Philanthropy for the Adventurer: Making a Difference in Unusual Ways

by Chris on October 20, 2009 · 12 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

Adventure Philanthropy

Most of us spend our vacations in predictable fashion.  We pack up and head off to Disney World for a week, or we spend a few days at the hunting cabin with the boys, or we throw the kids in the van and speed off to Yellowstone.  While our holiday choices are often wide ranging, there is usually a common theme: Time to get away, relax, and have some “me” time. And what’s wrong with that?  Absolutely nothing.  Chances are you work a hard job with long hours, and you’ve likely earned a little pampering and relaxation.  The problem is, at the end of that vacation you are right back where you started, often with nothing more to show for it than an empty wallet and a sunburn.  Now the holiday is over, you’re back to work, and the countdown to next year’s vacation begins.  Isn’t there a better way you could have spent that time?

“The only gift is a portion of thyself.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

The most rewarding way to spend your time is to reach out and help your fellow man.  It’s a strange paradox, but the guy who uses his day off to rebuild his elderly neighbor’s dilapidated front porch feels way better about himself and his life than the guy who spent his day waiting in line for Space Mountain.  And yet, at the same time, no one should be asked to selflessly sacrifice all of their time away from the grind of the working world.  After all, everybody needs a break every once in a while.  Fortunately, there is a happy medium that allows us to help others while still enjoying our time off:  Adventure Philanthropy.

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

-Albert Pike

Adventure philanthropy opportunities are essentially volunteer projects or events which provide support either to a charitable organization or directly to a targeted cause while providing a memorable adventure or challenge for the volunteers themselves.  Adventure philanthropy can be broken down into two basic categories, each with endless opportunities for you and yours to help those in need, all while experiencing the adventure of a lifetime.

Extreme Event Sponsorship

For the thrill seekers among us, extreme event sponsorship may be just what the doctor ordered.  Essentially, a volunteer or group of volunteers takes on an extreme challenge (such as completing an Ironman race, climbing a difficult mountain, etc) and then enlists sponsors who donate money in support of their efforts, with all funds going to a designated charity.  Such events are often organized by the charities themselves, removing much of the logistical burden from the volunteer’s shoulders.  Below you will find just a few common options for extreme event volunteering, with literally thousands more being just a Google search away.

Climb Kilimanjaro

Run a Marathon

Trek the Great Wall of China

Climb to Everest Base Camp


Adventure Racing

Volunteer Vacations

Let’s face it, marathons and mountain climbs aren’t for everyone.  For the less “extreme” among us who are still looking to help out while having a bit of adventure, another option exists.  Volunteer vacations (both domestic and international) offer participants the chance to step far out of their comfort zones and fully immerse themselves in another culture, all the while working in conjunction with a chosen organization in an effort to improve the everyday lives of the people within that culture.  Packages are often all inclusive and are organized by the volunteer travel company.  Some examples of volunteer vacations include:

Spending a week in Uganda helping build a school or church

Assisting in the remodeling of an orphanage in Rio de Janeiro

Spend the week volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity home building site

Choosing Your Charity

The first step in taking on an extreme charity challenge or volunteer vacation is to choose the charity or cause that you want your efforts to benefit.  If you are taking on an extreme challenge and you plan on raising funds for a specific charity, choosing your organization is easy.  Simply decide on a cause that you feel compelled to support, compile a list of charities dedicated to that cause, and then gather more information on the charities on your list so that you can make an educated decision.  Once you have narrowed your selection down to a few favorites, be sure to check out your options on Charity Navigator, a charity evaluation website which gives you full access to every registered charity’s expenditures, including specific information on how much of the funds raised in the name of the charity go directly to the charity’s projects.

For those who want to avoid the logistical elements of planning your own trip or event, several charities organize extreme challenge and volunteer vacation packages for small groups which take much of the planning burden off of the volunteers, allowing them to focus on fundraising and preparation.  If you have a specific charity in mind, contact them to see if they already have programs like this in place, and if not, if they would be willing to help you organize one.  Also, check the bottom of this post for a list of links that will get you started.

Raising Your Sponsorship Money

Typically (though not always) those who are embarking on a volunteer vacation pay their own way.  Most volunteer vacations are considered a substitute for a normal vacation, so the cost is usually similar to what you would expect to pay to be on holiday for the same length of time.  Challenge events, on the other hand, are specifically designed to be funded through the personal fundraising efforts of the volunteer. There are lots of options for raising your money, the only real limit being how creative you can be.  Here’s a few to get you started:

Host a charity car wash

Street collecting around the holidays (A great excuse to break in your Santa outfit)

Supermarket bag packing

Sponsor a quiz night at a local pub/bar

Organize a neighborhood yard sale

My Challenge Event Fundraising Experience

I recently spent about three weeks in Tanzania, where I and a team of college age students climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in the name of Childreach International, a London-based charity whose mission  includes the construction and improvement of primary and vocational training schools in the Kilimanjaro region in Tanzania and elsewhere.  In order to join the climb, all the members of the team had to raise 2200 British Pounds (about $3500) each.  From that amount, the charity guaranteed us that at minimum, 50% of the total would go directly to the charity, and likely a great deal more, depending on how cheap they could purchase plane tickets, find accommodation, etc.  In addition, all money raised above and beyond the initial £2200 would go directly to the charity.  I was provided with an account for a fundraising website where people could donate, so I never had to handle any of the money personally.  From the moment someone donated on my page, the money was transferred directly to the charity.

To raise the funds, I wrote formal appeals to close friends and family members first.  Once those resources had been exhausted, I branched out and appealed to several local businesses at home and at school, offering them sponsorship opportunities that would double as advertising exposure.  Finally, I made a good bit of the money by volunteering as a charity bag packer at a local grocery store, where I would pack customer’s groceries for them, usually inspiring them to drop their spare change or a buck or two in my charity bucket at the end of the register.

Other members of my group tried a few different fundraising methods.  A popular fundraiser that many had success with was organizing a pub crawl and charging a flat rate for anyone who wanted in, a portion of which went to their fundraising and the rest of which covered the crawl.  Several members held charity concerts where they convinced local bands to play for free or cheap with gate fees benefitting the charity, and one guy even organized a speed dating night which turned out to be very successful as well.

Have an Adventure While Helping the World

The world outside your comfort zone is waiting for you.  It’s filled with exhilaration and adventure, but more importantly, it’s filled with people who need your help.  In tough economic times like these when we’re focused on looking out for ourselves and riding out the storm, it’s harder to think about helping others.  Remember, however, that the majority of the world’s population lives their daily lives in a state of poverty that most of us cannot even comprehend, let alone relate to.  Helping those in need is easier than you think, and with a little creativity it can even turn into quite the adventure. 

“Often I go into some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am.  There is no mystery about why this should be so.  Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines…you are forced into direct experience.  Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience.  That is not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.”

-Michael Crichton

Interested?  Here’s some links for various organizations that organize or compile extreme fundraising challenges or volunteer vacations:

Global Vision International

Charity Challenge (United Kingdom)

Charity Mile


Volunteer International

Volunteers for Peace

Service Civil International

Responsible Travel

Habitat for Humanity

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michael Baker October 21, 2009 at 12:02 am


Great article. Great climb. Great reason. I am proud of you, and yes, you are my size.

2 Steve Scarfia October 21, 2009 at 1:06 am

Excellent post Chris!! I will definitely be looking into doing a few of these in the next couple of years.

Thanks for posting this!!


3 Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot October 21, 2009 at 3:13 am

Some great ideas here and nice to see you’re thinking big. For those who aren’t, or for last minute chances to make a difference on holiday, if you’re heading to a developing country consider taking some old clothes. In many countries like Africa, India and the Paciific Islands pre-loved clothes and shoes will be eagerly accepted by the locals. Just tell all your friends that you’re collecting old clothes and shoes and take as many as you can. I’ll guarantee that someone will eagerly accept them.

Educational materials are another great gift, especially kids books in english which you can donate to a local school on arrival. Maybe hang around and give the kids a chance to practice their english too. You’ll be more popular than Santa Claus with many book deprived locals.

4 Jonathan Cunningham October 21, 2009 at 8:01 am

Last summer I was privileged enough to take a two-week mission trip to Guatemala to help with housing construction for the urban poor. I think that will forever be a high-point of summer vacations.

5 Jeff Drake October 21, 2009 at 8:48 am

I recently spent part of a Saturday morning, packaging food for Feed My Starving Children. I was very gratifying to know that some children living a third world hell hole, are going to eat in part due to my efforts. What is more manly than to protect and care for the weakest members of society? I think every man should find some cause for which he can give of himself. Thank-you this article. Keep up the good work.

6 Mike October 21, 2009 at 9:45 am

Great article and feedback so far.

Does anyone have any thoughts on how to incorporate this into a family affair, meaning, take the week that would have been spent at the House of Mouse, Jellystone or whatever, and instead spending the week doing a family service project / vacation? This may or may not include travel to somewhere far away, but must include all the family members with ages ranging from infant to teens.


7 Rev. Lauen October 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm

I am a new reader of the AOM, and have been enjoying pretty much every article.
This is the first I felt the need to comment on. This article speaks not only to my manly side but to the pastor side.
In my years as a pastor working in a church I can attest to the benefits of men working together for the good of others on their time off.
It is not only therapeutic, but makes builds character, muscle, and stubble.
There is no greater pain than the sore muscles received from breaking your back to help someone else.
Great article! I hope it plants a seed of volunteerism in many a heart.

8 Gianpaolo Pietri October 21, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Great story! I have been on many adventures and climbs in my life (none quite like this), but until now have done it mostly for myself, for pride, and accomplishment. From now on, I will do it for others as well …
A friend of mine is heading on an expedition to Mexico in a few months, and I have sent him the article to get him inspired. Hopefully it’s not too late. Maybe he can upgrade his trip and incorporate some sort of charitable cause as a part of his trip.
Thanks again for the article. I know I will be referring back to it, especially when my next opportunity for adventure comes around.

9 Keller October 21, 2009 at 10:39 pm

Great article. I’ve been wanting to summit Kilamanjaro for a while and this sounds like the perfect way to do it. Unfortunately I have only found charity organizations from the UK, which means flying through Heathrow, and the extra expense of getting there. Also, JustGiving is UK based and I would have to pay a transactional fee to use their services from the US. Does anyone know of similar charity challenges that would be simpler to use from the US and/or a fundraising website that permits credit/debit donations in addition to paypal?

10 Leland October 22, 2009 at 11:17 am

How about this: Join the Peace Corps (linked to in the related posts, but not mentioned). I finished up 2 years of service last year. It’s a hell of a lot more adventure than a short trip and not for everyone, but will be worth it when you’re done.

11 Vic October 28, 2009 at 12:26 am

I like the article and details for some ideas. Your article still leaves me in the dark about this issue finding the right organization or group that will get me there.
What if you have little to no money, but are really wanting to leave and make a difference somewhere else?

12 petey February 11, 2010 at 10:33 am

I highly recommend Habitat for Humanity International’s Global Village trips…one or two week building vacations to any of the 86 countries where HFH builds. Want even more adventure? You don’t need to be an HFH employee to lead one yourself. Check it out at

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