We're taking a break from the regularly scheduled deal-of-the-week column to tell you about something that's in keeping with the holiday season: giving back.
In 2008, that's just what four Seattle-based travel bloggers -- Debbie Dubrow, Michelle Duffy, Pam Mandel and Beth Whitman -- decided to do. The way Mandel tells it, the four of them were together one evening, catching up, and Dubrow said, "You guys, we should do . . . something good."
The reach of their combined networks, they figured, would be an asset. Passports with Purpose (www.passportswithpurpose.org) was born out of a straightforward desire to do good in a sustainable, long-term way -- to give something back to worthwhile charities in some of the amazing places that they had visited around the world.
Mandel says it was really as simple as that. The four opened a donations account via First Giving and got started.
"It took about ten days, and we were stunned by our success. We raised just short of $8,000 without any real idea about what we were doing. And we didn't know so many people would want to participate -- that was the kicker," she explains.
All of their campaigns have exceeded their fundraising goals. The first year's beneficiary was Heifer International. In subsequent years they've raised $28,000 to build a school in rural Cambodia (2009), $60,000 toward building a village in India (2010), and $90,000 for two libraries in Zambia (2011). Working with Land for Tillers Freedom, Passports with Purpose built 25 homes for 25 families in the Dalit caste, aka the "untouchables."
"In this community in Southern India, these people had lived their whole lives thinking that a home and their own little piece of land was just not possible," says Mandel. It's a mindboggling milestone.
This year's designated recipient is Water.org, selected for its 18-month program to build 20 wells in 20 communities. Passports with Purpose's goal is $100,000 for the construction of five wells in Haiti, which will serve about 370 people in rural Boucan-CarrÃ© and Mirebalais. Even before the earthquake, Mandel says, half of the country's citizens didn't have access to clean water and only one in five had access to a toilet. Haiti suffers from a poverty level that hovers around 80 percent of the population. The country was only beginning to very slowly recover from the 2010 earthquake when Hurricane Sandy hit. Water is essential. If you don't have clean water, it's impossible to develop a stable, healthy, and educated community.
There are so many worthy causes and beautiful places and people in the world who could use the boost -- where would you even start? These women do their homework, seeking projects with good community engagement and charitable organizations with successful track records.
"We really want to avoid bungee philanthropy, where we drop a project on a place and then ignore it; we want the projects to succeed over the long term," she says.
So, how do they do it? It's all about leveraging connections and relationships. Passports with Purpose relies on the good will of social media, bloggers, travel writers, public relations companies, travel companies and others to spread the word. To that end, they've signed up nearly 200 travel bloggers to spread the word about this year's campaign. Half of them are going to give away prizes at random (more on that in a minute). Mandel says the other half will just work their social media networks and blogs to promote the campaign.
"Sometimes we get emails from newish or smallish bloggers and they're hesitant, they think they can't help. And the answer is always the same. If one of your readers gives ten dollars towards our efforts, that's ten dollars we didn't have before. We welcome engagement on all levels."
For an added incentive, check out the list of prizes they're offering, offered by a number of bloggers, who helped facilitate their donation. You can decide which drawing you want to enter yourself in, or simply donate and bypass the contest altogether. But if you do, there are some sweet prizes: a $500 voucher toward a weekend apartment stay in Europe; a 26-day journey through Central Asia with Intrepid Travel; an Olympus Tough TG-820 iHS camera; a year of Boingo Global Wi-Fi; and an Eddie Bauer First Ascent 18K Soft Shell Jacket. Oh, and then there are the mentioned scores of stays at hotels and resorts around the world.
Fundraising started November 28 at 12:01 a.m. EST and ends December 11, 11:59 p.m. EST.