Mike On Purpose

Finding purpose in the twenty-first century

Profiting off the good will of others

Posted by mikeonpurpose on June 11, 2010


When I first started researching voluntourism operators late last year, I went into the process with a certain amount of naivete.   I tended to associate volunteer work with non-profit organizations.  People who freely donate their time and money and efforts for a cause beyond themselves are not doing that for monetary gain, and it had not occurred to me–yes, I know, I was naive–that there might be voluntourism operators making a buck out of people’s freely given good intentions.  I’m not sure why I was so naive; the cynic in me certainly knows better.  After all, there are people willing to make a buck out of anything.  So why should this be any different?

I was lucky in my own research before taking a volunteer vacation, because I stumbled almost right away into a reputable non-profit organization that organized my trip to Xiloxochico, Mexico.   My experience with that organization was wonderful.  It is certainly not the only non-profit out there that manages volunteer vacations, to be sure.

I don’t think that most of these for-profit operators make a secret of their for-profit status.  But they don’t exactly scream “We’re a for-profit operator” on their web sites either.  You have to dig a little to figure out what is going on.  In my case, because it hadn’t occurred to me at first that this might be an issue, I didn’t even think about researching the non-profit status of voluntourism operators that I found on the web.  Now, of course, I know better, and it is one of the first things that I check when I discover a new organization of potential interest.  (One starting point: the idealist.org website has an article that lists a few of the more prominent for-profit volunteer-sending organizations.)

One thing to bear in mind that the term “voluntourism” encompasses a fairly broad spectrum of philosophies and approaches.  Some voluntourism operators are really boutique travel companies that offer luxurious accommodations, supplemented with a bit of volunteerism as a side activity.  There also can be a difference in various organizations in how focused they are, if at all, on deeper social and economic issues that affect the local communities.

It seems to me, though, that to the extent that any company or organization markets itself to those people who want to do good and to offer themselves freely towards that end, making a profit out of that effort doesn’t sit well with me.

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One Response to “Profiting off the good will of others”

  1. […] to work with is, to say the least, very important.  For reasons I have identified elsewhere, I choose not to deal with for-profit voluntourism operators.  (A fair percentage of for-profit operators seem to be based in the UK for some reason, although […]

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