How Your Donor Trip Can Fail if You Don’t Follow Up: 10 Tactics for Success

Nonprofit fundraising trips can be an excellent way of raising money and forming lifelong connections, but too many nonprofits are missing the opportunity to do both when they fail to follow up.

Business and sales professionals often hear the phrase “the fortune is in the follow-up” but rarely do I see this idea germinate in fundraising. What you do after the trip is almost as critical as what you do before the trip and what you do during the trip. Often, when the trip has concluded, staff move right on to the next pressing initiative, hoping the money just comes in by itself, convinced they have done all that they can do. To help shift this mindset, I provide Five Mandatory Follow-Up tactics and Five Optional Follow Up Tactics. The goal here is not just to secure a gift, but to grow the relationship and support future giving, as well as leverage the donor’s experience to raise even more money and spread awareness in their networks.

Before I get into the list, a few words on the qualities of effective follow-up. Follow-up must be prompt, specific, immediately actionable, personalized, one-on-one (or with the couple), and consist of a variety of methods (email, phone, and in-person). For more details on each of these, read my article on 7 Follow up Faux Pas.

The Mandatory

These first five tactics are mandatory for a reason: failure to do them can result in lost opportunity, not just in terms of revenue, but also of relationship. Here you miss out on the chance to secure an increased investment and build the relationship for future opportunities. When you don’t do these five steps, your participants feel expendable and undervalued, not something you want from people who have just devoted time and money to your mission.

1. Thank Your Participants

Before the trip has even concluded you should be thanking the participants for their time and their generosity. Once you have landed, I recommend a personalized email to each participant restating your gratitude. Too often I see nonprofits send this email as a blast to the entire group. I strongly advise against this. Sending a group email gives the impression that you are too busy to make individual connections, and you don’t see the value and unique contribution of each participant. Make the time to email them one by one.

2. Ask for, or Confirm, their Next Gift

If a gift was pledged on the trip, email the participant and confirm the amount, how the gift will be received (through a check, a donor-advised fund, stock, etc.), and when to expect it. It is best to do this over email to get it in writing and make sure any miscommunications are cleared. If the participant does not respond in a timely manner, follow up via phone.

If a gift was not pledged on the trip (they might have said something like, “I need time to think this over”), then follow up over email and restate your ask in writing. Here you are reminding them of the discussion, the specific amount you asked for, and inquiring as to whether they have reached a decision. If this was a large ask and you prepared a proposal for it, attach the proposal to the email. Follow up via phone if you receive no response.

3. Ask for Feedback on the Trip

Nobody’s insight will be more valuable in planning your next trip than that of your most recent participants. Here I see many nonprofits fail to solicit feedback at all, and when they do, they send a long SurveyMonkey in a mass email and only get one or two responses. The way to remedy this and get feedback you can actually use is to call every participant and spend 15 minutes on the phone with them. You may have to email to schedule the call, but the feedback must be received over the phone or in person. This action should be taken separately from any communications to thank the participant or follow up on a gift solicitation. Need help coming up with questions? Check out my article on Metrics to Measure your Donor Trip.

4. Exchange Resources

This is a great way to begin involving your participants in the process of spreading awareness and bringing new people into the mission. First, before you ask for any of their photos or stories, offer some of your own. Send participants a Dropbox link with some curated images that you have permission to share. Make sure to provide the participants with a list of all the people they met with and places they visited. The last thing you want is for them to share their story on social media, only to misspell the name of the site, the city, and misquote a local partner. Don’t just send them the itinerary you provided before the trip – things probably changed in situ so you need to recreate this document to reflect what actually happened.

Relationships are give and take. That’s why it’s rude to ask your participants for their photos from the trip if you haven’t offered them any of yours. Once you have given something, ask for something in return: invite them to send you their favorite images. If you haven’t already gotten quotes and testimonials from the feedback call, ask for them now and secure permission to use them publicly.

5. Update Them on the Program

After a trip, your donors will have forged new relationships and memories with your partners and beneficiaries on site. These relationships are as important as the donor’s relationship with you. Since the donor will not be able to maintain direct contact with those folks in the field, it’s up to you to be that link. If the next email the participant gets is your generic newsletter or quarterly program update, you have failed. This person has been to the site and knows these people – they want a personal update. Set the tone by emailing the participant and letting them know that while they are still on your list to get the newsletters and campaigns, you will also follow up personally with program updates. These updates can be brief emails, but should be separate from any asks, invites, or campaign emails. The updates don’t need to be profound or ground-breaking, they could just be amusing anecdotes or even quick quotes. You should refer to the specific individuals they met and interacted with on the trip. I recommend updates every 4-6 months consistently for at least two years following their trip. This is what building a true relationship with your participants looks like.

The Optional

If it were only up to me, the next five items would not be optional, however we have to get real about two things: staff may have limited time to implement all the follow-up tactics (thus, if staff capacity is limited, do the top five), and you might not have the kind of donors who would respond well to these tactics. Not everyone likes to be publicly recognized or be a part of future promotion. Consider these follow-up tactics ideas for ways to leverage support with the right kind of people. If your participants don’t fit this profile, skip the tactic and make time for the ones that really resonate with your supporters.

6. Share on Social Media

Invite your trip participants to post photos and stories on their own profiles. Posting on their own channel is more effective than posting on your organization’s page, since it will gain more views and clicks from their network. It is best to have the post in their own words, but if they are unable or unwilling to draft one, you can ghost write it or have them share a post you put on your organization’s page.

Conversely, if the participant does not want to share their experience on their own profile, you can invite them to post on your page as a guest. Your followers will enjoy hearing from a fellow champion and feel more connected to your organization if you showcase how an ordinary person engaged with the mission.

7. Share in a Newsletter or Campaign

Invite your participants to write something for your newsletter or next campaign. It would be ideal to use their own photos and words, but again, if it’s not possible, you can write the copy for them using the experiences they shared with you in your feedback call. Again, this is powerful testimony from a fellow supporter that will inspire others to engage with the mission. If you have written something on their behalf, make sure they approve the copy before anything is sent out. Once the campaign or newsletter is live, encourage them to forward it to friends and family who will be charmed to see their loved one in your organization’s communications.

8. Present at a House Party

Often times participants will host informal gatherings at their homes to share their trip experiences and socialize with friends. Offer your support in this endeavor by suggesting that someone from your organization attend their party to co-present and be a general resource on the trip and mission. If you don’t attend, at least offer useful assets like brochures and donation cards that the host can distribute.

Not everyone will have the resources to host a house party, so I would not make a direct ask for this unless you know the donor has done it in the past. Instead, bring it up in a conversation by mentioning that other participants have done this in the past (or, if that isn’t the case, feel free to mention that you got the idea from me). The important thing to understand here is that the host is responsible for planning the party (usually at their house) and that they are inviting the guests. If at any point they suggest you plan the party and invite the guest, see Tactic 9.

9. Present at your organization’s event

Host parties are not everyone’s cup of tea. Your donor might not be that well-connected or feel comfortable hosting an event in their home. Instead, invite them to present at an event your organization hosts. This can be as low-key as a small after-work gathering at the office, or as elaborate as your annual gala. Determine how comfortable your donor feels with presenting and where their skills lie. Their participation could range from delivering an entire presentation to merely inviting people.

10. Recruit participants for next trip

Recruitment for the next trip begins right after the last trip ends. I mentioned that one challenge for nonprofits is they often don’t have enormous pools of supporters to recruit from, and expanding the circle through people who have already engaged with the mission is invaluable.  Ask your trip participants to introduce you to two or three people in their network who may be interested in attending next year. This request must come as soon as the previous trip ends, when the enthusiasm is high and memories are still fresh. It will also take you the better part of a year to cultivate these new connections and determine if they are the right fit for your next trip. Don’t let too much time pass on this request.

At a minimum, you MUST do tactics 1 through 5 if you are to sustain and grow your travel programs. Tactics 6 through 10 can create even more leverage, depending on the specific donors you have recruited as well as organizational goals. Whichever tactics you choose to implement, follow-up will be an important part of your next trip’s success.

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