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Impact Travel Is On the Rise, and Here’s How Your Nonprofit Can Benefit

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By Hannah Durbin

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Published July 28, 2022 Reading Time: 6 minutes

Despite rising inflation rates, nonprofits have an opportunity to capitalize on the recent uptick in impact travel. You can use this timely trend to grow brand awareness, boost volunteerism, and ultimately strengthen your global impact.

According to the 2022 American Express Travel Trends Report, 62% of people plan to take 2 to 4 trips in 2022. It also shows that 78% of people want to positively impact the communities they’re visiting.

Below we break down what it means to travel with purpose, how it’s impacting nonprofits, and unique ways your organization can take advantage to fuel your mission for the long term.

What Is Impact Travel?

Impact travel is defined by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) as “tourism that makes strategic contributions of time, talent, and treasure to social and environmental projects in destinations.” Simply put, it’s the act of traveling to positively impact the people and places you’re visiting.

There are many different forms of impact travel. Here are a few examples:

  • Locally-sourced travel aims to support local businesses over large corporations. This might include eating at family-owned restaurants, staying at a local bed and breakfast, or shopping at a neighborhood boutique
  • Eco travel is intended to substantially decrease or eliminate a traveler’s individual environmental impact. This could mean booking a room at an eco-friendly hotel or selecting more eco-conscious transportation methods to reach a destination
  • Volunteer travel offers people opportunities to volunteer for organizations in local communities. Depending on where they’re traveling, this could take the form of construction projects, childcare, or offering assistance in a medical setting

People are increasingly seeking immersive cultural experiences that leave local communities better than they found them. This trend presents a massive opportunity for nonprofits to educate global audiences about their cause, grow their volunteer base, and acquire passionate supporters who believe in their mission.

4 Ways to Capitalize on the Impact Travel Trend at Your Nonprofit

Sixty-two percent of people want to be more thoughtful about where and how they travel. We’re breaking down four unique opportunities to attract these global travelers by offering the immersive, rewarding opportunities they crave.

1. Establish partnerships with purpose-driven hotels 

Finding the right accommodations plays a large role in the overall travel experience. Rather than hunting down a resort with the finest amenities or most upscale dining options, travelers are becoming increasingly drawn to hotels that share their socially-conscious values.

The first step in establishing any partnership is identifying the right match. To give you an idea of what to look for when seeking your ideal partner, here’s an example of how Soul Community Planet (SCP) Hotels joined forces with three like-minded nonprofits to make a stronger impact.

See It in Action

Soul Community Planet example of impact travel

SCP Hotels launched its trademark Every Stay Does Good program to cater to travelers’ interest in supporting philanthropic-minded businesses. Through this program, the hotel has established intentional partnerships with charitable organizations that align with its core beliefs.

Every time a guest stays at an SCP Hotel, they:

  • Provide one adolescent with well-being tools and resources to build life-long mental health skills through WE Well-Being
  • Light the home of one family caring for a critically-ill child for 24 hours through Miracles for Kids
  • Plant one tree in an unnaturally deforested area through One Tree Planet

Make It Happen at Your Nonprofit

Similar to establishing local partnerships, your nonprofit can identify and secure a hotel partner with intentional planning. Here are a few suggestions on how to get started:

  • Define what you’re hoping to achieve through the partnership
  • Nail down exactly what your organization can provide to the partner in return
  • Begin your search for partners that align with your values
  • Prepare all necessary materials to pitch your idea to potential partners (e.g., initial outreach email, pitch deck, ideas for how you’ll promote the partnership)

2. Promote engaging volunteer opportunities

Volunteer travel, or voluntourism, is one of the most powerful ways a traveler can immerse themself in a new culture. Attract travelers who are seeking opportunities to interact with locals by brainstorming a few impactful volunteer events.

The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau launched a statewide voluntourism program in 2021 to captivate travelers’ interest and inspire them to get involved in the organization’s timely projects. We dug into the details of their program to fuel your creative thinking.

See It in Action

Malama Hawaii example of impact travel

In partnership with the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau launched the Malama Hawaii Program. The program sets out to encourage travelers to give back to the islands and leave them better than when they arrived.

Travelers qualify for a special discount or even a free night from a partnering hotel when they participate in a dedicated volunteer activity. Volunteers may find themselves restoring a native Hawaiian fishpond, picking up debris from hiking trails or parks, or cleaning up Maui’s coastline.

Make It Happen at Your Nonprofit

One of the most critical pieces of engaging volunteers is ensuring they know the opportunity exists. When determining how to promote your volunteer events, consider these ideas:

  • Build a series of posts tailored to each of your nonprofit’s top traffic-driving social media channels to expose your organization to wider audiences
  • Craft a series of compelling emails that encourage existing donors to spread the word about new voluntourism opportunities with their personal and professional networks
  • Allocate budget to promote volunteer activities through strategic advertisements in established tourism publications

3. Launch a volunteer referral program

The concept of mobilizing your supporters to advocate on behalf of your mission can be applied to volunteer opportunities as well. We know that time-based peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns on Classy raise 3.8X more than any other time-based campaigns. When we break that down, it links directly back to the power of tapping into your donors’ networks to achieve more.

Capitalize on your supporters’ influence on their friends, family, colleagues, and social media communities. When you provide individuals with photos, videos, and value points to touch on, they can more organically recruit new volunteers who might not have signed up without their nudge.

See It in Action

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The American Red Cross leans into its Volunteer Connection Program to help spread the word about its need for hands-on support. The program encourages all forms of volunteer opportunities and encourages supporters to talk to people in their network about their personal volunteer experiences. The goal is to have them share a list of the nonprofit’s upcoming opportunities to help bolster their volunteer base.

When supporters complete the referral form, they’re entered into a drawing for a bag of Red Cross merchandise. The organization holds drawings quarterly, and there is no limit to the number of entries supporters can submit.

Make It Happen at Your Nonprofit

Incentivizing donors and fundraisers with free gifts often motivates them to do more for your cause. Consider the potential referral rewards you could offer your supporters for connecting you with a new volunteer. Here are some ideas:

  • Social media or newsletter shoutouts
  • Branded swag
  • Early-bird registration to your next event
  • VIP party
  • Travel discounts with any established hotel or business partners

4. Connect with travel influencers

Influencer marketing heavily impacts people’s attitudes toward particular products, causes, and timely events. It also inspires people’s lifestyle choices and daily decisions, and travel is no exception.

Travel influencers can help increase awareness of your cause by inspiring their followers to engage with your volunteer opportunities. Ultimately, that exposure can expand your online reach in minutes.

See It in Action

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Travel influencer and blogger, Pilar Noriega partnered with @worldpackers to promote unique volunteering opportunities to her audience of over 22,000 Instagram followers. Worldpackers connects millions of conscientious travelers to the people and positive social impact experiences they’re searching for.

Make It Happen at Your Nonprofit

Keep a pulse on trending travel influencers who could help elevate your mission. Here are a few tips to consider when conducting your search for the right influencer to support your efforts:

  • Have a clear set of goals in mind
  • Consider your shared values and causes
  • Start with thorough research
  • Search through relevant hashtags on social media
  • Focus on micro-influencers instead of the big names
  • Conduct effective email outreach
  • Consider automating your vetting process

Meet Supporters at the Intersection of Travel and Philanthropy

Storytelling is critical in elevating your mission to global impact travelers. Getting your cause in front of the right audiences is the first step, but inspiring them to take action requires more than just posting a volunteer opportunity on Instagram.

  • Prioritize social media to engage in timely conversations about the value your organization offers. Identify which channels are most popular among today’s travelers, and tailor your strategy to engage these individuals in a way that resonates
  • Host engaging virtual events or webinars to expand your reach beyond your local community and educate wider audiences on the tangible impact of your work
  • Seek out strategic partnerships to tap into new networks and advance your cause with the support of like-minded businesses
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