My husband and I recently returned from an amazing trip to Ireland. Along with a group of 22 friends, we traveled near Galway through 8 small towns in 8 days — all on bikes. The scenery was breathtaking and the Irish people were completely charming. We averaged 30 miles a day, riding our bikes along two-lane roads with flowering hedges on either side. The landscape was dotted with thatched-roof cottages, ancient stone walls and plenty of sheep and cows.
Why am I telling you this? Because so much of the great experience we had on this trip was the direct result of the outstanding service provided by the company we hired to handle our travel arrangements. I think their focus on our comfort and enjoyment can provide some valuable lessons for any organization that relies on the support of donors.
Handling every detail
Based in Galway, West Ireland Cycling (WIC) did everything right for our group. The bikes we rented were hybrid Trek FX2s, which handled the terrain well and were reliable. Occasionally during the trip the company checked in with us to fix any minor technical issues or adjust seats and handlebars.
Of course, since this was Ireland, we sometimes had to ride our bikes in the rain and wind — but that made the sunny days even sweeter. Lucky for us, the rain was more of a mist or drizzle than an actual downpour. We carried our rain gear just in case.
In each town, we stayed at quaint B&Bs hosted by lovely and hospitable people. Before embarking on our day’s ride, we were served delicious Irish breakfasts of porridge and scrambled eggs with tomatoes and bacon. Our luggage was transported from B&B to B&B (with no mishaps) so we didn’t have to carry much on our bikes.
From start to finish, the rider experience was amazing. We always felt like the WIC team was looking after our best interests. We left with lots of good memories, and only good things to say about the bike company employees who took care of us and made our rider experience delightful.
Five lessons from the road
WIC saw to it that every detail of our interaction with them, and every part of our adventure, was fascinating, safe and rewarding. Would your donors say similar thing about their experience with you? Do they feel like you take care of them? Are you delivering a reliable service and consistent message? Would they recommend you?
Here are five simple recommendations for creating a great donor experience:
1. Plan the course. Once you decide your goal, plan the necessary steps to get there. To prepare for our bike trip, we started planning a year before. We saved our money to pay for the airfare and travel. We trained by riding regularly and often. There were quarterly conference calls that covered topics such as what type of bike to rent, what to wear for riding in different types of weather, and what to expect for traveling in Ireland. We asked many questions, and the cycling company listened to our concerns and responded.
2. Watch for bumps in the road and make changes as needed. Even with the best-laid plan, you need to stay alert to see what’s working and what’s not working. Sometimes that requires a variation in the course. The bike company changed the routes for our ride on the fifth day because the high winds and rain would have made it too dangerous to be on the roads. They provided us a coach bus to take us from the B&B to the ferry. They paid attention to the details to keep us safe.
3. Find out what matters. Listen to your donors, and then respond appropriately. What mattered most to us riders was being safe on the roads and having fun — and the biking company made it happen. When we arrived in Ireland, we were each carefully fitted with bikes that matched our sizes and abilities. (A few riders rented electric bikes to help with the hills.) The company provided us safe bikes to ride and safe routes to follow. They carefully vetted all the B&Bs and arranged comfortable places to stay, and meticulously handled all the logistics. They took the worry out of our experience, so we could relax and enjoy.
4. Let your donors know what to expect. In communications with your donors, let them know how their support is making a difference. Let them know when they will receive tax receipts. Let them know stories of people whom they have helped with their donation. Before we left the B&B each morning, we knew what to expect. We were given maps that plotted our routes with suggestions of sites to visit and places to eat — and warnings about upcoming hills!
5. Express gratitude. Your donors want to support your mission. They are aligned with your values and want to help. When our 8-day ride was over, the company graciously thanked us for hiring them. We would definitely go on another trip with them in the future.
This Ireland trip will stick with us as one of our favorite rider experiences of all time. Follow these suggestions and I’m sure your donors will say the same about their donor experience with your organization.