From guest blogger Jeffrey Trimbath, Senior Regional Manager at The Heritage Foundation

For many of us in development, travel is part of our weekly existence.  Like most of you who’ve spent several years in the profession, I’ve been treated to my share of folks working in the travel industry who don’t do a very good job.  That is why I was so impressed with a recent shuttle bus driver and the many lessons he could teach us about fundraising.

His name was Kevin and he drove for a parking lot located near a major airport on the eastern seaboard.  My wife and I were returning from a weekend getaway early on a Sunday afternoon when I noticed several things he did that set him apart.

After pulling the van to the curb, he nearly jumped out of the seat and vigorously picked up our two bags.  We climbed into the bus and noticed he was laughing with some of the other passengers.  This wasn’t unusual, other than I could tell that Kevin seemed to enjoy what he was doing.  But that was only the beginning.

I looked down on one of the seats and I saw three small, plastic tubs full of snacks – peanuts, candy, gum and breath mints.  On each of the containers were signs taped to the outside: “Help yourself – 2 per guest, please.”  And there was a sign on them underlined, “Driver’s Expense.”  As my wife and I took my seat, the driver brought them back to us and said “would you like a snack?” and we helped ourselves.

There also was pleasant music playing, a welcome change from the typical, obnoxious music that reflected the juvenile taste of too many shuttle drivers.

We sped off from the airport and the driver started his announcements on the loudspeaker. “Welcome to the shuttle, ladies and gentlemen.  I am glad you made it safely back from your trip.”  Although not unusual, the tone and the energy were a bit strange – he actually sounded like he was glad to see us.  I was surprised at the way in which his opening comment made me feel valued.  But there was more, so much more.

Kevin continued, “Shortly we will be arriving at our parking lot, where I will call out your number.  If you could please tell me the make and model of your car, I will be able to drive to your spot more quickly.  Then, once we arrive, if you could please hop off the bus and allow me to carry your bags, you can warm up your car more quickly.”  I thought this level of direction was a bit minute, but it was all for a purpose.

The driver approached the first passenger’s spot and he quickly located the car.  Once stopped, the driver hopped up, grabbed the passenger’s bags, and said “trunk or backseat?”  The passenger specified, and Kevin put the luggage where instructed.  Then, as is customary, Kevin received the tip.  But instead of just saying “thank you,” he said “Thank you very much for your generosity; how very kind of you.”  Generosity? Kindness?  Most times, this is just a sterile, transactional way of conducting business: “I carry your bags, you give me a tip, and I move on to the next customer.”  But Kevin elevated this simple act to something much more special – to philanthropy, to an expression of virtue.  Several more customers experienced the same kind of prompt, expert treatment at Kevin’s direction, and each gave a tip that was no doubt much more than they intended to give when they started—and was recognized and gratefully acknowledged each time.

My wife and I were the last to be dropped off, and the only couple on the bus.  Instead of grabbing our bags, Kevin jumped off the bus and ran to open my wife’s door.  Then he came back and asked where to place our luggage.  As he lifted the bags, he made very nice comment about our very average 2004 Sienna Minivan with 114K miles.  I happily tipped him well and he showed his sincere gratitude.

Jill and I were blown away by this experience for so many reasons.  Obviously, Kevin’s energy, enthusiasm and encouragement were a refreshing change in the oftentimes routine, boring and transactional world of business travel.  But he did more than just bring energy to his task.

Kevin did everything he could to make us feel valued and special, and thus increased the likelihood of a higher tip.  Every movement, every word and every sound was intentionally employed to get us to show our gratitude to him.  And yet, I never once felt manipulated or used.  I felt like this professional was proudly and skillfully executing his craft, and I felt truly valued.

Isn’t that what we are called to do as fundraisers?  We are called to do everything we can with energy and enthusiasm for our institution.  But we are also called to use every opportunity – every phone call, email, note and donor visit – to inspire our investors to give even more to our cause.

Are you taking advantage of every tool at your disposal to make this happen?  Of course we cannot make our donors give any more than Kevin could make us give him a tip.  But we can do everything under our control, and take advantage of every opportunity, to increase the likelihood that they will.  And we can do this in a way that honors our donors, rather than making them feel manipulated or used.  After taking today’s ride with Kevin, that is exactly what I am hoping to do.

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