6 Questions to Ask Before Planning a Philanthropic Trip – Part 2, Vetting Service Providers

Part 1 of our series covered questions about your philanthropy.

Part 2 focuses on the actual execution of the trip, and in particular, questions for the the service provider.

Defining a philanthropic journey. While all gestures of generosity such as the giving of time and skills as well as money are of great value, for the purpose of this article, we will be defining a philanthropic journey as one that involves a donation or intention to donate money.


Single NGO or Non-profit: There are a variety of non-profits who regularly bring donors out to visit their projects. This works well if you have already identified the organization as on you might like to support. You will get an in-depth view on their particular theory of change. The downside is there is a very good chance that you will only be experiencing that one particular theory of change for the entire trip.

Requirements on whether you must be an existing donor to join the trip varies, so inquire before making any further plans.
Group Trip: A group trip has several main benefits. First, it’s an easy alternative to having something crafted especially for you/your family. You benefit from the organizer’s expertise and their connections, and you will probably gain exposure to a variety of organizations focused on a certain issue or geographic area.

Second, you will be able to exchange thoughts and ideas with other people in the group. Different individuals/families have different ways of evaluating organizations and pick up on different details, and you’ll have access to these varying perspectives during your trip to enhance, and maybe even challenge, your thinking.

Third, a group trip is a good choice if you are just beginning to explore a certain issue area or geographic region.

Customized Trip: A customized trip for an individual/family is a deep dive learning opportunity which focuses on their specific interests and the guidelines/philosophy of their philanthropy. With a customized trip, depending on how specific you want to be, you can direct the focus, the geographic location, and the length of the trip. You can decide whether to incorporate a vacation as part of the journey, or not.

Additionally, if you are working with a service provider to craft this trip, they should be able to make appropriate recommendations as to projects to visit and activities that will help to enhance the journey….again, customized to your interests and guidelines.

Question 5: HOW DO I FIND THE RIGHT SERVICE PROVIDER (i.e. consultant, travel company) TO DEVELOP MY TRIP?

Your answers to the questions in Part 1 will likely be a good guide and offer you clarity on the needs that should be fulfilled when planning your trip with a consultant or other service provider.

There are many types of organizations promoting “philanthropic trips” or “travelers philanthropy” including companies whose main focus is on travel planning. Whenever exotic locations are involved, websites and brochures feature beautiful photos and touching stories, but some of the philanthropists I interviewed suggested that you look beyond the marketing and ask some deeper questions.

Philanthropist, Karen Ansara, has taken several philanthropic trips with her family and comments on the time and effort they put into their trips: there is a “direct correlation between how much you put in and how much you get out of it.”

What is the background of the person planning the trip and suggesting projects?
Interestingly enough, this was one of the first, if not the first question a variety of friends in the philanthropy arena would ask when I mentioned various service providers. Inquire about the background of the person working directly with you in identifying projects and coordinating the site visits. Who are they and what kind of experience do they have?

How will the service provider match me with organizations on the ground?
If the trip is being customized for you and the service provider will be identifying organizations for you to visit on the ground, this is an important question.

The key here is the consultation process in advance of planning the journey. Identifying appropriate projects/organizations on the ground requires the service provider to know the client fairly well, so be clear on what that process will be. As Executive Director of the Flora Family Foundation, Steve Toben quarterbacks this process for the family and reaches out to their contacts to identify projects because people in their network, “…know what business we’re in.” In other words, when customizing a trip, your service provider needs to know you and your philanthropic objectives in order to steer you towards organizations that could be a good fit.

Some service providers partner with a certain number of non-profits which streamlines their process, and the client is most likely matched with partner organizations. Others use their trusted networks to research and access a wide variety of projects and organizations in order to better customize connections for clients. Again, this is about what serves you and your philanthropy best.

Who has vetted the projects?
When I mentioned the words “vetted projects” to philanthropists, they were in unanimous agreement that this was important to them, even though they intend to ask rigorous questions themselves. Whether your preference is big multi-national organizations or small grassroots programs, if this is important to you, ask the questions: Who has evaluated the organization? What is their process? How is impact measured?

As stated in the previous question, some service providers partner with a certain number of non-profit organizations, while others may receive referrals from a network of trusted contacts in the industry. Either way, since “vetting” takes many different forms, you should ask about the vetting process and if there is any additional fee associated with it.

How does the service provider ensure that the interaction you have with the various organizations and their beneficiaries is respectful and appropriate?
Every part of the process should be developed to ensure respectful interaction for all concerned. It starts with evaluating a client’s interests and intent then successfully identifying projects that match a client’s values, interest areas and objectives. In other words, make sure that your site visits are focused and aligned with the issue areas, goals and guidelines of your philanthropy.

From there, it’s about how you are prepared for the trip: background on country and culture, context of the visit, people you will be meeting, and cues on things like protocol and photography. We find that other philanthropy-focused groups like Active Philanthropy in Berlin who have run a variety of group expeditions, also find that providing a strong context for the journey from the outset is key: “The purpose of the visit is about the NGO and the target community and how they can be supported.” In other words, your service provider should guide its clients towards purposeful observation so that they can make informed decisions about grants.

Transparency regarding how the service provider makes their money.
This recommendation came directly from the philanthropists themselves and confirmed by other consultants in the industry. The bottom line is this: while exact numbers don’t always need to be revealed, it should be clear to you exactly how your service provider makes their money. Whether it is a consulting fee, a premium added on to the trip cost or some compensation from the organizations being visited, the client should understand, what’s in it for the service provider.

What broad considerations should you make with regard to security?
When considering places to visit, research on the stability of the government and any recent violence or crime. While bodyguards are often not necessary in visiting most places, your service provider should be taking cues from the ground as far as appropriate security measures, especially from individuals who are very familiar with the communities you will be visiting. Some projects are not located in well-trafficked places or tourist areas, so you really need people familiar with the area to weigh in here.

With regard to managing information, let’s simply say consider limiting the number of people who have access to your itinerary, especially your full itinerary, and other information. Ask the service provider as well. Also, keeping a fairly low profile while on the ground; we talk our clients through all this.

These are not tremendously difficult things, but simple steps can go a long way in ensuring your safety on a trip.


~ by Maryann Fernandez on December 8, 2009.

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