“So where are you going for your donor trip next month, Bill (not real name)?” I asked.
“Oh, to California.” he replied.  “I have some good donors there I need to touch base with.”
But when I dug into the details, here is what emerged about the seven donors for the planned trip:

  • Two of them had not given for over 18 months.
  • Three were “C” Tier donors – people who were giving less and had lower capacity.
  • In their giving level, one, for the last two years, had fallen below the criteria for major donor giving.
  • And the last one was a truly qualified “A” Tier donor who merited a face to face visit.

Should Bill take this trip?  No.  Were there other qualified donors he could have arranged to visit?  Yes.  So, what’s the core problem here?
Well, best case, Bill just doesn’t know how to think strategically and really believes he is doing the right thing.  Worst case, Bill is maneuvering for a junket to California.
By the way, if you are reading this and you are a single MGO working in a smaller organization, all of this applies to you as well – it is just a smaller scale item.  In the bigger organization Bill is in it’s about trips across the country or overseas.  In the smaller organization it’s about a trip to a nearby town or spending money for a dinner, etc.
Next to being out of the office around town to visit donors, the donor trip out of town or spending any amount of money on cultivating a donor can be one of the most nerve racking events for a MGO and her manager.
Most managers, myself included, have experienced the employee manipulation to take a donor trip when it really wasn’t justified.  It was a junket, pure and simple.  And it left a bad taste in my mouth.  One of the saddest truths in the world of management is that it only takes one bad employee to ruin it for the majority of good employees.  And this truth becomes seriously operational around the subject of donor trips.
Let’s be clear – most of the MGOs I have met are solid professionals and serious workers who plan trips and spend money to visit their good donors with the purest intent and best strategy.  But one bad apple spoils the whole bunch.
Here’s how to avoid this situation – and it’s back to planning and providing information up-line.
I came up with this idea for two reasons:  (1) to help the MGO be strategic in their planning of donor trips, and (2) to provide information up-line so that managers can know that resources (labor and time) are being wisely used.
It’s a simple form I call the Donor Trip Planning form:

(Note: If you cannot read graphic, click on the title of the Blog Post)
Follow these steps in planning your next trip or even just planning for donor contacts in your area:

  1. Be strategic on who you choose to contact.  Is the donor at a current giving level and do they have capacity to merit a visit?  Are you in a place in your relationship where a contact like this is natural and strategic?  Do you have content for the meeting that is meaningful – that is, will the donor appreciate that THEY have used THEIR time wisely to meet with you?
  2. Cluster donors into a geography that is logistically feasible in terms of travel.
  3. Assure that the quantity of donors and the potential result is justified against the expense.
  4. Fill out the Donor Trip Planning form for each person so that you know where you are going.

Oftentimes,  just filling out the form will help in your thinking about this donor.  You may start the process and then realize that you should not,  at this time,  be contacting this donor in this manner.  Conversely, as you are filling out the form, your words and thoughts will lead you to other approaches  that will be helpful in your relationship with this donor.
You can see how powerful this simple step can be, not only for you and your planning, but when you hand copies of these forms to your manager!  I know for a fact that he or she will say: “Wow, now here is some strategic thinking!  And, I can relax, knowing that the organization’s time and money is being wisely used.”
Planning carefully and informing up-line generously takes all the guilt out of donor trip (and donor expense) planning.  Try it.  I think you will like it.
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