’t say for certain why this gap exists, it’s safe to venture that there is a lack of conversation around travel as a method to support fundraising because, to put it plain and simple, travel planning is hard.
In an effort to support our colleagues and help bridge the conversation, we have organized a workshop series on best practices for donor trips. On October 8, 2019, the series kicked off, co-hosted by Katherine Redington, Vice President of Social Impact Journeys at Elevate Destinations and Senior Planner for Donor and Sustainability Initiatives at Educational Travel Consortium and former Director of the Nature Conservancy Travel Program, Jill Bernier. The topic of conversation was how to lay the foundation for a successful donor trip. After all, getting started in a strategic way that is mindful of one’s objectives is often the most difficult aspect of trip planning.
There are many aspects to the running of a donor trip that must be carefully considered from the very start of the planning process. While each of these aspects could easily warrant their own workshop, the group was able to hone in on and discuss the most critical pieces of how to lay the foundation for a successful donor trip.
A successful trip, like all donor cultivation activities, needs clearly identified objectives, which include both the ideal as well as the least acceptable outcomes. Your goal should align with your organization’s priorities, have one main purpose and be measurable. Ask yourself, is the purpose of this trip to raise money? Build a donor pipeline? Recruit new board members? Get new stories? It’s advisable to have a secondary goal in addition to your primary goal but keep in mind that having too many goals can lead to confusion.
Bandwidth and staffing
Time is not a finite resource. When considering what is needed to commence the trip planning process, many of us fail to consider time as the valuable and scarce resource that it is. All aspects of trip planning take an immense amount of time, including but not limited to recruitment, coordinating, site visits, arranging and triple-checking accommodations and meals, and more. It’s important to consider who from your organization has the know-how and the bandwidth to pull these details together. When it comes to staffing a trip, never underestimate the power of optics. Who from your organization is essential to have on the trip? Remember that the person from your organization who is planning the trip should be on the trip
Legal and safety protocols
In the blink of an eye, nothing else matters but safety! When you take a group of people on a trip you are responsible for them, but things can go wrong that are completely out of your control. Therefore, it’s critical to always have a written emergency management plan. If you don’t have one of your own, always ask for one from your travel provider. Legal and safety protocols involve everything from licenses, waivers, and data privacy issues to managing a crisis in the field. The latter itself involves a number of details that are critical to consider before sending a group of travelers into the field. For example, one aspect often not considered in crisis management is how to manage a mental health crisis on your trip. Having a plan in place for each possible crisis will save a lot of panic and issues with liability in the long run.
Travel programs often struggle to justify themselves in a measurable way, especially if they are not directly aligned with the development arm of their institution, yet are part of the strategy for increasing donor engagement and raising money. One of the best ways to track your ROI is by asking the right kinds of questions of your travelers. Questions like this include but are not limited to:
– How did this trip impact your relationship with [organization]?
– Are there others in your network that care deeply about [organization or issue area]? Would you be willing to introduce us?
– Are there any takeaways from this trip that you will incorporate into your own life?
Questions such as these help to quantify the kinds of behavioral metrics that are important to your organization such as an increase in volunteerism, a shift in perspectives, a deepening of personal reflection and understanding, and an increase in community engagement/imparting of newly acquired knowledge. Don’t forget to gather feedback from your local teams – their input is critical as well!
Filling a trip
This can sometimes feel like a “chicken and egg” scenario depending on whether you are planning a trip as a result of a specific donor’s interest and building a trip around them, or if you are trying to fill a calendared trip with prospects pulled from your constituency base. In either case, you should have criteria that align with your goal and for whom a trip is a logical next step towards increased engagement. Think of your donor trip like a destination wedding. On average, destination weddings have a 35% attendance rate. Donor trips are similar. A best practice in protecting time and resources is to think of the maximum amount of travelers you could potentially have a trip and take a third of that. That third is the number for which you should plan. Remember that simply because some expresses a strong interest in a trip, does not make them a “firm” commitment.
Ultimately, each of these aspects of how to lay the foundation for a successful donor trip could be a workshop on their own! While this workshop was just scratching the surface of all the work and thoughtful planning that needs to go into a donor trip, we hope it serves as a catalyst and jumping-off point for organizations planning donor trips.
Click here to learn more about our donor travel program and start planning your next donor trip today!