The Role of Fundraising in Your Trips

Many nonprofits wonder what the right balance is between fundraising and education in their travel programs.

While every trip aims to be educational, at the very least informing the travelers about the organization and its work, but the extent to which we use these experiences as opportunities for fundraising differs drastically by program and organization.

In the following tool, I plot education and fundraising on a continuum and provide ten factors that you can explore to determine where your trips are placed on the continuum.

Knowing where your current or aspirational travel programs lie on this continuum will help determine both educational content and the appropriate level of fundraising for each trip. It will also reveal any incongruences in your methods or approach. This article explains each of the ten factors and how you can apply this information to your travel program.

In a subsequent article, I provide three case studies of organizations that are running trips on either end of the continuum, as well as one squarely in the middle.

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1. Role of Fundraising Staff

If the purpose of the trip is to solicit gifts from major donors, the people who hold those relations to those donors must attend the trip and play a heavy hand in recruitment. However, if the purpose is to educate supporters, involving fundraising staff too intensely may send the wrong message to travelers—they signed up to learn more and may be uneasy with a fundraiser attending too, as that signals a money discussion.

2. Recruitment

An educational trip provides a great opportunity to bring in new supporters and members of the general public. They have signed up for a learning experience, and that is what you promised. But if your trip is heavily focused on fundraising, you need to be incredibly selective about who attends (read my eight criteria here), and these trips are often by invitation only.

3. Trip Type

An educational tour is easy to standardize and replicate. If you have an attractive destination with the right balance of mission experiences and recreation, this is an easy package to commodity and hand over to a travel operator to manage. With a fundraising trip, the itinerary is often much shorter and customized to the interest of the group or the timing of a project on-site that needs funding. These trips are much harder to replicate and need a lot of customization.

4. Revenue

An educational tour can, and should be, revenue-generating. Revenue is built into the fees travelers pay so that their registration not only covers the cost of travel but also provides an income source for the organization. Additional gifts from the group are a nice bonus but should not be anticipated. In a fundraising trip, look carefully at the donor’s giving to help determine revenue goals. For metrics that can be used for this, check out my article here.

5. Program Content

If the content aims to educate, some mission exposure will be built into the itinerary alongside many recreational elements. People want to learn but also be entertained. For a fundraising trip, the content is heavily slanted to mission experiences. Often the donors have been to the destination before, so there is little desire to spend time on tourist activities, and instead they want to immerse themselves in the nonprofit’s work.

6. Number of Travelers

Educational trips offer opportunities for large tours. Fifteen to twenty-five travelers are common for a group traveling together, but I’ve also heard of trips with two hundred to three hundred travelers, and even up to five hundred! This is not the model for fundraising trips, where staff must have intimate conversations with travelers about their interests and giving, which would be impossible to do in a larger group.

7. Funding Discussion

If you promised an education tour, you cannot have a funding discussion on the trip. Sometimes, travelers themselves bring it up, so you must be prepared for it, but unless you recruited travelers expressly to support the program, you would not make a direct ask at that time.

8. Preparation

Education tours often prepare travelers for the logistics of the site (packing, dress, currency exchange, etc.) and sometimes provide deeper content on the location or topic of the tour. Fundraising trips must not only provide this preparation but also heavy qualification (e.g., Does the traveler have the capacity and interest to give?) and stewardship (e.g., Is the traveler ready to give? What more do they need to make their decision?).

9. Follow-up

Many educational tours conclude with a trip survey or photo-sharing opportunity. If travelers have opted in to mail and email lists, you have a chance to follow up with an ask or to solicit them during your annual campaign, but this is usually done through an automated email and not direct outreach. For fundraising trips, follow up in lengthy, thorough, and persistent ways. I’ve written about that here and here.

10. Referral Opportunities

In the marketing world, NPS stands for “Net Promoter Score” and is determined with a single question: “How likely are you to recommend our travel program to a friend or colleague?” From people not deeply connected to the mission, you may not be able to ask any more than this. Use the data of their responses to help you paint a picture of the success of your efforts. However, with fundraising trips, do not rely on a reported score—instead, prompt the donor to action by providing referral opportunities: hosting house parties, speaking at events, being featured in media.

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