The “Why” of Donor Trips

 Why nonprofits and donors do donor trips.

One of my favorite books of recent years is by the author Simon Sinek – appropriately titled “Start With Why.” The idea: before we determine what we do and how we do it, we must know why we do it. Why is “the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do what you do.”

This pertains to your personal why, your career why and yes…your donor trip why. You must know the why of a donor trip before you can wisely invest any time and money into making it happen. Otherwise, how will you know if the trip is successful? If the trip met its objectives? If it was worth doing…or worth doing again?

With all the excitement to get donors into the field, thoughtful analysis is often an afterthought and the most critical why questions are often asked after the trip has happened. Let’s get clarity from the onset and examine some of the most common whys for donor trips:

Your WHYs and Your Organization’s WHYs

1. To fund the mission

It’s no secret that a well-executed donor trip can have a profound impact on a nonprofit’s fundraising goals, and thus, a profound impact on the communities it serves. Showing is more powerful than telling, and nothing is more inspirational than experiencing the work firsthand. By allowing your donors to see the results of their support, they are poised to renew their commitment and help sustain your critical programs for years to come.

2. To strengthen connections and make new ones

Traveling alongside someone creates lifelong memories and bonds. As a result of the trip, your donors will feel closer to you and your team. In addition to supporting the cause financially, donors often feel compelled to contribute in other ways, such as volunteering, offering in-kind services, or joining your Board. In fact, it’s quite common for organizations to recruit new Board members among the participants in their donor trips!

3. Create a cohort of storytellers

The trip doesn’t end when everyone flies back home. It continues in the hearts and minds of each person who experienced it. Your donors will go on to tell their friends and family about the trip, show photos they took, and post about it on social media. Since it is inevitable that they will want to share their experiences with others (and believe me, you want them to!) why not use this opportunity to give them the language, skills, and assets needed to tell your organization’s story in the way it needs to be told. Instead of simply giving them permission to tell the story, treat them as unofficial ambassadors by providing storytelling opportunities like spotlighting them at a local event, or allowing them to post on your social media channel. Donors will be honored by these opportunities and your nonprofit gets a ton of free marketing. A win-win for all.

WHYs of Donors who go on Donor Trips

The next set of whys is equally as important as your organization’s: Your donor’s whys. It is critical that every organization understand why donors are participating in their trips. If you are going to be asking them for future support, you need to make sure they have the right motivations for attending the trip. If their whys are not aligned with your organization’s whys, then they are not the right fit for a donor trip. Here are some common whys of donors who go on these trips:

1. To see the impact of your organizations’ work

Those who have already invested are looking to see the impact of their support. Did their money really translate into profound and sustainable change? Let’s show them it did. I very intentionally used the word “impact” and not “need.” You might think that the first why would be “to see the need” but no donor wants to see unbridled devastation and then jump back on a plane home. That’s overwhelming and frankly discouraging. The problem may be vast and difficult, but we need to show them that we are making a dent – that there is measurable, positive change to be seen as the result of our efforts and their support.

2. To better understand the problem and the solution. 

Donors will want to be enriched by what they see and learn. They will want their perspectives to shift and their understanding of the complexity to deepen. Yes, they will also want to take pictures and tell stories, but the donors that you will attract are not the superficial kind. These people are invested in your cause and feel a duty to understand it before investing more. In fact, it is prudent that they learn more about the cause and bare witness to the impact before making a significant financial decision.

3. To be a part of your success story.

Donors want to feel, as you do, that they are contributing positively to the creation of a better world. In this sense, you, your organization, and your donors should be completely aligned. It is worth acknowledging the profound emotional shift that comes from seeing part of the world you helped to build. That’s why these donors have chosen to partner with your organization – so that you can continue affecting change in ways they cannot. Remember, they want to be a part of that change. They want to be a part of that story.

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