Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

August 13, 2012

Keep Up a 24/7 Momentum for Charitable Giving

Jean Butler, Executive Director, Toy Industry Foundation
The holiday season is often the time of year when many charitable organizations receive the bulk of their donor contributions, but most non-profits and foundations realize that it’s important to keep the fundraising momentum going throughout the year.

As the philanthropic arm of the North American toy industry, the Toy Industry Foundation (TIF) knows that any day can be a holiday when a new toy or game lights up the face of a deserving child. Year-round at TIF, we rely on a steady stream of product donations from toy companies and monetary contributions from supporters to sustain our mission of making play possible for disadvantaged kids, bringing a sense of normalcy and fun to their lives.
For organizations that may also be struggling to maintain the momentum for year-round giving, we’re pleased to share some tips and suggestions used by TIF to keep donors engaged:

·         Reach Donors “Off Peak” When your messaging reaches a potential donor during a time when they aren’t being inundated with other charity solicitations (think summer vs. holiday), they are more likely to “hear” what you are saying.
·         Make a Connection Stay true to your mission, but consider how working with other organizations or donating where there is an extreme need can help make your undertaking part of a larger story.

TIF’s Play Comforts partnership with Boys and Girls Club Military Services, for example, has taken us to dozens of U.S. military bases – focusing first on those with the highest deployment rates – to deliver toys to children dealing with the stress of having a parent in the military. A strong emotional connection to our troops drives the outpouring of support from the toy industry and from others who want to know how they can help us say “thank you” to the soldiers and their families.
·         Develop a Personal “Call to Action”
Give people the opportunity to actively get involved in your organization and it will help them feel like they’re personally making a difference.

For toy companies – who are in business to make kids happy – this has been incredibly special because they know that the toys they donate are going directly into the hands of children who may not otherwise have the opportunity to play.

For the public, TIF recently launched “Make a Stand for Kids” to encourage children (and communities) to set up and run their own lemonade stands. Proceeds are donated to support the Foundation’s efforts to get toys into the hands of deserving kids – empowering kids to help other kids.
·         Leverage Other Gifting Occasions Encourage donors to give a gift that gives back. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays and holidays are all great opportunities for a contribution to be made in a loved one’s name to a charity they’re passionate about … and much more appreciated than the extra kitchen gadget or tie that mom and dad don’t need.
·         Don’t Be Shy Whether it’s through updates on your website, mailings, e-newsletters or through social networks, it’s important to communicate with donors – and potential donors – about the successes and struggles you’ve had throughout the year. Remind your donors that their contributions are making an impact. Detail the milestones, quantify your impact, and post press coverage you may have received. And remember… a picture or video is worth a thousand words.

There are many ways for nonprofits to connect with their donor base throughout the year. Some of the techniques that work well for your organization won’t work well for others, and vice versa. But one common thread runs through all our organizations … it’s vitally important to remain connected with your donor base, to keep a conversation going with your supporters, and to let them know just how important their support and involvement is in advancing a cause where you share a mutual passion.

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August 3, 2012

Voluntourism. The road to nowhere?

Dawn Roberts

The ad pictured an oddly verdant landscape in the African Serengeti. Calm and well fed animals are captured roaming gracefully against a “wish you were here” backdrop of peace and plenty in the wild.
The copy reads: “Feeding African lion cubs, building homes in a Third World country, or helping preserve Caribbean reefs while diving.” This is how I was introduced to the concept of VolunTourism, The business of combining vacation & volunteering. It’s the latest way for the travel agents to package what they refer to as a life changing experience, for the starting fee of $1200.00.

When we ship developing countries a plane full of well-intentioned but naive VolunTourists, are we making sure that the benefit is mutual? Or that anyone benefits? Are we on a collective road to nowhere, compelled by Western Guilt and clever marketing?

The question gets darker when you look at it through the lens of tourism. It's a sector hit hard by digital discount sites such as travelocity and KAYAK. These have made much of the former work of travel agents obsolete. 

There is an uneasy relationship between profit-driven tour providers and charitable organizations. There is no doubt that VoluTourism has been painted in shades of greed by critics, who have valid points to make. It’s easier to count the ways short-term paying VolunTourists hurt a local economy and people than those who have helped. In the past the VSO (UK’s largest charity and volunteer organization) called touring organizations “badly planned and executed schemes” that benefitted no one but the tour providers themselves.

It would be inaccurate to assume that every VolunTourist organization was created chiefly as a cash cow, good intentions be damned. VolunTourism can be beneficial to the extent that projects are completed on a continuum and fill a true need in the host community. One argument against VolunTourism uses the example of the same Nairobi schoolhouse being painted seven times by VolunTourists. Although a story like this makes the rounds quickly, there are hundreds of testimonials on every VolunTour site expressing sincere gratitude for the work done by citizen-volunteers on holiday.

This is not a regular vacation and is not marketed as one. While there is a payoff at the end in terms of having done a good deed. The journey is not an easy one. Each trip requires a set of immunizations and a baseline level of health. Certain skills are a prerequisite in order to be accepted into particular VolunTourist groups. This is how it must be if VolunTourism is to survive and avoid being pegged as one more example of western elitism & disrespect.

The desire to “do good” may be inherent to man. Scientists theorize that the instincts toward moral and fair behavior are necessary to survival of the species. Some religions tell us that humans must stay close to their teachings or stray into the dangerous anarchy that is the dark heart of our nature. Regardless of which school of thought you fall into one thing is certain, man is a complex set of sometimes contrary thoughts and deeds.

Recession and 8.9% unemployment aside, even the poorest Americans have access to resources that the majority of the rest of the world do not. Some say this makes for a level of guilt that rises to the surface of our collective consciousness. That is one part of explaining the appeal of VolunTourism. Western guilt on top of middle class guilt is a strong motivator to consider combining vacation time with volunteering. In principle it sounds like a great idea. Get yourself to Somalia or the Ozark Mountains and begin helping your fellow man. Earn your “Get into heaven E ticket” and have the pictures to show for it.

There are many ways to help heal the world. It is ultimately a personal decision which should be considered with the level of respect that healing our collective battered soul deserves. There is no one keeping score of your good deeds. I seriously doubt there is a bouncer at the gates of the hereafter. If you find yourself there, you’ve already earned your seat in the room.

Further resources for Voluntours:

Dawn Roberts is VP of Business Development for, a tech company that works with causes, their supporters and brands. Before entering the cause marketing sphere she founded and ran the Partnership Marketing Division at Universal Music Group. Dawn lives in Brooklyn and Woodstock, NY and has a dog named Cosmo. She can be reached at