Traditional Non-Profits vs. Volunteer Sending Organizations

Posted on: June 15, 2009 Posted by: Manin Oem Comments: 0

Traditional Non-Profits vs. Volunteer Sending Organizations

Our friend Voluntourism Gal (Alexia Nestora) put this post out on the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s Hub asking for others’ thoughts. What do YOU think?

The voluntourism field seems to be divided when it comes to the non-profits versus for-profits, but what about within the non-profit sector? I have heard a lot of companies describe themselves in different ways – some are development organizations some are volunteer-sending organizations. Now that defining your marketing message is more important than ever, how do you describe your organization?

Never one to stay away from controversy, I found this blurb in an email I received from a friend in the industry and wanted to get your thoughts on it.

My experience in the non-profit world has lead me to see that there two main types of non-profits who work with volunteers. One type is non-profits whose mission is centered around a volunteer and the goal is that they have a meaningful experience while making a difference. Typically these organizations’ main source of income is the volunteer who pays for the service of the non-profit. Then there are organizations that are more like what has traditionally been a non-profit. Their main mission is the project/cause itself and volunteers are simply a part of accomplishing the mission overall. It is important that the volunteer help the cause/project first, a meaningful experience is secondary, though important. These organizations primarily are funded through grants and donations rather than fees for services. Grants and donations are to accomplish the cause or the mission and volunteers are one of many ways to accomplish this.

Volunteer Sending Organizations

Primary Mission: The Volunteer Experience

Secondary Mission: Sustainable Project/Cause

Primary Income: Fees for services

Secondary Income: Donations

Traditional Non Profits

Primary Mission: The Cause/Project (the orphanage, school, park etc)

Secondary Mission: The Volunteer Experience

Primary Income: Donations and Grants

Secondary Income: Fees for services

Tags: voluntourism

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Daniela’s response:

Hi lady! Thanks for always adding good thought-provoking tid-bits!

To group projects in the most closely linked way, I say we take it a step backwards and never make the non-profit/for-profit break you made initially. The above goes for ALL groups, no matter their legal status.

The way I see “voluntourism” operators are in two groups (though of course there is a LOT of grey area):

1) Groups who put the demands of the travelers first, who are driven to offer services that the traveler market is demanding, who create projects and volunteer positions based on the demand not a group coming with them with a need

2) Groups who put the wants/needs of the partner communities/groups first, who are driven to offer services that support sustainable projects from groups they believe in, who turn down projects which travelers are demanding if they are not designed to have a positive impact in the programs they support, who put travelers in positions where there is already a need and a way for the traveler to support on-going work rather than creating something new for the traveler.

I can think of some bigger groups who are legally “non-profits” who are not linked closely with the needs on the ground and are very much driven by traveler demands. I can also think of some for-profits which offer more direct and appropriate support for their development partners than non-profit operators.

Hence, being a NPO or a FPO does not matter as much as HOW you DESIGN your trips. Are you placing volunteers in a place you have well researched, are supporting in ways that will help further the overall mission of the organization, and are turning away the demands of travelers which would be “fun, educational, and exciting” for them, but not so positive for the communities involved? If so, rock on you, no matter what your legal status is.

What are YOUR thoughts?