Update on Voluntourism Related News

Big thanks to Paul Joss of the BBC for passing this along, a lot of great updates and new initiatives in the below. If your organization isn’t already a part of the BBC I’d highly recommend getting in touch with Paul; the BBC is free to join and it quite simply aims to further the voluntourism field through collaborative efforts.

1) Serve America Act – Our friends at the ServiceNation coalition (of which BBC is a part) are putting a big push to get the Kennedy-Hatch Serve America Act passed that President Obama referenced in his speech to Congress on Tuesday night. They are asking organizations to sign letter of support by this Monday, March 2. Read the attached letter and send an e-mail referencing your organization to akhazei@bethechangeinc.org by mid-day Monday if you want to sign the letter. The Serve America Act is largely domestic focused but does include specific support for international volunteering, specifically strengthening the Volunteers for Prosperity program that connects skilled volunteers with international opportunities. At this time the Serve America Act does not include the Global Service Fellowship. You can review the full text of the bill here: http://www.thomas.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:S.277:  


2) Global Youth Service Day – The folks at Youth Service America are holding their Global Youth Service Day from April 24-26. According to YSA, “Global Youth Service Day is the largest annual service event in the world. GYSD highlights and celebrates the difference youth make in their communities year-round through service and service-learning. On April 24-26, 2009, millions of young will participate in and lead service projects in more than 100 countries around the world.” If you have youth programs active at that time or want to organize one, you can register it on their site. Learn more at: http://www.globalyouthserviceday.org/


3) Reducing Tax Deductions for Charitable Contributions? – This week President Obama released his budget blueprint for fiscal year 2010. The budget proposes tax changes for those in the highest bracket, including a measure that will reduce the value of tax deductions for charitable donations. This is causing a stir in the non-profit sector because of fears that it will negatively impact donations. Please note that this is not an issue that BBC is formally opposing. We’ll keep our attention on issues related directly to international volunteering but since many BBC members are non-profit organizations, I wanted to bring it to your attention. It appears that Independent Sector is watching this issue and I encourage you to monitor their site for additional information and ways to take action if you wish. http://www.independentsector.org/media/20090226_budget.html

Voluntourism Survey Launching in March – Feedback Please

In an attempt to answer some of the questions we’d all like to know, Lasso Communications in conjunction with XOLA Consulting will be doing a survey of the voluntourism industry in March/April. Below are the questions we’d like to ask, so here is your opportunity to change the direction of the survey or help it gain legs.

We will be calling all voluntourism operators will offices in America that send US volunteers overseas on non faith-based trips. The criteria for a voluntourism operator is a company that has a traveler participate in at least 4 days of volunteer work per trip. We know 4 is random but we didn’t want to include the adventure operators that offer a ‘voluntourism experience’ for 3 days on part of a tour – we want to get an accurate feel of how many people decided to devote their whole vacation to volunteering.

We know we could also include Canada, UK, Oz, etc but we want to start small and get some accurate figures. All info given will remain anonymous totally and completely – but please participate as its for the good of the industry to get a truly accurate pulse. (dont make me beg)

Questions for operators that meet above criteria:

– How many destinations do you currently send volunteers to?

– How many volunteers did you send abroad in 2008?

– Do you expect to send more or less abroad in 2009?

– What is your return rate for volunteers?

– Do you feel the economy is effecting your business in a good/bad/neutral way?

– Any insights or lessons learned you’d like to share with the industry?


Let us know your feedback please – we’re anxious to get this started and finally get an accurate estimate of the size of the US voluntourism market!

The Year of Voluntourism Books

This seems to be the year of voluntourism books – here are a few I’ve been getting releases about; the world is certainly still buzzing about volunteer vacations.

Wildlife and Conservation Volunteering, The Complete Guideby Bradt Guides (Feb 2009): The Independent named the guide a must-have item in its Hot List published this week http://is.gd/kjvL


The Give Back Solution (March 1, 2009), by Susan Skog. Hubby and I are in this one, so I’m slightly biased, but its a great book – just got the media copy.


Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others (Feb 1, 2009) by Bill McMillon, Doug Cutchins, Anne Geissinger, and Ed Asner

About to launch soon:

Volunteer Vacations Across America, by Sheryl Kane

Voluntary Traveler, by Nola Kelsey

Mapping Your Volunteer Vacation, by Jane Stanfield

Volunteer Code of Conduct – Do You Have One?

I recently came upon an organization out of Nepal called Social Treks that has a great volunteer code of conduct on their site, parts of it are pasted below. It raises a good question, do you have a a volunteer code of conduct and what are you including in that document?

From the Social Treks site:

We acknowledge that volunteers want to be responsible but are often not aware of the issues and appropriate codes of conduct. This document is not intended to be exhaustive but it does highlight a number of issues and provide guidelines, which will help you to:

•    Ensure your own personal safety  
•    Show respect to the local communities, customs and value systems

General Guidelines

•    At all times respect your coordinators and/or local hosts advice; they are experienced professionals and are there to ensure you enjoy your experience but not at the expense of others or the wildlife you have come to enjoy
•    If you are unsure or concerned about anything ask your coordinators and/or local hosts
•    Water is a valuable asset in the world. Use water sparingly and wisely.  Herewith are some tips to help you:
•    Never leave water taps running (even when brushing your teeth or washing your hands etc) and close them tightly when finished
•    Report dripping taps to hotel staff or home stay owner, as relevant
•    Do not request bath towels to be changed every day unless really necessary.
•    Shower rather than bathe and do not linger longer than necessary (where the choice is available)
•    When bathing use water sparingly
•    In village home stays, water will have be fetched by hand, in some cases a few kilometers away (not applicable in urban townships), you will normally be provided with a bucket of water for washing which is totally sufficient.
•    Never contaminate natural water sources with litter or chemicals such as soap and shampoo etc there are bio-products available on the market, which are suitable.

Cultural Awareness Guidelines

Remember at all times that in many instances the local culture may differ substantially from your personal views and value systems.  Yours are not necessarily right and theirs wrong just different, respect these differences and enjoy the unique opportunity to broaden your knowledge.

•    Do not go uninformed and unprepared into an interactive cultural experience.  Find out before hand how you should behave and to show appropriate respect. Here your coordinator or local host is available to you.
•    Make sure you are aware of relevant social issues, such as HIV/AIDS, poverty and water etc; pertaining to the area or culture you are visiting.  This will enable you to gain a better perspective.
•    Remember culture is dynamic and not all cultural activities are based on the contemporary way of life but may also be based on a traditional way of life of a bygone era.  Accept these for what they are by acknowledging the difference and value in celebrating past and present cultural differences.
•    Your coordinator and/or local hosts will brief you on the cultural sensitivities specific to the area you are visiting and how you can minimise potential negative impacts of your behaviour on the local community (e.g. most appropriate dress code when in local villages, when attending traditional ceremonies etc.)
•    Take special consideration of and respect for gender issues to which you may have a different viewpoint.  Without a full understanding of the culture, which you cannot hope to acquire on a short visit, you cannot afford to challenge these.  Ask questions in an attempt to get clarity but it is not for you to pass judgment.
•    It is important to note cultural perspectives surrounding nudity.  These differ from area to area in Nepal and between ethnic groups.
•    Take up opportunities to exchange culture with the local community in authentic settings and with willing participants.  There are many cultural tourist traps, which are out of context and for economic exploitation.
•    Always be polite and respectful to local people and show respect by asking before taking pictures. socialtours strongly discourages payment be made for the privilege. When photographing children ask for their parents’ consent first.
•    Begging is a major problem in many areas.  It is a sensitive issue and touches on the huge divide that exists between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.  One thing that we should all agree on is it is a distasteful practice not specifically for the visitor but also for the communities it affects.
•    If you are able, make a personal contribution to a local community development project in the area you have visited (e.g. local school, clinic, farming project, etc.). Channel this through the coordinator and it will go to the right hands and follow the right process. Do not get excited about how cheap development may look like in this part of the world. Every action has long lasting ramifications, hence due care has to be given to channel funds appropriately.
•    Although children may ask you for money or sweets, and it may make you feel good to give, please refrain.  The giving of cash or sweets does not help in the long term – it only perpetuates an underlying problem.  
•    Remember at all times that most children have parents, and as the family providers, any giving should come from the parents.
•    Remember at all times that in any cultural exchange / interaction the desired outcome is for you to depart in the knowledge that you have done your best to leave positive impressions with you hosts.  Be tourism ambassadors!

Responsible Travel Guidelines

As a traveler, you have a role to play in Responsible Tourism. We can provide a framework to achieve our goals but as a traveler your actions whilst on holiday and your choice of tour operator have considerable part to play. We always provide guidelines in our pre-departure information for the places that we visit and you are welcome to talk to our leaders about any specific queries you may have.

The following advice we hope covers some of the more important issues to be aware of during your travels.

Environmental issues

1. Never buy products that exploit wildlife or aid the destruction of species or habitats. Do not buy souvenirs made from endangered species, like ivory; doing so will only encourage the trade.
2. Consider what you really need to take with you. Waste disposal systems in many countries are ill equipped to deal with the increased pressures that tourism brings, and a few simple measures can make an enormous difference to the effect you have on your destination. Where possible remove the wrapping of packaged goods before you leave: unwrap soaps and take bottles out of boxes.
3. Pick up your litter as you would at home: bottles, cans, plastic, cigarette butts, apart from being unsightly, can be deadly to wild animals.
4. Take environmentally friendly detergents and shampoos for hand and hair washing, and use as little as possible. This will help to keep valuable fresh water supplies, rivers, streams and the sea free from pollution. Always take a bucket or similar and wash well away from the water source to prevent the ingredients of soap polluting someone else’s drinking water.
5. Remember that in many places fresh water is a very precious commodity and should not be wasted, so use a minimum for showering and washing.
6. Where any toilet facilities exist, however unsavoury, they should be used. Where they do not, always bury your waste and make sure it is never near, (at least 30m) from a water source.
7. Although we insist that our guides maintain suitable distances from wildlife, allowing the animal a suitable escape distance, there is always a temptation to get closer. For this reason we recommend that you don’t encourage your guide or driver to get closer to the animals than is acceptable and to take the most powerful lens for your camera you can get. Never feed animals and never attempt to touch them.

Social issues

We hope that those who choose to travel with socialtours.com do so with a genuine desire to enhance their holiday by learning more about the people of the host community.

1. It’s quite easy in a small, simple community to appear to be an arrogant rich foreigner, so be aware of the feelings of other people, and try to avoid giving offence. Learning even a little of the local language can help reduce these barriers. Take note of dress codes and appropriate photography. Your PMT can advise you.
2. Always ask permission before taking pictures of people, ritual events or special places like shrines. If people seem reluctant or look away then don’t take a picture. Be careful not to cause offence through thoughtlessness.
3. Ask your guide for advice on how to respond to begging and about appropriate gifts. It is usually better, for example, to give school materials or local food treats as a group, through the leader, to the school head or village head; just handing out sweets encourages children to be a nuisance by begging, and may well ruin their teeth in a place where there is no dental service.
4. Extravagant displays of wealth such as ostentatious jewelry and technological gadgetry can be an incitement to robbery, as well as accentuating the gap between rich and poor.

Economic issues

1. Try to buy locally made crafts and support local skills and do not simply buy on price but on value to you: bargaining for a lower price for both souvenirs and services is often the accepted and expected custom, but don’t drive a hard bargain just for the sake of it.
2. Try the local food and specialties. Many rural areas around the world are under threat from a reduction in their agricultural base and by eating locally produced goods you will help the local farmers as well as the local economy.

Are you Tweeting on Twitter? Your Customers Are

Twitter is rapidly becoming the next big thing in social media – for awhile people didn’t believe in it but it now is behind Facebook and MySpace in the race for daily social networking hits. I did a Twitter campaign for a client recently and tripled their traffic in a month – TRIPLED! Its free and its fun, give it a try.

Below is a great article on Twitter changing the travel industry by Christopher Elliott.

(Tribune Media Services) — “There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people.”

Those words, hastily typed on Janis Krums’ iPhone just after US Airways flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River last month, marked yet another milestone in the microblogging revolution.

Krums, a Sarasota, Florida, entrepreneur, posted his observations and a compelling photo of a half-submerged aircraft to Twitter, where it was seen by hundreds of people before other media organizations knew about the accident.

Twitter and related sites such as BrightKite have been breaking news since they’ve been around. They’ve offered first-hand accounts of events such as the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Virginia Tech shootings and California’s wildfires.

Before Krums scooped the New York media on the biggest news story of the year so far, there was Mike Wilson, aka “2drinksbehind,” who twittered his observations after his Continental Airlines flight slid off the runway and burst into flames in Denver late last year.

“We were in the middle of a normal takeoff when we suddenly veered off,” he reported. Then he posted a picture of the crash. Then he tweeted that Continental kept the survivors “locked up” in its lounge until it could sort everything out. “Won’t even serve us drinks,” he added.

So what? “The world will never be the same,” says Joel Comm, author of the book “Twitter Power: How to Dominate Your Market One Tweet at a Time.” The airline crashes marked a turning point for this emerging technology, according to Comm and other social media experts. Once the domain of a few early adopters, microblogging is now being embraced by the masses. It could change the way we travel.

“The viral nature of interesting posts expand your reach and influence,” says Comm.

He’s right. Seven out of 10 Twitter users joined just last year, according to the latest HubSpot “State of the Twittersphere” report. Somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 Twitter accounts are opened every day. Most microbloggers have a small circle of friends — fewer than 30 — with whom they share their day-to-day thoughts. But as microblogging grows, so will the power and influence of these Twitterers, who blast dispatches not to exceed 140 characters to their network of “followers.”

Microblogging could enlighten and empower travelers, who used to be at the mercy of their airline, car-rental company or hotel. Imagine you’re Continental, and a plane-crash survivor has accused you of keeping him prisoner. What if your vast social network finds out about the bedbugs in your hotel room the moment you check in? Or your friends discover the silly surcharges on your rental vehicle before the car-rental firm’s customer service department has any inkling? Wouldn’t that change everything?

So how do you become a part of this microblogging movement? Here are eight tips from the experts.

Continue reading the full article here: http://www.cnn.com/2009/TRAVEL/02/10/microblogging.travel/index.html

Sign a Petition to Support Voluntourism

The US Center for Citizen Diplomacy recently launched their Initiative for Global Citizen Diplomacy and have written a letter to President Obama urging him to support efforts to increase citizen-to-citizen interactions of many forms International volunteer service is cited as a principal form of citizen diplomacy so this is a key initiative for our industry to support.  Please take a look and forward it along to your networks of supporters.

Click on the link to sign the petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/IGCD2509/petition.html

African Impact Shares Lessons Learned

Lessons learned from voluntourism provider African Impact – how does your organization match up on these 5 points???

The Happy Africa Foundation working in partnership with African Impact in placing “Voluntourists” on the foundation’s sustainable community and conservation development projects have learned several invaluable lessons during the two years we have been working together.

1. Getting started on a new project: Do your homework.

Sustainable community development projects need to be carefully researched before a project is simply started in a community/conservation area. For example: In Livingstone, Zambia, we determined through Community Participatory Based research what the community wanted, but more importantly what they needed. We have tailored our plans for assisting the local communities based on these discussions, which will make our work that much more effective in the long run.

2. With volunteers, you get out what you put in…

“Voluntourists” are carefully placed on projects where they will be of most use to the community but they need to be guided throughout their placement We have found that the greatest results come through the combination of placing a volunteer in a community where they feel needed, but also caring for them at the same time and having structured project systems through which volunteers’ efforts are most effectively distributed within communities.

3. Measured aims and objectives are needed for each project:

This gives volunteers a deeper understanding of the cultural differences, the challenges the community faces, what the foundation and African Impact are working towards and how we plan to get there. It makes the volunteer see the bigger picture and share in the holistic vision of the project. To assist in this, we have what we call the “Project Manual” for each project that volunteers are working with. The manual details the research that went into the project, the history behind it, and what the ultimate goals are.

4. Check yourselves as you go along:

Clear Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (PME) strategies are needed This keeps the projects flexible, dynamic and fluid, adapting to the needs to the community, changing society and cultural demands. When we carry this out, we consult all the stakeholders in the communities we work with (mothers, fathers, youth, elders, teachers, community/social workers, nurses, doctors, government ministers, local councils, other NGO partners), the volunteers, and the project managers themselves. This way we get an organic, grassroots insight into the project and the true feelings and opinions on how it is running and what is happening.

5. Things in Africa take time! – TIA = This is Africa!

99% Of our projects have gone over the initial timeframe we planned for, but the main thing is that we get there in the end! We try to explain this to our volunteers when they arrive, but only after living through it do they really understand and wholeheartedly commit to the goals of the project they are involved with.

Has Voluntourism Progressed Past 1968?


Thanks to Daniela Papi for Tweeting this speech, interesting look back at the perception of international volunteers in 1968 – hopefully we’ve changed that preconception? Have we really? Its a good, honest, thought provoking article – have a look.

The famous ending line (in case you dont want to read the whole thing):

“I am here to entreat you to use your money, your status and your education to travel in Latin America. Come to look, come to climb our mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But do not come to help.”

Ivan Illich gave this address at the 1968 Conference on InterAmerican Student Projects (CIASP) in Cuernavaca, Mexico.


IN THE CONVERSATIONS WHICH I HAVE HAD TODAY, I was impressed by two things, and I want to state them before I launch into my prepared talk.

I was impressed by your insight that the motivation of U.S. volunteers overseas springs mostly from very alienated feelings and concepts. I was equally impressed, by what I interpret as a step forward among would-be volunteers like you: openness to the idea that the only thing you can legitimately volunteer for in Latin America might be voluntary powerlessness, voluntary presence as receivers, as such, as hopefully beloved or adopted ones without any way of returning the gift.

I was equally impressed by the hypocrisy of most of you: by the hypocrisy of the atmosphere prevailing here. I say this as a brother speaking to brothers and sisters. I say it against many resistances within me; but it must be said. Your very insight, your very openness to evaluations of past programs make you hypocrites because you – or at least most of you – have decided to spend this next summer in Mexico, and therefore, you are unwilling to go far enough in your reappraisal of your program. You close your eyes because you want to go ahead and could not do so if you looked at some facts.

It is quite possible that this hypocrisy is unconscious in most of you. Intellectually, you are ready to see that the motivations which could legitimate volunteer action overseas in 1963 cannot be invoked for the same action in 1968. “Mission-vacations” among poor Mexicans were “the thing” to do for well-off U.S. students earlier in this decade: sentimental concern for newly-discovered. poverty south of the border combined with total blindness to much worse poverty at home justified such benevolent excursions. Intellectual insight into the difficulties of fruitful volunteer action had not sobered the spirit of Peace Corps Papal-and-Self-Styled Volunteers.

Today, the existence of organizations like yours is offensive to Mexico. I wanted to make this statement in order to explain why I feel sick about it all and in order to make you aware that good intentions have not much to do with what we are discussing here. To hell with good intentions. This is a theological statement. You will not help anybody by your good intentions. There is an Irish saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions; this sums up the same theological insight.

The very frustration which participation in CIASP programs might mean for you, could lead you to new awareness: the awareness that even North Americans can receive the gift of hospitality without the slightest ability to pay for it; the awareness that for some gifts one cannot even say “thank you.”



To read the full article: http://www.bicyclingfish.com/illich.htm

Getting the Most Out of Google

If you’re a non-profit operating in the voluntourism industry one tool you have to use is Google grants, up to $10K free AdWords spending a month!

Spread the word to all non-profits you know, this is a great service that most dont know about and dont capitalize on.

Here’s the application form: http://services.google.com/googlegrants/application

Here are a few more details from Google: http://www.google.com/grants/details.html

Voluntourism Search Words Vary by Region

There are so many terms that we all use for this industry (volunteer travel, volunteer vacation, voluntourism, volunteer tourism) that it seems most operators never know what to call themselves. Using Google Insight I did a quick survey on what people are searching what terms, hopefully its useful.

Volunteer Vacation – Top states using this term to search: New York, California

Volunteer Travel – Top states using this term to search: Colorado, Mass.

Volunteer Abroad – Top states using this term to search: Mass. and New York

Voluntourism – Top states using this term to search: California all the way