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Voluntourism: Making It Work for Your Organization

March 2008

A growing trend is taking hold in the travel industry: "voluntourism." In a combination of vacationing and volunteering, some Americans are foregoing time-shares and are instead sharing their time with people in need. In fact, surveys conducted by Travelocity, Orbitz, and the Travel Industry Association show that the number of groups offering these volunteer vacations has doubled over the past three years. The demographics of "voluntourists" vary widely: young, old, singles, families, and even honeymooners are taking advantage of this win-win situation.

Although many voluntourism opportunities are available throughout the world, there are also plenty of offerings within the United States. For example, one prominent Web site, Global Volunteers, lists several U.S. volunteer possibilities. They include teaching English to children in immigrant populations in Minnesota, serving in various capacities on a Blackfeet Nation reservation in Montana, and refurbishing homes or tutoring youth in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia.

Interested in voluntourism for your organization? Here are some tips on how to start attracting voluntourists:

Assess Your Area's Tourist Attractions—Because you live in the area, sometimes you take for granted what the location has to offer. Brainstorm, request travel guides for your state, or go on-line to research. Remember that attractions don't need to be in your backyard but could be as much as a couple hours away. Include state parks, unique shopping opportunities, and scenic areas. And don't forget that a sporting event can turn an otherwise sleepy town into a bustling city, especially in college towns.

Network with Other Organizations to Reduce Costs—Voluntourists understand that they will be responsible for their travel and lodging costs. You can make your volunteer vacation more attractive, though, by exploring ways to reduce expenses. For instance, you may be able to partner with a local college during the summer to use their dorms as a temporary hostel, or approach a hotel about reduced rates. Check with local church groups or restaurants to see if they would provide low-cost or free meals for your participants.

Create Your Marketing Plan—When assembling a flyer or brochure to market your voluntourism opportunity, make sure you include all the basics. For example, list the estimated cost per person, the time frame needed (if any), and skills necessary. Emphasize any of the arrangements you have made to reduce your voluntourists' costs, as well as area attractions, and highlight the fact that expenses related to volunteer activities are tax-deductible.

Get the Word Out—Again, it's all about networking. It's always nice when someone else markets for you. Obviously, you will want to make connections with other organizations outside your region so that you will truly attract people who want to "get away" and visit your area. Think about organizations whose missions complement your own; perhaps they will even consider an "exchange program." Church groups are also natural fits. In addition, make sure to advertise your voluntourism opportunities on your own Web site, and look into getting listed on voluntourism sites.

Remember, even though your organization isn't a five-star resort, it can offer the experience of a lifetime. Unlike the typical getaway that just provides a brief respite from day-to-day activities, a volunteer vacation can enrich lives forever—both those of the voluntourists and the people they serve.

Christine Litch, VolunteerHub
© 2007, VolunteerHub

Christine Litch works for VolunteerHub, the latest version of a system first conceived in 1996 to facilitate volunteer registration for the University of Michigan's campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Since its humble beginnings, the service has grown to offer a wide range of features for event, event registration, and volunteer workforce management. Today VolunteerHub connects people and purposes for a variety of nonprofit, educational, and commercial organizations.