How to Plan a Group Mission Trip
One of the highlights of my year is our church’s annual family mission trip to Belize. If I’m counting correctly, 2018 will be the seventh group mission trip I’ve led. I’ve learned a lot of what to do and what not to do along the way. In fact, each trip brings unique learning experiences. I also remember the first year we planned and feeling totally lost in how to get started. If that is you, hopefully our plan can help you.
1 year – 18 months out
– Begin making your plan. Where are you going and with what group/organization are you partnering? You don’t need to know micro-details yet, but it is time to start gathering an idea of the who, what, when, where, and cost. I always recommend partnering with someone who is on the ground and who knows what to do with a group when you get there. If possible, take a pre-trip to scope out the travel experience, the area where you will be, and get to know the people you will work with if you don’t already.
- Determine the estimated cost. There are usually two parts to this: travel and land costs. The organization you partner with may help with some of these things. They should give you an estimate of their land costs you will have to pay them and if lodging is a part of that. Make sure you have a good idea of what is and is not covered in your cost. (Food, in-country taxes or costs, lodging, etc…) You want to present people with as accurate an estimate as possible, and I generally try to overestimate. It is always a blessing to find out you don’t have to pay as much.
- Determine your fundraising policy/strategy. Each church has different processes and philosophies for fundraising. Make sure that you understand your church’s. For trips that I have done, I encourage people to write letters to people they love and support them. There are always people willing to support. In my experience, this is much more fruitful (and meaningful) than garage sales and car washes.
9 months – 1 year out
- Promote your trip. Whatever means are available in your church, use them to target the population that would be best suited for the trip.
- Have an interest meeting. The purpose of the meeting is for you to share the vision of the trip as well as the pertinent details that people need this far out (specifically dates and cost). Communicate the fundraising strategy. You don’t want anyone committing with an expectation regarding funds that doesn’t match what you are able to do. Make sure that you collect contact info from all of those who attend.
- Follow up. Email the people who attended your meeting and ask for them to respond and let you know their level of interest. Are they ready to commit to go, are they interested but unsure, or have they decided this trip won’t work for them?
6 months – 9 months out
- Book group plane tickets. This only works if you have ten people or more, but I found it the very best way to book flights early enough to get a low fare but before everyone is really ready to commit. The major airlines all have group booking options and all of their policies differ. I will outline how these bookings generally are handled, but please refer to the airline’s actual policy. Group plane tickets generally work like this:
- You can book a block of tickets for a specific flight at a specific rate. (Sidebar: I have found Southwest is the best at trying to get you the lowest rate.) To book these tickets you have to pay a deposit. This deposit is usually refundable up to 90 days before the flight so you can guesstimate how many you think are going. You do not yet need to know passenger names, just a number.
- Reserve your lodging. Utilize your connection on the ground to help you with this part. We have been blessed that this has totally been handled by our ministry partner, so I can not discuss in detail this process. Do your research to make sure that a location works financially,
3 months – 6 months out
- Collect a deposit. Let those who are interested and committed to go know that you must collect a deposit for the trip by a designated time. The amount and the date will be determined by your process with the airline (see previous section). The deposit should cover the airline I have learned to make this deposit non-negotiable. We can work with people raising funds, but if you lose the deposit to the airline because they back out, at least you don’t lose that money because you have their deposit.