Saturday, March 17, 2007

Study Mission Tours: Indulgence or Investment?

I just received an invitation to travel to Guatemala with Ruth Messinger, director of a wonderful organization, the American Jewish World Service. Ruth is a dynamo and I've no doubt the experience would be inspiring, perhaps life-changing. The timing is off for me this year, but the real question I grapple with is the cost verses donating the money directly. It is $3200 plus airfare. I could afford this, but it seems self-indulgent to spend all that money on my own travels. Lots of staff time is invested in planning and running these trips. Unless I am am prepared to donate a chunk, I feel ambivalent about participating in this or any other philanthropy's study trips.
I realize that from the non-profit's point of view, they are "friend-raising", which is a very effective prelude to fundraising (also called "donor cultivation"). They probably don't have a minimum gift in mind, and are committed to educating their donors. Getting better acquainted with their staff, their work, and the others is probably a very stimulating and enriching experience. I am on the fence on this one. The Heifer Fund has study missions as well. They, too, do amazing work in the world. But I have the same hesitations.
Anyone have thoughts on how to think about study missions to exotic places? Is this travel, education, philanthropy, or what, exactly?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I understand your dilemma as I asked myself the same question last year when I was contemplating going on an American Jewish World Service study tour to India. I decided to go and now think I absolutely made the right decision. You are right--the experience was inspiring. I came back from the trip with a much more profound understanding of the way that the work AJWS does effects people's lives and why supporting AJWS is worth my time and enthusiasm as well as my money. In fact, when I came home I had a parlor meeting in my apartment for about 60 friends to share my experience with them and to introduce them to the work of AJWS. I have since become quite active in the organization and have influenced a number of other people to support it. If I had just made a donation of the price of the trip none of that would have happened. Organizations like AJWS need supporters who have some first hand exposure to their work that can't be gotten without actually getting out of this country and into those places where the work is being done. So, I hope you go to Guatemala. It's not self indulgent. It's important.