Asking for the gift on the trip is one of the most effective ways to ensure your donor travel programs are raising money and meeting revenue goals. 

To ask for the gift on a donor trip, or not to ask, that is the question.

There are a number of reasons why fundraising professionals would argue that you should not ask for the gift on the donor trip, and most of  those reasons have to do with donor discomfort (which I will address) and plain logistics (which I will also discuss), but in short, I believe that we must ask for the gift on the trip.

Why?

Well, for starters, because the donors are right there.

It’s as simple as that.

We all know that donors don’t just sit around waiting for us to call. It’s hard enough getting them on the phone, and now you have an entire precious week with them! How can we waste that valuable opportunity? We can’t assume they will be available to us after the donor trip.

Second, because they are invested.

By agreeing to come on the trip, they have already demonstrated commitment to your organization and your cause. They want to be part of the impact. They want to be part of your success story.

Lastly, because this is the climactic moment.

This is their only opportunity to actually see the work in action. In this special moment you have their undivided attention. They aren’t staring at their watches wondering about their next appointment. They are your captive audience and you have just wowed them. If this were a gala, the audience would be clapping as your guest of honor finishes making the appeal. This is the time to ask.

I believe this so strongly that I am not merely recommending you consider asking the donors for the gift on the trip – I am  going so far as to suggest that the entire success of the trip hinges upon you doing so.

How could I be so bold?

Well, let’s consider some other fundraising strategies:

When you travel to a donor’s location to meet with them for coffee, do you have a nice little chat, leave, and call them the next day and ask for a gift?
Certainly not. You ask them then and there, when they are sitting right across the table from you.

When you have your annual fundraising gala, do you feed them, show them a great presentation, then send them home, only to call the next day and say, “I hope you had a great time at our event last night. I’m calling to see if you would consider making a gift…”?
Again, the answer is no. As I said, the whole purpose of the appeal story is to wow them with you mission and they are never as invested in it as they are in that moment – when you have their undivided attention.

So then why, on a donor cultivation trip, would we spend the valuable (and rare) moments with a donor by not discussing their investment?

Donor discomfort is a commonly cited excuse: “The donor is not ready.”

Well, then let’s get them ready.

First things first, we have to agree on the the primary purpose of this trip. If the primary purpose is truly to raise money, let’s start by only inviting people who have the capacity to give it. If the primary purpose is to make friends, spread awareness, or recruit volunteers or board members, then it is not a donor cultivation trip. Notice I said primary purpose. These other things (friendships, awareness, new board) often also occur on donor cultivation trips, but the difference is that on donor cultivation trips, we raise money.

Second, let’s make sure the donors know what they are getting into. I’ve heard development professionals say things like, “the donor won’t want to talk about money on their vacation.”

Hang on….we better not be marketing these trips as merely vacations. The donor’s primary purpose for attending (their WHY) must be to see the impact of their support, gain a deeper understanding of the work, and learn how their future investment can carry it forward.

Yes, a donor trip can be fun and exciting and transformational (often more so than a typical vacation!)  but if you get the sense from your donor that all they care about is escaping the office for a week and accumulating selfies, it’s time to ask yourself if this person is the right prospect for your trip.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of participants to those who can make meaningful investments,  are interested in the mission, and willing to travel, you need to prepare them to be asked.

Here’s how to do that:

First, tell them about the fundraising goals of the trip the moment you invite them

It is important to set the tone and be transparent with donors about what they are signing up for. If they are uncomfortable with being asked for money, then they should not be going on a donor cultivation trip.

You can say something like:

“As you know, our program in Haiti has transformed the lives of thousands of women, however it is still only 70% funded and to continue this work into next year, we still need a total of $150,000. My hope is that, once you see the amazing impact we’ve had, you will consider increasing your investment in this critical period of growth.”

Second, mention funding continuously on the trip.

Now that the donor is bought in and fully understands that it is a fundraising trip, don’t let them forget that. Make sure they know how much everything costs. Not only does it remind them of the trip’s purpose, but it shows transparency and ethical financial practices. Remember, we owe them this information.  Most people have no idea how much it costs to have a real and lasting impact on the world. Let them know how much things really cost so that when you ask them for $50,000, they will know why you’re not asking them for $500.

You can say something like:

“Here we are at the clinic. It cost $250,000 to build this structure and we need $30,000 to repair it before winter.”

3. Remind them again just before you meet on the trip.
And yes, you will try (and try hard) to meet with them on the trip.

This one-on-one meeting can pre preempted with something like:

“Since we have the evening off tomorrow, I was hoping you would join me for dinner. I know we haven’t had a chance to discuss your investment yet, and I was hoping we would get to that before the trip is over.”

Now let’s talk about how to actually ask them…in Part 2.

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