6 Questions to Ask Before Planning a Philanthropic Trip, Part 3 – Activities

Question 6: WHAT KIND OF ACTIVITIES WILL HELP MAKE A TRIP MORE MEANINGFUL AND HELP GUIDE PHILANTHROPIC DECISION-MAKING?

GUIDED DISCUSSIONS ON THE GROUND: Philanthropist, Karen Ansara, shares that these in-the-field experiences “inspire as many questions as there are answers.” Often people leave for their trip with preconceived ideas, only to find that once in-the-field, the game has changed and they need to shift their thinking to incorporate new information.

That’s why guided discussions on the ground can be invaluable: it allows you to process the information and emotions from these in-the-field experiences and connect it to your philanthropic initiatives. It’s not just about going to see a project and being moved, but also thinking creatively about your role in the solution. Guided informal discussions during a trip can be an effective way to launch a thought process during the trip and bridge it to actions to be taken after the trip.

The key is finding the right person to facilitate that discussion in an objective way. More often than not, it will not be a representative from the organization you are visiting on the ground, but rather a trusted advisor, a trustee, or someone else who can help balance the objectives of your philanthropy vs. the needs and capacity of the organization.

BRINGING/DISTRIBUTING SUPPLIES: “Fantastic yet misplaced generosity can be so dangerous. I am reminded of the huge influx of donated clothing from abroad to Zambia in the 1980’s had the unforeseen impact of totally crippling the local textile industry. We must never forget that for every action there is a reaction.” –Julian Page, Livingstone Tanzania Trust.

While the quote above references a fairly large amount of donated clothing, it reminds us that before committing to bringing supplies from abroad, ask: “Can this be purchased locally?” So in addition to supporting the program with needed items, you can also support the local economy.

It’s also a great idea to get an updated priority list of needed items from the organization to ensure that you will be providing things they need vs. what you think they need. (i.e. does the school really need another book donation or more notebooks, or would they rather have some new desks for a classroom) Many organizations are happy to take whatever you are willing to offer – you are the one donating so you have the power. But getting information from the field and including them in the decision-making process is a smart way to ensure that your efforts are truly useful to the organization because they are the ones who have the capacity to best assess needs and priorities.

SERVICE OPPORTUNITIES: Service opportunities are a great addition if you are open to rolling up your sleeves and work elbow to elbow in the community. It also enables philanthropists to experience a different level of personal contribution that goes beyond money.

On the flip side, I’ve heard anecdotes about service opportunities that have more volunteers than work to be done or have been “manufactured” for the donor but gave didn’t really deliver in providing real interaction or insight into the project.

So how do you find a meaningful opportunity to contribute time, skills and energy and does not overburden the organization’s staff? Here are a few considerations:

  • Months in advance, work with the person planning your trip to identify a possible service opportunity with one of the organizations you are interested in visiting. The goal is to find out what work is currently being done by the organizations and their current needs for outside help vis-à-vis your (or your group’s) skills?
  • What amount of time are you willing to commit – half a day, several days, more?
  • How many people from your group will be involved?
  • Be realistic about your comfort level for doing work on the ground – i.e. will you be working outside, do you mind getting dirty, do you have any limitations doing physical labor, is your contribution more administrative – but allow yourself a little room to stretch your boundaries.
  • Sometimes NO is a reasonable answer. For some organizations who are very specialized or are not set up to incorporate outside volunteers, your request may not be possible. Think about other organizations in a similar field or geographic region, or perhaps considering a longer service opportunity which will allow for some training and give you the chance to see the real day-to-day successes and challenges of the organization.

In an evolving arena, this conversation has been started with the idea that other voices would offer their insight, ideas and experiences. It is only with open and engaged dialogue that we will be able to refine each other’s thinking and develop win-win situations for both philanthropists and social enterprises.

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~ by Maryann Fernandez on February 4, 2010.

One Response to “6 Questions to Ask Before Planning a Philanthropic Trip, Part 3 – Activities”

  1. Thanks this is very valuable advice to make the trip meaningful to both the traveler/donor and the nonprofit.
    I especially liked the comment regarding asking the organization what they need. Often it is much different than what we would imagine.

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