Making the Most of Mixed Groups with 5 Tips

I recently wrote about how a donor trip can be used effectively with donors at any stage of the donor cycle.
But let’s get real: while some organizations have large enough travel programs to offer different trips for different donors at each stage, many organizations only do one trip (or a handful of trips) a year, and you’ve got to work with whoever signs up: new folks, longtime donors, donors who are ready to increase their investment, donors just beginning to get to know your organization, and perhaps others.

While this may seem to present a conundrum, there is nothing wrong with a mixed group, and there are many ways to steward all of them effectively before, during, and after the trip.

Here are my 5 tips for making the most of mixed groups:

1) Put the mission front and center before, during, and after the trip

Don’t run the risk of attracting people who just want to take an exotic vacation—and don’t miss an opportunity to educate your audience.

Centering your mission means that you communicate with the travelers about your organization and mission before the trip. Send them educational materials. Invite them to a pre-departure meeting with a program expert who can talk about your work. While you’re on your trip, weave information about your mission into each and every activity. You’ve brought staff who can speak in-depth about your work—make use of their expertise by allowing them the space to talk a lot about your mission. Finally, after the trip, follow up with mission-related updates about the site you visited.

2) Set the right expectations for travelers before they leave

By reading your pre-departure materials, your travelers should be able to answer three questions clearly:

  • Why are they going there?
  • What can they hope to learn?
  • What can they do with what they learned?

To that last point, not everything is about raising money, so also make sure they know the educational opportunities that you are offering and how to leverage that knowledge.

3) Set the right expectations for your organization

Review your talking points with your staff, making sure everyone understands what is being asked of the donor travelers. It is important that your goals reflect the mixed compositions of the group. For example, if there are a lot of folks in the acquisition stage, don’t expect a sudden surge of donations; it is likely that most will not make a significant gift immediately after the trip. You can have overall fundraising or stewardship goals for the trip, but also have non-financial goals for each traveler.

4) Craft unique strategies for each traveler

I often do not recommend building a donation into the trip because often travelers are at different stages of giving to your organization, and you don’t want to force them all to be the same. Instead, treat them as the individuals that they are. Do you research on each traveler in advance. Make sure that the staff who will be present on the trip are briefed on the donor profiles in advance. The goal for each of them may not be related to a gift at all—it may be to learn more about them or get them to commit to joining a board. Think beyond revenue! And don’t pass judgment on any of those goals. As much as you recognize each traveler is unique, you also must not consider any one of them as more important than another.

5) Treat them all like VIPs

If one or two major donors who are in the cultivation, solicitation, or recognition stage are on your trip, that’s great. But under no circumstances are you to treat them better than other people in the group.

Do not leave a bottle of wine in one donor’s room because you happen to know it’s their favorite brand. The next morning at breakfast they will thank you for the wine within earshot of other guests, who will ask, “Why didn’t I get wine in my room?”

Do not whisk your major donors away on a special boat ride while the others are left in the lodge for “time on your own.” They will see the boat take off and wonder why they were not invited.        

Do not spend all your time talking to one donor while ignoring the others. In these small group trips, everyone sees everything, and they are especially attuned to who is receiving preferential treatment. Special treatment will only sow confusion and jealousy.

Do not ask for a gift while on the trip unless every donor on the trip is in the solicitation phase. Even then, set up private meeting with each individual. Once again, once you set one-on-one time with someone, the others will wonder why you did not make one-on-one time with them. Don’t do it.

I hope these five tips prove to you that you can have a successful donor trip with a mixed group.