By Katherine Redington, Vice President of Social Impact Journeys and Business Development
At Elevate Destinations, we plan signature donor trips with nonprofit organizations all around the world. These trips often raise thousands, and in some cases, millions of dollars for organizations.
It is not unusual for nonprofits to delve deep into the content, goals, and messaging behind a trip. After all, this is the heart of the experience. However, what is often missing from the donor trip planning process is a concrete, thoughtful outreach strategy for recruiting donors to join the trip. I see clients too often leaning on the belief that “if we build it, they will come”. While you do need specific criteria finalized before you begin soliciting donors such as dates and pricing, you also need a very clear understanding of the steps to onboard donors onto a journey.
Here are six essential tips to filling a donor trip and the creation of a donor trip outreach strategy.
If North Americans are a part of the demographic you are soliciting to join this trip you need to provide ample notice of your journey. North Americans plan their international travel 6 to 9 months in advance. It is advantageous if your invitation for participation is presented between 12 and 9 months in advance of a trip. You will be competing against fewer pre-established obligations.
You should also align your outreach strategy with the logistical and fiduciary deadlines for securing your vendor payments. Just because you are planning a trip nine months in advance does not mean people have nine months to register travelers. Vendor payments vary across destinations and lodges. You must adjust your timeline for your outreach strategy to these vendor deadlines instead of the departure date for the journey.
Detailed timelines are essential. Elevate Destinations creates timelines for all of our clients that map out the payment deadlines and the organizations allotted time for outreach and paid commitments. If your travel partner doesn’t do this for you, please make sure you do this internally.
2. Who is Doing What?
We strongly recommend that organizations map out all the stakeholders that touch a trip in advance of registration and that there is buy-in about the roles and responsibilities in addition to the time commitment needed to manage those tasks. Your plan should always identify the person who is doing the initial outreach and follow up process. Sometimes this is not the same person, especially if the initial outreach is coming from the Executive Director of an organization.
If you are advertising this trip on any public forum like social media or your website, you will need to identify who will post it and who will handle those inquiries from the public.
There should be some pre-established language ready for those doing this outreach, and the staff should be well equipped to field general questions about the journey, its purpose, and why they want that individual to join the journey. Elevate often designs, online portals, and brochures for non-profit trips and we recommend that all organizations think through how they want to organize and present these materials visually.
If multiple people are doing the outreach, there should be a very clear feedback loop about where your numbers on registration stand on a frequent basis. There should be a shared document or CRM that stores this information that is updated in real-time. Many journeys have a maximum number of travelers allowed. When you start nearing that number all individuals doing outreach must be clear on these parameters so awkward moments of denying someone participation is avoided.
3. What You Can Count On
Filling a trip is much harder than people anticipate. On average, 60% of invites decline participation on private group journeys. This rate has more to do with previous commitments rather than their interest in or commitment to the organization’s work. Thus, getting out ahead of people’s travel schedule sincerely helps with an increase in participation. Many organizations opt to build their trip dates around an anchor donor so they know that they have at least one or two donors that are participating. This is a great idea and often helps galvanize others to join the trip.
However, do not assume that a verbal commitment will translate into a paid commitment. Ask participants who have expressed verbal commitment to put down a non-refundable deposit for the trip. This helps protect your organization financially and also elevates the commitment to something more concrete. You can usually count on paid commitments and you do not want to make decisions based on verbal commitments. If people feel concerned about the non-refundable deposit, direct them to travel insurance so they can recoup some of their costs if they chose to cancel. Please note, even if they don’t anticipate canceling, it is essential for you to direct them to purchase travel insurance. Many of the most robust policies are time-sensitive and begin the moment a deposit is provided; therefore, make sure your travel agent is prepared to refer people to a trusted travel insurance provider.
4. Have Your List and Check it Twice!
If your journey is by invitation only, then you need to make sure the people you are inviting match your criteria for the goals you are trying to achieve. If you are looking at transformational gift-giving, have you selected from that demographic of donor? Are they passionate about your mission and have the capacity to give at the level you are soliciting them for? Are they physically able to manage the demands of the itinerary you have put together? This might reduce your pool of eligible donors. If so, then you need to reduce the number of travelers by which you have priced the trip at to align with this reality.
A good indication that you have the right people on the trip is to clearly articulate the goals of the journey in your communication strategy. There should be no surprises about why you are inviting them on this trip. If these intentions are eloquently presented and your guests don’t hesitate to register, then you likely have the right people on the trip.
5. Your Breaking Point
Many organizations may plan a trip for more participants than end up joining the journey. Each organization should run the numbers when formulating their outreach strategy that has defined the minimum number of participants at which the trip is still worth running. The organization should understand what cost they are willing to absorb and still reach their ROI for the journey. It is important to make this decision at the beginning of the outreach process rather than the 11th hour when tensions can be high and payment deadlines near. It helps alleviate stress and provides clarity and understanding for staff.
It is also wise to have backup strategies for registration. This might include bringing someone from your fundraising team, communications team, finance or even inviting a journalist to fill a spot on a trip. Bringing staff who don’t often have the chance to visit your work can really inspire them and keep them engaged. It is also a pleasure for donors to get to know other members of your organization that they don’t normally interface with. Having these ideas clearly defined will help create a process that makes the most thoughtful and logical sense for an organization’s resources.
6. Think Ahead
When you are on your donor trip, you will want to be collecting videos, photos and testimonials that will help inspire the next group of donors you will invite onto these one of a kind journeys. It is not a bad idea to even hire a professional photographer for these images for a day or half a day. Composing an album or book after a trip is over is a wonderful memento for your donors but also provides future inspiration. Note, there are some important elements to collecting photos and videos on donor trips that need to be thought through. Please feel free to refer to our tips on photography policies for donor trips for additional guidance.
The above six essential tips for filling a donor trip will support organizations in the creation of a donor trip outreach strategy. If you have other ideas for outreach strategies for nonprofit travel, we’d love to hear from you! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.