We know your time is precious. All travel planners and fundraising staff are juggling a million initiatives and details. However, many times NGO staff are stuck revising and redesigning itineraries months after they have been working on these journeys. Although challenges do occur that are out of all of our control (enter COVID-19), there is a way to prevent redundancies in your time and energy by spending some extra care determining if a site visit is a feasible option for a donor trip. We have designed this donor trip checklist to support NGO staff in creating itineraries that are attainable before they begin the heavy lift of operationalizing it. If you have additional steps that others might find helpful, please let us know, and we will be happy to add them to the post.
Why are you bringing a group of donors to a program site?
Before you determine the location of your site visits, it is essential to vocalize the purpose or goal behind taking this journey. There are many different reasons one can bring a group of donors to a program site, and it is important to have clarity for all stakeholders for this rationale.
- Are you trying to show the impact of the work you are doing?
- Are you trying to galvanize future funding for a particular project or program and thus exhibiting potential investment opportunities?
- Do you want to showcase innovation and collaboration with new or unique partners?
- Are you building brand ambassadors or champions for your cause?
- Are you trying to increase the practical understanding of one of your programs for a specific group of people?
The answers to these questions will inform where you should consider going and will help narrow down your options if you are considering multiple possible locations.
Who are you creating the donor site visit for?
The more you know about your potential travelers, the more customized your experience can be. You can create touchpoints in this experience that motivate them in a personalized manner. Additionally, understanding if there are physical limitations for your donors in their physical capacity or time constraints for travel is critical in narrowing down your locations. Below are a few details you should map out internally before confirming a site visit:
- Philanthropic inspiration/motivation of donors
- Special interests of donors
- Personality characteristics of donors
- Physical abilities of donors
- Likely availability of time away from the office or family
Do you have permission?
Soliciting permission for a stay is often something that organizations wait too long to engage in. Authorization must be granted by the community and the local team you are visiting – but beyond that, it is essential to acknowledge the pre-existing power dynamics and politics at play. You may need to seek permissions that go beyond local community members, such as tribal, cultural, and political requests. Planners need to have a deep understanding of who is in charge of the local community, and any hierarchies that may exist within or around the community that might influence whether or not permission is granted.
Do you have a host?
We refer to a local host as the Community Anchor. The Community Anchor is the keeper of stories and relationships. They are critical to the success of the experience. Below are a few of the qualities emblematic of a community anchor:
- They are skilled facilitators who can speak the language, understand the beliefs, values, and practices of the local community
- They have the trust of the community and are a liaison and bridge between the cultural differences
- They must be very close to the program/project and have excellent knowledge of the work
- They are not considered to be a guest by those who live there.
- They can assess the capacity of a location to host effectively or the obstacles that need to be overcome to do so
- They are essential in the design of the experience
- They will be honest with you about the challenges that hosting a site visit will present
What is the geographic location?
The geographic location and the practicality of getting there have to be part of the conversation of feasibility.
- What is the time commitment to get there?
- What is the expense?
- What are the physical requirements for donors to make this type of journey?
- Does this limit the number of people who can go?
- Is it safe? Are there any security concerns?
- How marketable is this destination? Will your prospective travelers be excited to travel there?
This isn’t to say that the hard-to-reach places should not be seen, but they should provide a level of depth that is unquestionably important to witness. When your destination is challenging to visit, you must strive for deep opportunities for travelers to engage and participate in their learning. Immersive moments, elements of building knowledge, and discovery are critical. It is crucial to present very clear expectations for travelers on what it will be like to travel the destination in addition to what to expect upon arrival.
How much capacity do they have?
There may be a site that checks all the boxes, but the locals don’t have the time or resources to manage the organization process. Or they might be hosting too many and need a break. There is a portion of their work that drifts away from the mission when focusing on donor visits. Therefore, you must be transparent about the effort and time required to make this experience run smoothly. Working with a travel operator is critical in reducing the burden on local teams so they can hone in on the educational programming rather than the logistics. We encourage you to ask how they have handled these visits in the past. What worked? What would they adjust if they could do it again?
If hosting people is new to them, let your donors know that they might be the first guests to experience this so they can be part of the process in building this experience and making it successful.
This intangible aspect of trip planning is assessing whether or not you should be going to a location. There are some places you should not go. Getting permission is part of this, but understanding the unspoken messages we send when your group shows up and how they show up is part of what a travel planner must navigate in partnership with your Community Anchor. You need to imagine this experience from different angles to gauge the appropriateness of your site visit. Some perspectives you must consider:
- Local community members
- Funding partners or donors
- On-going geopolitical issues in the country or region
- Vital stakeholders to your broader work or context you operate in
Assessing feasibility is just the tip of the iceberg; however, it is the first and arguably the most essential step on your donor trip checklist to design an impactful site visit. It determines whether or not it can and even should happen. It will save you time, frustration, and potential money to make sure you have done your due diligence before proceeding in marketing any trip to your donors.