Pulling off a successful donor trip is no easy endeavor, even with a trusted travel agency. I know this because I was once searching for the kind of organization I ended up founding: Philanthropy without Borders.
After discovering several critical gaps in the industry of philanthropic travel, I made it my mission to fill these gaps and provide the comprehensive services I knew nonprofits needed. I know the needs and the gaps because I was once in the exact situation as my clients – leading the fundraising department of a nonprofit and overwhelmed by the amount of work needed to pull off a donor trip.
Although I was excited about the trip and confident it would be a success, I was already overseeing campaigns, grants, major gifts, and events. I knew I would have to delegate some logistics if I was going to pull it off without letting the ball drop on our other fundraising initiatives.
My first instinct was to approach vendors for travel services in the same way I had secured an event planner for our annual fall gala. The event agency I hired not only took care of all the details and logistics of the gala, but as event experts, they also provided strategic advising on how to raise the most money in this critical opportunity. All I had to do was get people in the room!
So I went out in search of a consultancy (I assumed travel agent) who could provide the logistical and (critically) strategic advising on the trip. In my fantasy, a travel agent would take care of everything, and all I would have to do was get people on the plane.
Turns out, no agency at the time could offer the support I needed. And in the process of looking, I identified several critical gaps in the industry.
First of all, travel agents don’t know about fundraising. All they do is coordinate the logistics, but I needed a partner who could understand our goal: to make money and continue advancing the mission. Just like with galas, hiring an event planner who specializes in nonprofit fundraising events is totally different from hiring a wedding planner. They both can book venues and find caterers, but only one can truly elevate your event and create an impactful experience for your donors.
Secondly, many travel agents are largely inexperienced at programming around vulnerable populations. Clearly, a visit to a shelter housing survivors of human trafficking in Cambodia is quite a bit different from a tour of Italian wineries. Knowing how to design trips that would cultivate empathy, not exploitation, was a missing ingredient.
Lastly, I found that few organizations were able to offer effective and relevant pre-departure training for donors. Cultural misunderstandings can undermine the success of a donor trip and future funding, so it is important to prepare people well before they even get on the plane.
As someone who has developed and facilitated cross-cultural training programs for a decade, I know that the secret sauce to avoiding misunderstandings and exploitative situations lies in both the preparation donors receive and in the structure of the trip itself. I found these critical components absent from the portfolios of most travel industry professionals.
Realizing that I had valuable knowledge and experience that was missing from this field, I sought to fill the gaps in our industry by creating a consultancy that would give nonprofits an all-in-one deal:
While I am now able to leverage my expertise in all three areas and fill these critical gaps in our industry, this journey has also allowed me to do what I love and what I do best: help nonprofits raise money by facilitating meaningful travel experiences for their donors.