We see the pictures on television from Haiti or Japan or some other global tragedy and pretty much every one of us feels the same impulse – I have to help. But historically, that impulse could only be satisfied by making a donation to the Red Cross or some other relief organization and hoping a good percentage of the funds would get to those who needed it.
Now, there is an emerging trend of people who are fulfilling a desire to be much more hands-on: travel philanthropy – defined as citizens traveling to international project sites in the developing world or in areas hit by natural disasters to lend a hand.
The old mantra of “think globally, act locally” has changed somewhat as the globe has become more interconnected; it’s now much more feasible than it was 20 years ago to “think globally, and change your location.” As we have become hyperconnected, there is an increased awareness of global issues and needs. We can see new opportunities and the fact that those opportunities might be halfway around the world isn’t the obstacle it once was.
There are three categories of travel philanthropy:
- Donor travel. Committed philanthropists often want to see how their donations are being used; donors traveling to a project site has emerged as a way for them to get a real understanding of what their money is doing. These are often run by non-profit organizations for their donors.
- Private travel. This is typically done in small groups or as a family, and takes the place of a “regular” vacation. Travelers on these philanthropic trips are usually looking for some deeper meaning or pass on caring values to children.
- Urgent service travel. This is typically a pretty affordable option – people traveling to areas hit by disaster to take part in second response relief efforts. Citizens’ travel accommodations are usually low-cost, but they’re expected to fundraise for the cause.
It’s important to remember that for travel philanthropy to be impactful, the expectations of the volunteers and the community being helped need to match. Having an understanding of the community in need is critical in order for a program to be truly beneficial.
Photo by VividImageInc.