3 Ways to Effectively Use Program Staff on Donor Trips

In my last article I cautioned you against overextending, burdening, and miscasting your Program Staff and Local Partners (the people who work for you on-site where your organization’s work is happening).

Now let’s dive in to discussing the three most meaningful ways to make use of their skills and knowledge.

1. For direct client engagement

“Client,” in this case, means the people who have been impacted by your organization, as well as the local community more generally. When you bring donors to the site, many of them want to meet the clients directly. They want to see the people who have been impacted by the programs they have helped fund.

These are normally wonderful opportunities. They’re incredibly powerful experiences. They are transformative. At other times, they can be ripe for exploitation. We could (unintentionally) ask trauma survivors to re-share their stories in ways that actually re-traumatize them. We could end up putting on a show that feels fake and inauthentic. We could put people in situations where they feel more vulnerable and more on display.

This is where your Program Staff and Local Partners can really deliver value. They can shape an appropriate and authentic experience for your donor travelers. What that experience is very much depends on your organization, on the work that you’re doing, on the communities that you’re impacting, on their local histories and personal experiences, and on what is culturally appropriate for that society.

These are all topics that you’ll want to bring up with your Program Staff and Local Partners. Helping you to arrive at a client engagement model that is both effective, empowering, and authentic is an excellent way to use your staff and partners.

You want your Program Staff and Local Partners to talk about their roles, the impact, and the complexity of the issues that your organization is tackling, including the systemic contributing factors, and the nuanced landscape of the site.

In other words, let them talk about what they know and the areas where their expertise shines. These are all things that they are going to really love talking about. They’re going to be very passionate about this work. You’re going to be pulling out their finest qualities and skills and engaging them with your donors and travelers in a way that they—and everyone present—really appreciate.

3. For recognizing and celebrating them

The third way to use Program Staff and Local Partners during a trip is to celebrate them. Instead of making them plan a tour of tourist attractions, why don’t you invite them to join the tour? Not as a guide, a ticket wrangler, or an interpreter, but as a guest – enjoying being a tourist in their own home.

When you’re going to have dinner with your donors after a long day of site visits, tours and treks, invite your Program Staff and Local Partners along. Not to host the dinner, not to give a speech or provide information, but to be diners too, just to sit with you and your donors and enjoy a good meal in good company.

These experiences both honor our Program Staff and Local Partners, and also get them out of their roles. When they’re giving tours about your places of impact and about the work, they’re in their professional roles. By stepping outside of those roles, they can connect with donors more deeply. Use the donor trip as an opportunity to help build relationships between your donors, Program Staff, and Local Partners, and also to celebrate the work that these people are doing to move your mission forward each day.