After going on nearly 20 short term trips as a participant or the lead I have picked up several tips and tricks along the way. I have put them in order based on when you would do it in the planning process, not in order of importance. Here are my top ten:
10. Know your purpose
This may seem obvious, but not all trips will fulfill the same purpose. If your main goal/purpose for your trip is to serve and accomplish a task (like a building project) then make sure everyone knows that. If your primary goal/purpose is fellowship and team building people who just want to get the job done will get really frustrated. It does vary between organizations, so know what you are looking for before you get started.
9. Research the organization or decide to do it all yourself
I have done it myself and gone with organizations. As you probably already know, there are plusses and minuses to both. Doing it all yourself is a lot more work but it will likely be cheaper. I prefer going with an organization. They have local contacts and knowledge of what’s needed that I can never get, and it allows me to go and serve with our group and let them manage our schedule. Most of the ones I have used have been great experiences.
8. Get your dates out in January
Once you have nailed down enough details to get a date, publish it as soon as possible. My goal is to have the dates out by new years. Some years this is easy to do, others have been a struggle. Families need to know your dates early so they can plan their own vacations or family commitments. Parents have told me they have literally had fights over going on the mission trip instead of the family reunion, help families out by publishing your dates early.
7. Require a non-refundable deposit to sign up
Everyone has good intentions, and a ton of students will show interest in your trip when you first announce it. If you make them write a check it forces them to think through everything before they sign up, not after. The words “non-refundable” are very powerful, use it to your advantage. Make it enough money that it will force a discussion within their family. Some parents will throw out $5 without thinking, but $50 definitely makes them ask questions. Apply this deposit to the total cost of the trip so the only way it will be wasted is if they drop out.
6. Do individual fundraising
I do not like “group fundraising”. I charge every student the actual cost of their trip, and it is their responsibility to raise the money. We do fundraising events as a group, but divide it among those that actually do the work and put it into their individual accounts. If the group has a large goal, 20% of the team will raise most of the money. That fact really bugs me. By making the fundraising optional and tracking individual accounts only the ones that work benefit from it. Ones that don’t want to participate don’t have to, and they pay for their trip however they decide to.
5. The worship/devotions are just as important as the projects
One advantage of going with an organization is they typically do the evening devotion. If they don’t provide one or you are doing it yourself make sure you put some time into planning these. Everyone will experience many things on your trip, and the evening devotions pull it all together and connect their service to their Spirituality. It all works together, so don’t focus too much on the projects and neglect the devotion times.
4. Plan every second possible
Literally schedule as much as possible. You don’t have to be busy the entire time, in fact rest time is a must, but schedule it in on purpose. Type up meal times, devotion times, project time, down time, travel time, lights out times, and anything else you can think of. Print it, pass it out, remind people of the schedule constantly and then actually stick to it as much as you can. If you don’t have a schedule you will be fighting the slow pokes the entire time and likely will not do devotions after the first few days…(re-read #5 if you need to).
3. Do pre-trip meetings
I have had many people comment to me how great our groups are to host, and pre-trip meetings have a lot to do with it. By doing some team building activities, talking through the details, and Spiritually preparing for the trip will jump start the effectiveness of the week. If you take advantage of this pre-trip time, your team will “come together” several days earlier once you are actually on the trip, which makes their effectiveness go up exponentially.
2. Confirm all reservations and details right before you leave
If you have done your work well this step seems a bit redundant, but there is nothing worse than standing in an airport with 35 people and no confirmation numbers. Go over directions with all your drivers so many times they roll their eyes when you mention “drivers meeting.” Make sure the rental company inputted the right code for 12 passenger van, you don’t want to end up with three compact cars. All of these have either happened to me (when I didn’t do this) or were avoided because of this step.
1. Pray through the entire process
This should be number ten and number one. Pray about your purpose and need for a trip before you start this process. Pray through the entire thing, and pray as much as possible during the trip. If God is not a major part of your trip, then you are just a recreational tour guide. The whole point is for God to work through your group wherever you go and whatever you do and to change the heart of every team member. God can’t do any of this if you don’t invite him along.
As I write these ten, I just keep thinking of more that I should have put on here… What would you add to the list?