When most people consider the idea of taking a vacation, one word comes to mind: relaxation. With the hyper-busy lifestyle that exists today, a vacation provides much-needed relief from the daily hustle and bustle of the business world. For many, vacation goals are simple: get as far away from reality as possible, leave behind all work-related problems and stressors, and enjoy the free time to relax with family and friends. While many Americans still prefer the more “traditional” type of vacation, a relatively new trend is gaining popularity in the travel industry today: voluntourism.
What is volunteering? As its name suggests, voluntourism combines holidays and volunteering in the destination visited. Instead of extravagant beach getaways, some Americans are sharing their time with those in need. In fact, according to some recent studies, the number of organizations offering volunteer vacations has doubled in recent years. One of the many benefits of voluntourism is that people of all ages and lifestyles can participate and contribute something unique to the cause.
For those who don’t like traveling overseas too much or just want to volunteer their time for causes in the United States, there are plenty of voluntourism opportunities that exist right here in your own backyard. The US government has a site (serve.gov) dedicated to helping connect Americans with volunteer opportunities. Websites like these provide a starting point for those who want to dedicate their time and effort to a cause like yours.
In this article, we cover some useful tips for those looking to start a voluntourism event.
keep it affordable
Reducing expenses can make a voluntourism trip even more enjoyable. Every effort should be made to reduce the expenses incurred by your volunteers. Think creatively about ways your organization can partner with other local nonprofits and businesses to reduce costs. For example, contact local restaurants or churches to see if they would be willing to offer discounted or free meals to your volunteers. Ideas like these are great ways to cut costs and make the experience even better for your attendees. After all, providing a memorable experience will help build a lasting relationship with those involved in your cause – and make them all the more likely to return in the future.
Look for fun things to do in the area
Your location may have more to offer than you think. Don’t exclude your organization as a potential voluntourism destination just because you think you live in a boring city. Often people overlook the many interesting sites in an area. Do your research. Ask for travel guides for your state, search the internet, and maybe even take a road trip to explore your location with an open mind. Amusement parks, monuments, historic sites, and even sporting events are great attractions to keep in mind. Don’t forget to look beyond your backyard – you may find something of interest up to a few hours from your location.
Develop a volunteer management strategy
Volunteer vacations are very different from normal volunteer opportunities. With volunteers traveling from different states (perhaps even countries) and staying for several weeks at a time, a lack of organization on your part can quickly lead to a negative experience for participants. For this reason, it is important to think about how your organization will manage, track and communicate with volunteers. If your nonprofit still relies solely on a paper-based event management system, it might be time to consider updating it to a electronic volunteer management system. With an electronic system, your organization can post volunteer opportunities online – allowing participants to browse and register for events on their own. Nonprofits around the world are turning to cloud-based systems to reduce labor and administrative costs, as well as streamline the entire volunteer management process.
Promote your volunteer vacation
A key step in forming your volunteer vacation is developing an effective marketing plan. How will you publicize your event? Marketing is all about finding creative ways to sell your product, or in this case your “vacation”, to your target audience. Put yourself in the shoes of those you are trying to attract. Think of the things that would attract You to a volunteer opportunity. When designing an online advertisement or promotional brochure, remember to include important information such as: skills required (if applicable), duration of the event and any additional provisions that has been taken to reduce costs for your participants (i.e. food, accommodation). Also include a list of area attractions so willing tourists can plan their free time in advance.
If you take a moment to think outside the box, your organization can easily find inexpensive or even free ways to market your volunteer vacation. For example, networking with organizations outside of your area is an effective (and free) method that can help attract people from a different geographic region to your event. Likewise, be sure to promote your opportunity on your own website and check for the possibility of being listed on other voluntourism sites. Also consider using social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkdIn to grab attention.
Start your Voluntour event
When well organized and strategically planned, volunteer vacations benefit everyone involved. Providing a positive and memorable experience can help your organization develop lasting relationships with volunteer tourists and keep them coming back for more.