Everyday nonprofits are running travel programs for donors, board members, and volunteers without having any metrics in place to determine the program’s success. We’re all very familiar with the metrics and measurements we use in our mission-related work (also called Monitoring & Evaluation), as well as the benchmarks and goals we set for fundraising (as outlined in a Development Plan). Yet travel programs, especially when they are not fully managed by one individual from one department, frequently fall into a grey area where they are not being measured.

Because I feel strongly that we should never be investing time and money into something that does not benefit the organization in a measurable way, I want to include some questions you can use to assess the past success of previous trips and set measurements for future trips. This is very different from merely soliciting traveler feedback in order to make the trip more interesting and comfortable (i.e. How was the hotel? Rate the professionalism of the tour guide, etc). These are metrics you should be using to determine the value of the travel program to your organization. This is how you justify the time, money, and resources invested in the travel program.

Revenue and Engagement

Not every trip is a fundraising trip, but if you are involving donors, it has to be because you believe the experience will increase donor retention and lead to larger gifts. Now, unless you are explicitly asking for an increased investment on the trip, attributing a gift to the trip may not be possible. In that case, you need to justify the trip as a stewardship tool by looking at the before and after picture of your donors who attended. Because increased engagement often begets increased revenue and vice versa, the two are intimately linked in this analysis.

Ask yourselves:

  • How did the donor’s annual giving change before and after the trip? Did it increase, decrease, or stay the same?
  • How did the donor’s engagement change after the trip? Did the donor begin attending more events? Answering more calls or responding to more emails?
  • How did the donor’s volunteerism change after the trip? Have they offered to join a board or committee?
  • Has the donor made referrals or introduced others to the organization since the trip?

Ask your travelers:

  • Has this experience impacted your relationship to our organization?
  • Why did you give to the organization for the first time?
  • Why did you increase your support?
  • What was your most meaningful experience on the trip and why?

Marketing

It is often a challenge getting quality footage and stories from the field, so why not set some objectives on your next trip? If your goal is to acquire more marketing assets and to utilize trip participants to increase audience engagement, these are the kinds of questions you need to be able to answer to determine the value of the trip:

Ask yourselves:

  • How many stories did we gather?
  • How many media assets (photos/videos) did we gather?
  • How many quotes did we gather?
  • How many testimonials did we gather?
  • How do we plan to use the assets (Annual Report, Campaigns, Events, etc).

Ask your travelers:

  • What is the most powerful story you will take home to share with friends and family?
  • Would you be willing to share your experience with our supporters?
  • How would you like to share your story? (Online via social media, in person at our next event, through a pre-recorded video, etc)?

Education

All trips involve an educational element, whether it be educating our donors, board members, or volunteers on the impact of our work. This too can be measured in a qualitative way, so that you can assess the effectiveness of the education participants received. These are the kinds of questions you need to be able to answer to determine the value of the trip:

Ask yourselves:

  • Which elements of our work did we highlight on this trip and why?
  • Which methods of education seemed to most resonant with participants? Break this down by type, such as formal and informal, experiential and cognitive. (i.e. Meeting with program staff, interviewing beneficiaries, informal dinners with local partners, lectures from tour guide, hands-on experience working at the site, etc).
  • In what ways did we allow participants to reflect on their experiences? (Nightly debriefs at the hotel, facilitated group discussions over lunch, questionnaire at the end of the trip, etc).

Ask your travelers:

  • What was your most meaningful experience on the trip and why? (This question gets repeated in multiple sections because it is so revealing)
  • What did you learn that you didn’t know before?
  • Rank the activities in order, starting from the ones in which you learned the most to the least. (You will provide them a list)
  • How did your understanding of our organization change as a result of this experience?
  • How did your understanding of the culture/region/environment change result of this experience?
  • How did your understanding of our solutions change result of this experience?
    What is your biggest takeaway from this experience?

Volunteering

Many trips have a volunteer component to them which provides participants with hands-on experience and the ability to contribute to the mission through their time and skills. It is important that these trips be measured in more than just hours and money. To asses the value of your volunteer trips these are the kinds of questions you need to be able to answer:

Ask yourselves:

  • How has the work of volunteers contributed to the mission in a meaningful way?
  • What would we have done without volunteer support? And how much would that have cost us? (Hint: if the answers are “nothing” and “zero” then the contribution was not meaningful).
  • What is the approximate value (is money terms) of the volunteers’ contributions?
  • How were our beneficiaries directly impacted by the volunteers’ contributions?
  • How were our local partners directly impacted by the volunteers’ contributions?
  • How was the local community directly impacted by the volunteers’ contributions?

Ask your travelers:

  • What was your most meaningful experience on the trip and why?
  • Was this experience a worthwhile investment of your time and skills? Why or why not?
  • Would you volunteer again in the same capacity? Why or why not?

Board Recruitment

For Board development trips, recruitment and retention are the main goals, along with the educational component. Many nonprofits report that a large number of their board members were recruited as a result of attending a donor trip, and that this methods has allowed them to secure people who are deeply invested in the long-term. A trip can also be a way to re-energize existing board members and reacquaint them with the work in an impactful way. To asses the value of your Board recruitment/retention trips, these are the kinds of questions you need to be able to answer.

Ask yourselves:

  • Which participants do we think have the greatest potential of becoming board members and why?
  • How did the trip provide an opportunity to screen and assess these participants?
  • How did the trip provide an opportunity to reevaluate current board members?
  • How did the trip provide an opportunity to bond with current board members?
  • What did we learn about about our guests that we did not know before?

Ask your travelers:

  • How has this experience affected your board service?
  • How has this experience affected your commitment to the organization?
  • How has this experiences affected your anticipated length of service on the board?

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