After two years of a pause in travel for most organizations, it is clear by now that the industry has rebounded, with demand returning before supply can even catch up. This past year I’ve seen donor trips fill faster than ever, with little signs of that trend slowing down in 2023.
With such overwhelming demand, it can be tempting to offer your trip to the first people who raise their hands, but that’s not the most strategic approach. Here are 4 ways of filling a trip, including the pros, cons, and how to maximize impact. Here I start in order of strategic priority, from greatest to least, so that you can make decisions about how to fill your next donor trip.
1) Anchor donor and their contacts
In this scenario one of your key donors or a board member fills an entire trip with their own contacts. This is most common for custom trips and custom departures. A trip may be completely tailored to that donor’s interest, or it may be a trip you run regularly but set a custom departure date for that donor and their group. The point is, you don’t have to worry about filling it, because the donor has committed to bringing their family members, friends, colleagues, or former classmates.
- This is the easiest way to fill a trip – you need very little marketing, and the anchor donor is typically the primary contact for the group, which streamlines communication.
- This can be a transformational way to engage a key supporter – their fond memories of traveling with their favorite people will forever be associated with you nonprofit.
- This can be an excellent way to recruit new donors among the friends and peers of your anchor donor.
- You probably don’t have the bandwidth to offer a unique trip or departure date to every donor who requests one – so choose wisely.
- There is a chance you won’t acquire any new donors through this trip – the anchor donor may not be considering who is a good prospect for your nonprofit among the people they invite.
- You don’t get to open this up to anyone else on your list – which means this trip could be very small, and potentially low impact.
How to Maximize Impact:
- Select the right anchor donor: someone who has given a long time at a high level, who understands the mission, who has volunteered their time or expertise, and who has successfully recruited people for events in the past.
- Be clear about your objectives. You want them to have a great time, but the reason they are traveling with your nonprofit and not just booking a trip through a travel agent is to get behind-the-scenes access to your work and become more educated about it, so keep the mission front and center in the itinerary.
- Follow up! Do all 10 of these tactics and avoid these 7 Faux Pas.
2) Private Invitations to Select Donors
In this scenario you fill a trip through direct invitations to donors in portfolios, or some other segment of your base whom you are targeting. There may be a website and registration portal for the trip, but the link is not made public – only those invited can register.
- You’ll be able to engage more people in your base, as opposed to only one anchor donor.
- You don’t need to customize the trip to any one donor, or worry about departure dates – you can plan far ahead, lock in the dates, then market accordingly.
- Recruiting is easy and straightforward: first come, first served; and when the trip fills, you start a waitlist.
- If you market too broadly, you might not get the right folks signing up.
- It’s impossible to predict whether you will have high-needs travelers or uncomfortable group dynamics– that’s always a risk
- You’ll typically have to reach out many times in different formats (mailed brochure, mass email, personal email, etc) before someone registers.
How to Maximize Impact:
- Tier your list and offer the first spaces to particular segments of your base that could benefit the most from the experience.
- You will need to invite at least 5x more people that you need to fill the trip. If your goal is 10 travelers, you need a list of at least 50 qualified prospects.
- Plan to reach out at least 3 times (but really, more like 5) before you fill the trip.
3) Organizations who can market to their members
In this scenario, the nonprofit has an institutional partner who can fill the trip with their members. It’s like having an anchor donor, except that instead of an anchor person there is an anchor institution. Really good institutional partners are philanthropy groups & giving circles, community foundations, corporations with philanthropy programs, etc. The nonprofit would create a trip custom for this partner, or have a custom departure date for them, then the partner would do all the marketing and outreach to their members, and the trip would run for that group exclusively.
- Like the anchor donor scenario, this is a very easy way to fill a trip – almost no marketing, and you will have one point of contact for the group.
- You can typically build in higher fee or a donation into the per-person cost, so this can be a revenue-generating opportunity for your nonprofit.
- There is potential to recruit new individual donors among the members or staff of the organization.
- If you don’t already have an institutional partner, know that it can be a lot of work to acquire one! This scenario only makes sense if you have an established partner to whom you could consider offering a trip– if you don’t, then skip this and focus on your major donors in scenario #2.
- There is a big chance you won’t acquire new donors through this type of trip – it really depends on the partner. Often members think they don’t need to make a donation because their organization did so on their behalf, or it is built into the trip fee and they don’t give beyond that.
- The organization usually has their own objectives for wanting to offer a trip to their members, so your mission and priorities will not be the only ones to consider, and you may need to do a fair bit of customizing to meet their needs.
How to Maximize Impact:
- Select the right partner! Make sure there is mission alignment and leverage the opportunity for joint PR.
- Be clear about your objectives. What do they want to get out of the trip and how does that line up with your nonprofit’s priorities?
- Take the time ahead of the trip to collect as much information as you can about each registrant, ask for a headshot and bio, try to meet one on one – they will likely not be in your database so you want to start cultivating the relationship as early as possible.
4) Recruit from Your General Audience
In this last scenario, you make the trip available to anyone willing and able to sign up and pay the fee. The trip website is publicly accessible and marketed to your entire email distribution list and could even be on social media. Most of the people who sign up will already be on your email list, or be connected to someone who is.
- No customizing the itinerary – this means easy logistics and planning.
- No segmented marketing or personalized outreach, just put out the email blast and see what happens.
- If you have a huge list, and if your trips are easy to run and provide good revenue for your nonprofit, then this is a fine scenario to consider.
- This is the hardest way to fill a trip. It takes so much time, many outreach attempts, such a huge list, and there is always a risk you won’t fill the trip.
- There is a chance that none of the people who sign up have the capacity to be major donors. That’s ok if you have other objectives, but if you are hoping to raise money and use a trip as a cultivation tool, then this is not the right scenario for you.
- Group dynamics are event harder to predict, since some of these people may be totally unknown to your organization.
How to Maximize Impact:
- Consider only doing this scenario in tandem with one of the other three: start by offering it only to major donors, and if it doesn’t fill then open it to all audience members. Or put it on your website, but be sending out personalized invites to major donors.
- In this scenario, you must build a donation into the trip fee – otherwise it is not really worth your time and trouble to implement. Why go through all the trouble to net even on revenue?
- Since some of these folks may not be donors, consider what your objectives are. What is the one thing the trip is meant to accomplish?
In reality, there are nonprofits running all 4 scenarios simultaneously, and others who are doing a blend of 2 or 3. Which scenarios are right for you depends on your travel program and nonprofit’s objectives.