Development Dialogue: Bon Voyage

Motivating Donors With Travel Opportunities

By Ron Fredman

Behind us sat a row of women, speaking in Russian. To the right, Spanish. To the left, German. To the front, English (U.S. and Australian versions), and what likely was one of many dialects of Chinese.

Yet, once the curtain rose, the language became universal: Dance. And that, perhaps more than anything, is what tied so neatly together the recent International Ballet Festival of Havana. The Festival, the 25th biennial, took place October 28 to November 6, 2016.

To see dancers from Cuba, the United States, Argentina, Mongolia. Canada, Belgium, South Korea, and more than a dozen other corners of the world onstage, was a treat in the gilded splendor of the Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso. To join the crowd in a loving ovation for the 95-year-old Cuban dance icon Alonso was heart-lifting at its best.

We came from around the globe to share what we loved so much. And love it, we did. 

Among the crowd were 44 Kansas City Ballet patrons and staff, enjoying a week of site-seeing, dance, camaraderie, mojitos and fun. We ran into other groups from across the U.S., including folk from New York, Texas, Salt Lake City (Ballet West was on the program), Seattle and Los Angeles.

Putting together such a large contingent for overseas travel was not an easy task. The details, at times, seemed nonstop and daunting. But it was a trip well worth taking, an effort well worth making. We will do so again.

We learned plenty building and managing this journey. Here are a few thoughts and pointers we soon won’t forget. They’re worth considering for any company hosting its supporters on a trip, domestic or abroad.

  • Consider this a special trip for your special donors, a thank-you for their investment in you or your company. Those closest to you appreciate the opportunity; those who wish to partake often can be motivated to join your inner donor circle.
  • Patience and humor are the greatest of virtues, especially in a country as lovely but challenged as Cuba. Things happen at their own pace and in their own way. Plans change. Surprises arise. Situations surface. Bend with graciousness and you won’t break with a snap.
  • Hire outside experts (we used a travel agent from Toronto) to create your trip. Insist that your onsite guides are friendly, knowledgeable and well connected. We were exceptionally lucky in that regard: Our guide in Havana was a dream who quickly became part of our family.
  • Select a manageable group size. With 40 patrons (and four staff), we were right on the edge of having too many; thankfully we returned to the States with the same people we brought. We had four from our staff along: our executive director and artistic director serving as hosts, and two members of the development team shepherding the crowd and ensuring all ran smoothly.
  • Communicate early and often. We began securing participants a year in advance, and almost from the beginning we sent regular e-mails or mailings with updates, reminders, information, stories, photos, payment requests and other information.
  • Don’t assume everyone signed up knows each other, even though they all are your supporters. Many friendships surfaced (or were strengthened), starting with a pre-trip gathering that featured a slide show by a previous traveler to Havana, last-minute information and Salsa lessons.
  • The trip significantly strengthened relationships between staff and donors. It already is paying off in greater commitment to the company: emotionally, intellectually and financially. As well, by getting to see different dance performances every evening, our participants deepened their understanding and appreciation of dance. That’s always a good thing.
  • Sweat the small details before you leave: passports, money exchange, activities, fees, clothing, lodging, food and health issues, program details, cell phone numbers, arrivals and departures, paperwork, visas and more. Keep documents organized with copies in more than one hand.
  • Staff always is the first to arrive and the last to leave, making certain all are where they need to be and enjoying themselves. Keep everyone informed, whether it’s about the cultural site you are visiting, the dress for dinner, the time and place to meet, or the performances that evening. Patrons should have no worries, no stress. That’s the staff’s job.
  • Set up a central repository for pictures and memories; we have a private page on Facebook dedicated to the trip. We also are planning a reunion in the near future so we can relive what we once shared together.

At the end of each day, at the end of the trip, success is easy to measure: overjoyed patrons, grateful and appreciative for the special opportunity, the special friends and the special memories shared by all. If you do it right, and right from the beginning, that’s really not asking too much.

Bon voyage!

Ron Fredman

Ron Fredmanchief development officer at Kansas City Ballet, is well known for beyond-the-horizon thinking, deceptively tough questions, nurtured expectations and enthusiastic partnership. He is a passionate fundraiser and dedicated relationship builder. He has enjoyed many years in arts fundraising, including record-breaking seasons as the chief fundraiser for the Kansas City Symphony and Houston Symphony. He joined the Kansas City Ballet as chief development officer in the fall of 2012 and has continued the string of fundraising successes. His background includes more than a decade as a national fundraising consultant with Hartsook Companies, where he last served as executive vice president. He has guided arts and cultural organizations, social services, youth organizations, schools, religious institutions, health care, professional and trade associations, foundations and more. Beyond solid fundraising leadership, he also provides senior-level expertise in management, strategic planning and marketing. 

Ron is a frequent speaker at national, regional and local fundraising and business conferences, where his energy, interactive style and common sense draw strong reviews. He has designed and taught business courses at the corporate and community-college level, and has written for many publications. He began his career as a sportswriter at The Kansas City Star. Ron studied political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and served as an adjunct faculty at Lansing (Mich.) Community College. Ron is chair of Dance/USA’s Development Directors & Staff Affinity Group.


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