Travel Season and the Nonprofit Journey

It’s vacation season.  Time to pack up the suitcase and jump in the car, head to the airport, or hit the highways.  Many of us are enjoying pools or beaches or hiking on shaded mountain trails.

Most people are in the mood to travel.  So why not take your volunteers and donors on a journey?

This is a great time of year to take your donors on a tour—virtually, if not actually.  Get out your video camera and walk through your center or the woods or the neighborhood in which you work or an animal habitat (depending on your cause). And if you can’t, for whatever reason, video, then, transport them to your agency through your vivid descriptions.

Use a (metaphorical) “telescopic lens” and zoom in on a single life:  focus on a day in the life of one of your clients. Talk about the details of what one of your client’s life is like and the impact your organization has had.

Last week, my twenty-year-old daughter who is away for the summer unexpectedly made an appearance on our doorstep at about 10:00 pm Monday night. She’s working for a summer camp (where my husband also works) and because one of her co-counselors was sick they needed someone to substitute for a couple of days. 

“Mom,” she said, “would you come and be a counselor?”

After I realized she wasn’t kidding, I stopped laughing and surprised myself and said “Yes.”  

As I spent two days with fourth-graders, not only did I develop a renewed and reinvigorated appreciation for everyone I know who is a school teacher (really:  I haven’t been nice enough to you all.  I’m sorry.  May I wash your cars? Let me cook you dinner.  Please, sit down and relax.  I’ll mow the lawn.  You don’t have to), I thought about nonprofit communications:  this is the perfect, ground-level view to write from.  We should all do this at our agencies.  We forget to. 

We get busy with board meetings and writing United Way applications and grant reports and personnel issues so we don’t get out of our offices often enough—or if we do—we don’t spend the time on the frontline with our clients often enough. 

And the perspective is so very cool from there. I had no idea that fourth-graders were constitutionally incapable of being quiet for even a single minute.  I also didn’t know that if you have a group of twelve of them, at any given moment, at least one of them has to go to the bathroom. But I also learned much more interesting and significant things about the kids, the very talented staff, the compassionate volunteers, and the program in those two days. Imagine being able to share that with a donor in a “show” rather than “tell” sort of way. 

It would give your donors significant insight and, no doubt, impact them, just as it was a powerful experience for me. And if your donors could have the benefit of vicariously living the story without the sunburn or mosquito bites—all the better!

So here’s my July challenge for you:  grab hold of the summer travel metaphor and take your donors on a journey. Show them what they’re investing in by taking them on a tour. It’s travel season.  Make sure your organization is a stop on their itinerary.

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