The Problem with Donor Travel Programs

Something I’ve learned doing this work is that most organizations face similar donor travel challenges and yet every organization needs tailored solutions.

The challenge usually boils down to one of two things: 1) an organization has never done a donor trip and doesn’t know how to build an effective program from the ground up; or 2) an organization has been leading trips for years, but those trips fall short of meeting program objectives.


Challenge 1: Never Done a Donor Trip Before

Many organizations are doing exceptional work around the globe yet they’ve never brought their donors to see results first-hand. They haven’t been able to get a trip off the ground and are missing out on a great opportunity to deepen relationships and increase funding. Why is this?

Some reasons why organizations haven’t undertaken donor trips:

  • Staff are over burdened with too much to do and too little time
  • Inexperience with donor travel best practices
  • Too many ideas from too many stakeholders, making it difficult to set one goal with a clear vision for implementation
  • A lack of clarity in the roles and responsibilities of staff, partners, and stakeholders
  • Fear that a trip won’t produce the desired outcome for the amount of time and money invested

To address these challenges, I’ve utilized the following solutions:

  • Conducted a Feasibility Assessment to explore fundraising capacity and whether or not a donor trip will provide a good return on investment
  • Held planning meetings to provide an opportunity to make concrete decisions and align stakeholders behind the program
  • Developed Action Plans to outline what needs to get done, by whom, and when, with clear time commitments and buy-in from stakeholders
  • Overseen logistics and project-managed the trip to relieve the burden on staff, including planning, preparation, implementation, and follow-up
  • Conducted a Post-Travel Evaluation to establish best practices, improve the program, and establish a structure that can be sustained through staff transition

The goal in this scenario is to gather data to help determine if a donor trip is the appropriate next step. If the answer is yes, we need to define what that trip will look like and make sure stakeholders have a clear goal and vision for the trip.

Embarking on any new initiative can be daunting, but having reliable data on program benefits and consensus from key stakeholders in the beginning provides a solid foundation for moving forward with your donor travel initiative.

Challenge 2: Current Travel Programs are not Meeting  Objectives

Donor trips are not a new concept. For as long as there has been international development work, there have been donors and investors traveling the globe to learn more and witness the impact. Challenges emerge when donor trips are conducted as a response to external pressure from influential donors or organizations or as a rote continuation of a longstanding practice. Every donor trip should be part of a well thought out fundraising strategy benefitting the organization and the communities it serves.

Why don’t travel programs meet their program objectives?

Organizations aren’t always clear about their donor travel goals or how to measure them. An effective solution is to get consensus from all stakeholders on one primary objective and develop a way to measure it.

Often, the organization’s objective is to raise money, but they fail to realize their goal. The issue could be that they aren’t getting the appropriate people to attend the trip. One solution is to strategize how to recruit and screen participants. Check out: 8 Qualities to Look for in Trip Participants. Another issue is that fundraising goals may be unclear to participants, which is why I always suggest thoughtfully preparing donors and asking for the gift on the trip.

Sometimes, the trip itinerary doesn’t meet the donor’s needs or meet the program objectives. No one wants to attend a meeting an hour after stepping off the plane or have a jam-packed schedule from morning until night. Donors will want to balance the mission work with some relaxing and entertaining activities. They will want some alone time with you. One solution is to help an organization craft an itinerary that balances entertainment and empathy-building initiatives. The goal is to leave the donors feeling more deeply connected to the work than ever before, but also enlightened, rested, and rejuvenated.

Understanding what gets in the way of a breakthrough travel program is the first step to creating a pathway to success. From there, we can hone in on which areas need to be optimized: recruiting, preparing, facilitating, or following up.


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