3 Creative Approaches to Inviting Major Donors on a Trip

A lot has been written about travel marketing – including what images or words help people begin imagining themselves in a place, and then instill such a desire to go there that those people book the trip on the spot.

This is not that article.

Rather than focus on glossy brochures or vivid language, this article focuses on the method,  not the message. The key phrase here is “major donors,” who need a higher-level touch and more personalization than others.

While the images and copywriting are important, your major donors are more motivated by:

1) their impact (being able to see their philanthropy at work)

2) their interest (they want to become more educated about the issue so they can continue to help affect positive change), and

3) their relationship to you (they trust your organization to be a good steward of their funds and they want to see you succeed).

With those things in mind, the method of inviting our major donors in just as important as the assets we use to invite them.

One of my favorite books in The Art of the Gathering by Priya Parker. One of the things I like to remind my clients is that your gathering (in this case, the donor trip) does not begin at the time on the invitation, or the date of departure. As Parker writes, “Your gathering begins the moment your guests first learn of it. They have been experiencing your gathering from what I call the ‘moment of discovery.’”

So let’s make these “moments of discovery” more meaningful and memorable.

Consider these three creative ways to invite donors on trips:

Video invitation: Personalize the offer

Video is an incredibly powerful asset.  If you regularly run trips to a particular destination, it is worth investing in creating a professionally-produced promotional video of the trip – it will have 100x the impact than photograph would.

But for major donors, it may be worthwhile to utilize that video in a personalized invitation. Consider adding a short clip at the end or beginning of the promo video in which someone from your nonprofit personally invites the donor by name. That person could be a gift officer, or board member, a staff member or program participant on-site.

Imagine clicking on a video link, thinking you are about to watch a standard promo video, but then you hear and see your own name in the video and realize it has been created just for you! That’s one way to “wow” your donor and go above and beyond what they are expecting. (And remember, you are not actually producing an entire video just for them, you are adding in a clip to make it more personalized).

Proposal Invitation: Harness the excitement

One of my very wise clients once said, “a donor trip is like a living proposal.” Why not include the invitation in a proposal to a donor – or, on the other end of the gift – in an impact report to the donor? For certain donors, we are already writing custom proposals and reports, so why not use that opportunity to present them with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see their philanthropic impact in person on an upcoming trip?

This could be done as simply as including the invite in the body of an email when you are sending the proposal or report, or verbally mentioning it if you are delivering the proposal or report in a meeting. This intrinsically ties the trip to the donor’s philanthropic impact, and you be able to harness the excitement they feel when being given an opportunity to make a difference.

Experiential Invitation: Engage the senses

Consider the ways you can prototype the trip – before the donor ever leaves.

Why not bring aspects of the destination to an event or house party, where the donors can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste elements from the destination. Have locally-produced items at a silent auction, serve foods from that destination, play music from the destination or hire musicians from that region. The point is to allow the donors to experience the destination before they leave.

This doesn’t only have to be done in a large-scale event. If you’re wanting to invite your donor to Ethiopia, don’t meet them at a deli, take them to lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant, and surprise them by saying something like, “the reason I selected this restaurant is because I wanted to invite you to a very special opportunity next fall…” Or bring them a bag of Ethiopian coffee and serve it at your office or their home.

If your trip is more focused on the outdoors and less on the culture, then take your donor on a hike and invite them to the trip while you are out in the woods. While you are walking among the trees it is easier for the donor to image themselves on a camping trip or hiking trip or rafting trip with your nonprofit, much more so than if they were staring at an image on their computer screen.

Emails, brochures, and phone calls are always welcome recruitment methods – but next time, consider how you can make your invitations more personalized and unique. You may be surprised at the difference it makes!