How to select the right internal manager for a trip

If you have an organization with more than four paid staff, this is for you…

Planning a donor trip is tough work and usually involves the coordination of the Development staff, Leadership, Program/Field Staff, Partner Organizations, and Board. With so many stakeholders and different people involved, there should be nothing but clarity in terms of responsibility and delegation. This is why I recommend every nonprofit have one key individual project-manage the entire trip. Select the right person for the job by downloading my list of criteria, and avoid these five common mistakes:

Mistake 1: Not selecting one key person

When an organization recognizes the breath and depth of knowledge and skill needed to successfully implement a donor trip, a mistake they make is to spread the responsibility across multiple people or departments, without designating one key individual to project manage the entire operation. This inevitably leads to confusion about who is accountable to whom, and for what. Items will get dropped, deadlines will get missed, and in the end, everyone will be pointing figures at someone else. Avoid this mess by designating one person with excellent project management skills to oversee the implementation, assign duties, and follow up as needed.

Mistake 2: The one key person is the Executive Director, VP, or CEO

Since the breath of responsibility spans multiple departments, some nonprofits feel like a reasonable point person should be the ED, VP, or whichever person has the highest rank in that organization or division. The belief is that people across multiple departments will take direction from someone with a high rank, and that it would otherwise be inappropriate to designate someone like a Development Manager to, say, assign responsibilities to Program staff. The trouble here is that the key person is not a manager but a project manager. He or she will be dealing with issues large and small. It is not an appropriate role for someone as busy as an ED or VP, whose time should not be spent dealing with minutia like whether the hotel room on Day 6 has windows with a nice view.

Mistake 3: The one key person is a Volunteer or Board member

In a small shop where staff are already stretched thin, it can be tempting to delegate this task to an unpaid individual: staff don’t have more work on their plates and the nonprofit saves money by not having to pay a consultant or vendor. Of course, we all know that where there is no accountability, there is no action. We have experienced the volunteer who didn’t show up for a shift or didn’t deliver a project on time. We have also unfortunately known the Board member who never attends meetings or responds to emails. Do not delegate such an important, time-sensitive project to an unpaid person outside the organization. No matter their enthusiasm, interest, or knowledge of the country/region, it will be their lowest priority after family, health, paid work, etc. You are setting them up to fail and setting yourself up for disappointment.

Mistake 4: The one key person is the Receptionist

This is a relationship-based role, the person should not only have good relations with their colleagues, but also be able to form fast relationships with the trip participants, vendors, field staff and partners. These relationships may begin through email and Skype, but they need to culminate in an in-person meeting on the trip. In most cases, the receptionist is not likely to be sent on the trip, which is a critical function of the job. He or she will be the only the key person who knows all of the details regarding the trip, and should be present on the trip to improvise when things do not go according to plan (and they never do). Not having this person’s relationships and background knowledge present on the trip would be a big mistake. For that reason, I advise against assigning the management of the trip to someone who is unlikely to travel due to their rank or job function.

Mistake 5: The one key person is in HR

If a nonprofit has never done a donor trip before and finds that their Development staff are overworked and under-resourced, it can be tempting to delegate the project manger role to an eager participant from another department.  Perhaps that individual is particularly enthusiastic. Perhaps she is especially culturally sensitive. Everyone is relieved to learn she possesses excellent project management skills. The only problem is…she works in the HR Department. My issues is that it’s not really her job to oversee a donor trip. The task has no professional relevance to her role. There are potential problems that arise from these situations. First, her priority is to those duties in her job description. If the HR Department gets busy, the donor trip will become her lowest priority.  Accountability is also unclear – who will oversee her work on this project? Probably not her boss in HR. I strongly recommend that the key person be someone within the department that the trip is housed – such as the Development & Communications department.

So what are you looking for in a trip manager? Download my list below:


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