Our blog below about setting up Travelers' Philanthropy Funds from two years ago remains relevant as ever during the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development in 2017. The IAF has — and will continue — to support projects that promote sustainable tourism as a means to generate income and improve our partners' quality of life.
Monteverde, Costa Rica and the island nation of Grenada are popular tourist destinations. Residents share a desire to maintain the destinations' identities as sustainable, authentic, not overly developed and environmentally and socially responsible. They also view that visitors have an important role to play. This is why residents of both places developed Travelers’ Philanthropy Programs.
Travelers’ Philanthropy, a growing movement worldwide, provides visitors with opportunities to contribute "time, talent and treasure" to projects in the destinations they visit. Monteverde established Latin America’s first destination-wide Travelers’ Philanthropy Program in 2010 with expert advice from the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) and grant funding from the IAF. Since then it has evolved into a Community Fund with Travelers’ Philanthropy as one of its fundraising components.
Over the last six months, we have worked with the Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association (GHTA) to create the Caribbean’s first destination-wide fund centered on visitor donations. With travel support from the IAF, we held a series of ten workshops and consultations in Grenada and helped put together the institutional architecture for launching the Grenada Community Fund. In July, Monteverde hosted, with the IAF’s financial support, a group of five GHTA officials for a highly successful South-South learning exchange. Grenada is now planning to launch its own Fund before the end of the year.
Based on the twin experiences in Monteverde and Grenada, our top 10 points for creating a destination-wide Travelers’ Philanthropy Program are:
1. Build consensus: Begin by discussing the concept with a range of stakeholders, get their feedback and rally support for a unified effort. As Allison Caton from Grenada puts it: “The public must believe that you are passionate about the cause you are talking about.”
2. Find an institutional home, and don’t reinvent the wheel: Incubate the program within a strong existing organization. In Monteverde this was the Monteverde Institute. In Grenada it is the GHTA. This provides a good base for a start-up organization through its pilot phase. In addition, contact existing Travelers’ Philanthropy Funds and learn what you can from them.
3. Establish a representative advisory committee: The program should be overseen by a carefully selected committee that includes well-respected members of the community drawn from a range of sectors. In Monteverde, the original advisory committee was made up of people from the hosting organization as well as community and business leaders. In Grenada it is also important that all geographic areas are represented.
4. Select projects democratically: Set up criteria for selecting projects based on established and verified needs of the community. Make sure that the process cannot be construed as funding pet projects. This may include grandfathering in or making special provisions for programs already being run by individual hotels, but these projects should be transitioned over a period of time to fit the criteria established for all projects. GHTA President Jerry Rappaport stresses the importance of addressing how to “incorporate existing programs into a wider umbrella organization.”
5. Separate operations and donations: Two budgets are required. Donations should always go to support the selected projects with only a minimum percentage (10% - 15%), if any, designated for operations. The operations budget (e.g. staff, office, equipment, transport, marketing materials, etc.) should be covered by grants, special activities and fundraisers. In Monteverde a historical walking tour and discount coupon book are marketed to help sustain operating costs.
6. Have dedicated staff: One or two paid staff, even if they are part-time, is critical to getting the fund up and running smoothly and fairly quickly. In Monteverde, the IAF funded two part-time staff positions. Paid staff can be assisted by volunteers, but someone needs to be in charge day to day.
7. Run a pilot phase: This helps to work out the kinks in the system. It is essential to build confidence and show transparency and accountability. Starting small, getting feedback, working out problems and building trust set a solid foundation from which the fund can grow.
8. Determine collection points: This can be a mix of specific solicitation points (e.g. hotels, restaurants, gift shops, tours, etc.), points of sale where fund materials are sold, online sites and apps. Opt-out programs where small amounts are added to nightly stays and the hotel guest is given the option to have it removed are proving to be steady and reliable sources of funding. Russ Fielden, owner of True Blue Bay Resort in Grenada says no guest has ever declined to pay the $1/night the hotel adds to bills to support a local school. Grenada is also considering collecting from yachters, vacation home owners and the Grenada diaspora that lives mainly in Brooklyn, NY. It is crucial to have multiple touch points where visitors hear about the fund before, during and after their vacation.
9. Evaluate projects: Each project receiving support from the fund must be monitored regularly and evaluated at least once a year to determine how the funds collected were used and whether the project’s stated goals are met.
10. Officially launch the Travelers’ Philanthropy Fund: After the pilot phase, the fund may become a legally constituted independent organization. While it can have government support, it should not be a government organization. It must be broadly seen as honest, fair and democratic, and it must have the flexibility to react quickly to new opportunities.