Harnessing The Brain Power In Travel

There are lots of smart, talented people working in our industry. No doubt you’d include yourself amongst them. While your focus is very much on making your organization and company successful, would you be willing to take a little bit of your industry experience and knowledge and share it with a nonprofit entity that could benefit from your talents?

Nearly four years ago when I met with Mike Rea, the CEO of Tourism Cares, he had only been on the job for a week, but he articulated his hope to help create an initiative within travel that would allow companies to offer up employees with distinct skill sets and expertise to volunteer to help nonprofit organizations be more successful. 

It has taken a while for other priorities to be addressed and market realities to align, but Tourism Cares is now starting to take some important steps to craft a program that has the potential to make a significant contribution to our industry — helping to strengthen the bonds employees have with their employers, as well as making important contributions to the well-being of organizations and attractions that serve an important role in the travel experience.



According to the Taproot Foundation, there is a strong need for this kind of volunteering, with 92% of nonprofit leaders reporting that they don’t have enough pro bono resources to call upon. Just as significantly, the needs of these nonprofit organizations align nicely with the kind of services that the travel industry is well positioned to provide. Taproot reports that 41% of organizations use pro bono assistance in marketing, but 52% of organizations also say they have additional need in this field; 30% use pro bono in human resources, with 35% indicating additional need; 27% use pro bono in information technology, with 37% saying they have additional need; and 25% use it for organizational design and coaching, but 45% have additional need.

Beyond the benefits that this kind of volunteering can have on the organizations receiving our help, there is also an enormous positive impact on the participating employees and companies. In a study by Deloitte, 91% of human resource executives surveyed said that pro bono service adds value to training and development programs and 90% agree that contributing business skills and expertise to a nonprofit can be an effective way to develop leadership skills.

Similarly, studies have revealed that a company’s support of employee volunteering is a key driver in directly influencing employees’ feelings about their jobs, more so than cash or in-kind donations. In fact, employees engaged in pro bono service are three times more likely to get work-related skill development than traditional volunteers according to a True Impact study. And 62% of Gen Y volunteers would prefer to work for a company that provides opportunities to apply their skills to benefit nonprofits according to Deloitte. 

To help lay the foundation for this kind of volunteering initiative, Tourism Cares has put together a program for travel executives involved in Corporate Social Responsibility. Comprised of a series of one-hour webinars built around “The Wonders and Pitfalls of Pro Bono Volunteering,” the courses will provide inspiration, share best practices, explore models of how successful programs operate, address how to measure impacts and provide a peer consultancy to help participants get their own programs started. Included is a full session with the Taproot Foundation who will share their pioneering approach to pro bono volunteering.

The first session is scheduled for Tuesday, May 9, and Tourism Cares says it still has room for additional companies interested in participating (contact:

More than just training others on this concept, Tourism Cares is also embarking on putting together their own roster of volunteers to support nonprofit organizations in cities like Detroit that will soon be the beneficiary of a “Tourism Cares For: Detroit” initiative that will include two days of activities like gardening on Belle Isle, renovating Lafayette Entrance Park, urban farming with the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative and painting a city mural.

“We typically have come into a destination for several days and made a visible impact cleaning parks, landscaping gardens and using our collective brawn to make a difference,” explained Rea. “While we will continue to provide that kind of valuable assistance, we will be adding a pro bono volunteering component that will now allow us to apply our intellectual capital and further help these organizations and destinations in a new and lasting way.”

To gauge the openness to the approach and understand where help could best be directed, Tourism Cares surveyed a group of nonprofit organizations in Detroit and found that 83% rated their interest in engaging pro bono volunteers from the travel industry as high to very high. Among the areas of greatest need included social media, database design and implementation, mobile app design, package design and working with tour operators, strategy consulting, public relations support and website optimization. Not surprisingly, the smaller the operating budget of the organization the more areas of need were expressed.

Over the coming months, Tourism Cares will be matching up volunteers with the appropriate skills from across the travel industry to work with each of these organizations in the areas where they most need help. Included will be creating a framework for how the services will be provided and outcomes measured. Ultimately, Tourism Cares hopes to use the pilot they are creating for Detroit as a way to unite the travel industry in bringing pro bono volunteering to future destinations that they support.

As our government looks to make significant cutbacks in the funding of our national park system, National Endowment for the Arts and other attractions and organizations that enrich travel and community experiences around the country, the need for our industry to find a way to fill the void and ensure the continued viability of these and other nonprofit entities becomes more critical than ever.

Using our collective brainpower to do good is a great place to start.

1 comment about "Harnessing The Brain Power In Travel".
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  1. Mike Rea from Tourism Cares, May 1, 2017 at 10:15 p.m.

    Thank you for helping spread the word of this initiative for the travel industry -- and for Detroit.

    If interested in learning more, SIGN UP FOR OUR WEBINAR SERIES, starting May 9.

    If also interested in possibly CONTRIBUTING YOUR BRAINPOWER and expertise to DETROIT cultural organizations, please contact me.

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