Getting clear on roles and responsibilities for a donor travel program can be confusing. Nonprofits range in size and structure so I developed this list as a reference – not a rule. Every organization is different and this graph may not accurately reflect your own, so take this format as an example of what I’ve seen work well and what I’ve seen cause problems.

Executive Director/Leadership Team

Main Role: Vision, Strategy, Goal-setting, and Recruitment

Responsibilities: Align the trip with the Mission and Strategic Plan; approve roles and responsibilities for all other parties, recruit participants and attend the trip depending on connections and relationships.

In small organizations, it is not uncommon for the Executive Director to play an active role on the trip and to recruit participants. This would certainly be necessary if the Executive Director is also the founder of the organization and holds most of the critical relationships. On the other hand, a large organization with a well-known Executive Director can use that individual’s presence on the trip as an incentive to recruit participants. However, if the ED does not have celebrity appeal or hold critical relationships with donors, he or she may not need to attend the trip or be actively involved with recruiting participants. If the ED doesn’t attend, he or she will not make any funding requests or have to follow up.  I also advise against the ED planning or implementing the trip logistics. Some EDs want to plan the trip because they are familiar with the location and enjoy travel planning, but given the many other duties of an ED this seems to be one that is best delegated to another staff (for more on why the ED should not plan the trip, see my post on How to Select the Right Manager for the Trip).

Board of Trustees

Main Role: Approval and Recruitment

Responsibilities: Approve the trip initiatives and goals as they align with the Mission and Strategic Plan; recruit participants and attend the trip depending on connections and relationships.

The role of the Board is an area where I see the greatest amount of diversity in nonprofits.  In a donor trip where the primary goal is to raise funds, if the Board is not involved in other fundraising efforts and has no connections to donors, their role will be minimal: either to approve the initiative or attend to learn more about the mission. If, on the other hand, the Board is made up of primary funders, it will be critical to involve them in active recruitment and to get them to attend the trip. No one on the Board should be tasked with planning the logistics or implementing the trip (again, here’s why). Lastly, if a particular Board member holds the donor connections, it is appropriate to have that Board member make an ask of the donor and follow up after the trip.

Program/Field Staff

Main Role: Program Education, Itinerary Input, Logistical Support, On-Site Support

Responsibilities: In collaboration with Local Partners and Development staff, input on the travel schedule; determine which facets of the program lend themselves well to donor experiences; connect Development staff with vendors as needed; educate Development staff on program structure; voice concerns on behalf of beneficiaries; be available to potentially meet with participants on the trip.

The role of the program staff will depend on whether these individual are located at the headquarters or live permanently in the field. In either case, the primary role of the program team to educate internal attendees on the mission-related work. This team will have the most detailed and current information about what is happening in the field. It is critical that all relevant parties be apprised of current events relating to the work. Donors will be asking tough questions and the staff must be able to answer them. If the program staff live on site, they can also participate in the trip and help lead tours, however, their time should be used wisely so they are not pulled off program-work for too long. They will also advise on the trip itinerary, as they will have critical information regarding access to the site and any concerns around security and beneficiary participation. Program staff will also be able to connect Development staff to vendors and introduce them to other key individuals who can help with the trip’s facilitation. It is unlikely that the program staff hold critical relationships to donors (if so – why not hand these off to the Development team?) so they should not be recruiting participants, asking for money, or following up on an ask.

One of the biggest mistakes a nonprofit can make is to have their field team do all of the work for a donor trip: planning it, implementing it, and asking for money. There are some issues with this: 1) this work takes time away from the program itself,  2) if the program officers live on site, they are often not in contact with donors or stewarding relationships with them, and 3) many program officers are inexperienced in major gift fundraising and uncomfortable at making direct asks. This just isn’t an effective use of their role.

Local Partners (in country)

Main Role: Program Education, Itinerary Input, Logistical Support, On-Site Support

Responsibilities: connect Development staff with vendors as needed; educate Development staff on program structure; voice concerns on behalf of beneficiaries; be available to potentially meet with participants on the trip.

The participation of Local Partners is critical to any trip’s success. These are the people who will advise on the itinerary, logistics, and access to the site. They will also hold strong relationships to local vendors who can help implement the trip on the ground.  Especially if the work is take place in a foreign country, it is likely that local partners are more representative of the beneficiaries and the community, and could voice concerns on behalf of them. Depending on the partnership, they may be available to meet with donors in a structured visit – but again, be careful not to take up to much of their time. They will not be involved in recruiting participants or asking for money; this is likely not within the scope of their duties.

Development & Communications Staff

Main Role: Financial Goal-setting, Recruitment, Itinerary Design, Logistics, Trip Implementation,

Responsibilities:  Determine goals as outlined on the Development plan;  in collaboration with Local Partners and Program staff, create the itinerary; determine which facets of the program lend themselves well to donor experiences; liaise with vendors as needed; educate participants on program structure; recruit participants and attend the trip; ensure goals are met; follow up with participants after the trip.

A quick look at the chart and you will see I have delegated everything to the Development & Communications team. This is because I believe that a donor trip is a fundraising initiative and should be fully managed but the fundraising department. They should be held accountable for the outcomes and someone from the Development team should absolutely attend the trip, even if the critical relationships are held by the ED or a Board member. Development staff should be recruiting other participants, should be briefed on the programmatic work and should be responsible for educating donors on this work. I recommend that one primary person from this team project-manage the entire trip, and coordinate with Program staff and Local Partners on the logistics. I recommend that Development staff make the ask on the trip (unless the ED or Board member are better suited for that) and that they oversee the necessary follow up afterwards.

Again, here’s the grid:

Roles & Responsibilities Grid

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