Today’s guest post comes from Kenzie Yoshimura, reflecting on how travel companies need to pay attention to the way they market volunteer or work opportunities abroad.


It can be challenging and often confusing to sift through the many options, organizations, and programs available to you as a traveler interested in volunteering abroad. How can you know if the organization has a mission and motives that align with yours? Nonprofits and social enterprises give telltale clues in the messaging they use to tell their story and the stories of their stakeholders. Knowing what to look for and what to avoid in these words and images is one tool to help you make an informed decision about service or work abroad.


Savior complex

How often does the organization in question use words like save or help? While both terms are meant to describe a well-intentioned action with a positive outcome, they actually create an unequal balance of power, implying that one group is rescuing another group who is otherwise unable to better their situation. Look instead for words and phrases such as work with or collaborate that actively level that playing field and demonstrate a mutual exchange.


People first


If an organization were to publish a photo and a description about you, how would you want to be portrayed? The way a nonprofit describes the communities with which it works says a lot about its intention and the understanding of the people it serves. At Human Connections, we sit down with each partner we work with to collaborate on the bio we publish on our website, and have them approve the photos we post. It’s one way to ensure consent and accurate language and descriptors. Using the preferred language for an individual or group of people is a crucial part of cultivating respect and helping educate others.


A picture is worth a thousand words

The images used by nonprofits and social enterprises are of equal importance to their linguistic messaging. Take a close look at the photos and videos used on the organization’s website, social media, and other marketing materials. How does the organization portray its stakeholders? Are these images meant to invoke pity from viewers, or promote a sense of pride and progress? Positive images in place of “poverty porn” encourage positive action, not charity, while upholding the dignity of the photos’ subjects.

Words matter. And while there’s no universal guidebook for right and wrong nonprofit messaging, being intentional about the words and images used is one way for organizations to honor the people they work with, while educating and effectively communicating their mission. By doing your research as a volunteer, you can choose to work with an organization that truly shares your values and creates real impact.


Kenzie Yoshimura is the design consultant at Human Connections, a social enterprise that connects its local partners with travelers through cultural tours and student programs in Bucerias, Mexico. To learn more about Human Connections or book a tour, visit their website. The main image is Human Connections’ partners Naty and Rolando with a handwoven tapete. Photo by Sergio Medina.