Tips for turning a vacation into a volunteer opportunity
When most people consider the idea of taking a vacation, one word tends to come to mind: relaxation. With today’s hyperactive lifestyle, a vacation offers much-needed relief from the everyday hustle and bustle of the business world. For many, vacation goals are simple: get as far away from reality as humanly possible, leave all work-related problems and stressors behind, and enjoy time off and 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: voluntourism.
What is voluntourism? As its name indicates, voluntourism combines vacations and volunteering in the visited destination. Instead of extravagant beach getaways, some Americans spend their time with people 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 volunteering is that people of all ages and walks of life can get involved and offer something unique to the cause.
For those who aren’t too interested in traveling abroad or just want to volunteer their time for causes within the United States, there are plenty of volunteer tourism opportunities that exist right here in your own backyard. The US government has a site (serve.gov) dedicated to helping Americans connect with volunteer opportunities. Websites like these offer a starting point for those interested in giving their time and effort to a cause like yours.
In this article, we cover some helpful tips for those interested in throwing a voluntourism event.
keep it affordable
Keeping expenses low can make a volunteer 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 nonprofits and local businesses to cut costs. For example, contact local restaurants or churches to see if they would be willing to provide free or reduced-cost meals for their volunteers. Ideas like these are great ways to cut costs and make the experience that much more enjoyable for your attendees. After all, providing a memorable experience will help build a lasting relationship with the people involved in your cause, and make them much more likely to return in the future.
Research fun things to do in the area
Your location may have more to offer than you think. Don’t write off your organization as a potential volunteer destination just because you think you live in a boring city. Many times, people overlook the many interesting sites in an area. Do your research. Request travel guides for your state, search the internet, and maybe even take a road trip to explore your location with an open mind. Recreational parks, monuments, historical sites and even sporting events are great attractions to consider. Remember to look beyond your backyard – you may find something of interest up to a couple of hours from your location.
Develop a strategy for volunteer management
Volunteer vacations are quite different than normal volunteer opportunities. With volunteers traveling from different states (perhaps even countries) and staying for weeks, a lack of organization on your part can quickly result in a negative experience for the participants. For this reason, it is important to consider how your organization will manage, track, and communicate with volunteers. If your nonprofit still relies solely on a paper-based event management system, it may be time to consider upgrading to an electronic volunteer management system. With an electronic system, your organization can post volunteer opportunities online, allowing participants to find and register for events on their own. Nonprofits around the world are turning to cloud-based systems to reduce administrative work and costs, as well as streamline the entire volunteer management process.
Promote your volunteer vacation
A key step in shaping your volunteer vacation is to develop an effective marketing plan. How will you get the word out about 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 I would draw you to a volunteer opportunity. When designing an online advertisement or promotional flyer, remember to include important information such as: skills required (if applicable), duration of the event, and any additional arrangements made to reduce attendee costs (i.e. food, lodging) . Also, include a list of area attractions so volunteers can plan their free time in advance.
By taking a moment to think outside the box, your organization can easily come up with inexpensive or even free ways to market your volunteer vacations. 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. Also, be sure to promote your opportunity on your own website and check out the possibility of being featured on other volunteer sites. Consider using social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkdIn to get noticed too.
Get started with 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 volunteers and keep them coming back for more.