How to Convince Your Program Staff That Donor Trips Are Essential

As fundraising and marketing staff, you understand the why of donor trips, but a challenge you may still face is convincing your colleagues in the program department why they should take time to participate in a donor trip. (If you are wondering how program staff should and shouldn’t be involved in donor trips, see articles here and here.)

The ask of program staff may be as big as hosting a weeklong trip or as small as giving a sixty-minute presentation to donors at the local office, but I have heard of pushback either way. The sentiment of many staff members is: “We are on the front lines doing the critical work each day. We don’t have time to meet with a couple of donors. How is that more important than the work we’ve been hired to do?”

That’s a tough question to face—I get that. And whenever I was, in turn, asked, “How do we convince our program staff to participate in donor trips?” I used to be just as tough:

“You don’t,” I’d say. “If you have to convince your program team that meeting with donors is a worthwhile use of their time, then your CEO/ED/President hasn’t done enough to cultivate a culture of philanthropy at your organization. Once every person at the organization knows how their salaries are being paid for, then we’ll talk.”

(Over the years, I have talked to many program staff – and even board members – who had no idea what percentage of their organization’s budget was funded by individual donors, let alone how and why those individual donors give in the first place.)

While I still stand by my original statement, I also realize that change from the top is never fast and easy – and in the meantime, you’ve got a donor trip to plan. So, for those of you wondering what to do with your colleagues’ resistance, here is some advice.

Influencing people is about understanding their desires, their needs, their perspectives, their point of view. Set aside for now your desires, your needs, your perspective, and your point of view to make space for theirs. Only once you have made that space are you able to connect what they want to what you want.

If their concern is time…

Connect the revenue goals to their department’s goals.

Show them where your revenue is coming from and how the potential increase in revenue will lead to deeper investments in programs. I’ve never met a program staff member who said, “We have all the resources we need here.” Most are desperately wishing for more colleagues, more materials, high budgets. Show them how a donor trip could lead to increased investment and, thus, more staff and, thus, less burden on them.

Ask how they envision being involved and show them willingness to work it out based on their schedules.

There is not one way to involve program staff (actually, the way most nonprofits think to involve program staff is totally inappropriate!). Show them that you won’t burden them with unnecessary meetings and decisions over gluten-free menu options. You are only assigning them the tasks they love to do—so this will speak to their strengths.

If their concern is relevance…

Explain your donor’s interests and objectives.

The program staff probably have more in common with the donors than they realize. Donors are typically well-versed in the mission and passionate about the cause—much like program staff. Remind them that they will be speaking to their peers: other like-minded individuals who want to learn more and invest accordingly.

Explain the organization’s interests and objectives.

This trip needs to clearly align with your organization’s mission, strategic plan, and development (fundraising) plan. If it doesn’t…you better read this article! Once your program staff see how their work is intimately connected with yours, they will understand why you are going to them with the request.

If their concern is client exploitation…

Listen to them.

Listen first to their concerns around client privacy and client interactions. Ask if they have experienced negative situations in the past; you can’t know their concerns without asking them. Instead of arguing, you can turn the conversation around through simple communication:

Program Staff: “There’s no way we can bring donors here. Their interactions with clients could be very problematic.”

Don’t say: “But we’ll be really careful about who we select, and I will train them and brief them before they come.”

Do say: “That’s exactly why we’re meeting. Could you help me brainstorm some strategies to prevent these problematic occurrences? We could talk about donor selection, training, briefing…”

            Now you’ve at least got them thinking about what you can do, instead of what you can’t do.

Show them how you will avoid exploitation.

There are absolutely situations where any donor-client interaction would be inappropriate. Really listen to your program colleagues to confirm what is possible. If it is decided that donor-client interactions would be possible, then download some of my free resources on avoiding exploitation and bring them to a meeting with staff (after you have heard them out). You can discuss case studies and protocol (e.g., how incidents will be managed); preparation (of both them and donors); and how you will work collaboratively with your colleagues to design an experience that serves all interests.