Selecting the right staff member(s) to attend your donor trips is a special challenge for many organizations. No matter how small the shop, these decisions can be very political and sometimes determined by arbitrary or irrelevant factors. Rather than dwell on what those may be, I’ve provided an article on factors you do need to consider.

While there are many intangible benefits to sending staff, you also need to make sure their purpose serves a function and they are in the right roles for the trip. Here are three steps to selecting the right staff:

Determine what roles you need to fill

All five roles I’ve outlined in this article are needed for the trip: decision-maker, fundraiser, expert, helper, and media. What roles are already being filled by your tour operator or guide? What roles are being filled by your local staff or partners? Once you determine that, you can identify the roles remaining. Say the trip requires a both a fundraiser and a helper from your office. Can your development director serve in both roles? Is one major gifts officer a better fit to perform both roles than two major gifts officers each taking one? These are questions you will want to answer.

Ensure that staff don’t fall into one of two problematic mind-sets

Some staff see donor trips as a perk and look forward to participating in this all-expenses-paid vacation. There are two serious issues with this line of thinking: First, if you allow their earnest pleas to sway you and they have no real role to perform, this increases your chances of sending someone who adds no value to the trip and wastes company resources. Second, a donor trip is in no way a vacation, and anyone who has been on one can attest to that. There is no leaving work at 5:00 p.m., and you are on duty 24/7.

If you sense that some of your staff perceive attending trips to be an employee benefit that everyone is entitled to, you need to dispel this mind-set right away. Not only does it set the expectation that trips are all play and no work, but it will create tension in the department when some staff travel more than others (because they have good reason to and perform important roles on the trip) and those remaining behind perceive that to be unfair.

The second problematic area is on the opposite end of the spectrum: those staff who detest traveling and recoil at the thought of attending a donor trip, especially overseas. Their reasons for a lack of desire to travel are as diverse as the individuals themselves, but some of those reasons you will have control over (workload, logistical concerns, etc.), and other reasons you won’t be able to control (missing family at home, fear of flying, picky about food, discomfort with language barriers, etc.). My advice is that if the staff have reasons for not wanting to travel that are outside your organization’s control, you should honor those reasons and try to fill the role with someone else.

Does that sound extreme? Are you wondering why I’m not telling you to assure them everything will be fine, or to sell the trip in a positive light, or to try to accommodate their requests or address their concerns? I have three reasons why I say this.

First, if someone enters a trip with high anxiety, they are going to perform poorly. Second, there is nothing you can do to control someone’s fear of flying (or terrorism or hurricanes). Reassurance and encouragement are good, but you are not a counselor. Third, it may be impossible for you to meet their needs. Someone who demands to be connected to WiFi at all times should not be sent to parts of the world where there is no connection. Someone on a raw diet is 100% likely to get sick eating uncooked food in certain parts of the world. We cannot meet all their needs, and in trying to assuage their fears with false promise, we are setting them up for a high-anxiety situation and poor performance. Find someone else.

Assess their intercultural competence

The person you send not only must be able to adapt to the physical and environment differences on-site but must possess a high level of self-awareness and the ability to recognize and adapt to cultural differences. These skills are all the more essential because of the brief nature of these encounters and the high-stakes opportunities they provide.

The person who can successfully travel for you may not be the person you first think of.

Prior international travel experience does not ensure intercultural competence.

Prior international work experience does not ensure intercultural competence.

If I could wave a magic wand and dispel our industry of those two myths, that would be my chosen superpower. Too many times to count I’ve heard people say things like “But she’s lived and worked overseas, so she’ll be fine.”

My questions to you:

Does every CEO on this planet do a fantastic job of leading their organization?

Has every customer service professional you have ever met delivered spectacular customer service?

Incompetence, malpractice, mismanagement, and mistakes are found within every industry and job function. Assuming that because someone has performed a role in a setting this experience automatically makes them some kind of expert is, well…see your responses to the previous questions.

You need to assess you staff’s intercultural competence and provide facilitated, structured training to improve and develop it.

No budget? No problem. Start by asking one simple question at the interview.

Considering these three factors in your staff selection will help you avoid costly mistake and maintain a fair, transparent, and results-oriented selection process.

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