When Charity GO!es Wrong

Though GO! has altruistic intentions, it is ultimately more of a voluntourism organization than a charity service. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Though GO! has altruistic intentions, it is ultimately more of a voluntourism organization than a charity service. (Courtesy of Facebook)


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By Sean Franklin

Global Outreach (GO!) fundraising season is in full swing. Everywhere I turn, there are pleas for me to buy something to support someone’s GO! trip. Posters in the hallways of my dorm tell me to go to Chipotle. Emails from my RD alert me to an upcoming bake sale. Instagram stories implore me to buy donuts, and texts from my friends eagerly dish out order forms for customized Fordham gear. It’s inescapable.

This is troubling, because GO! is not a charity. It is a voluntourism organization, sending Fordham students on cultural enrichment trips that involve some service.

Its members act as though they are members of a charitable organization, holding on-campus fundraisers and soliciting donations much in the same way that legitimate charities such as FDM and UNICEF do. But they aren’t.

The things that GO! does are not charity. At best, they are misguided attempts at service. At worst, they are nothing more than glorified tourism.

I want to be clear that I don’t think GO! is a malevolent organization. It provides Fordham students with unique opportunities to immerse themselves in other cultures and learn about unfamiliar ways of life. It builds community among the people who participate in its projects. It provides opportunities for reflection and spiritual growth.

However, GO! is not a service organization. The service it provides to the communities it visits is nominal at best. There’s only so much you can accomplish with 15 undergrads and a week’s time. Even if GO! trips were 100% service — which they are not — they would still be a waste of resources.

A GO! trip usually runs between $1,000 and $2,000 a person. If your typical GO! trip is 10 to 15 people, then you’re easily looking at a total cost of over $20,000 – just for 15 people to spend a week in a foreign country cooking meals and gardening.

$20,000 donated to UNICEF could vaccinate over 100,000 vulnerable children against polio. $20,000 donated to Oxfam could plant 40,000 trees in the developing world.

When compared to the impact of real charities, the impact of that $20,000 spent on a GO! project is vanishingly small.

Therefore, for GO! to pose as a charitable organization and solicit donations in the same way is indefensible. It’s impossible to justify GO! as anything but an enrichment program – an opportunity for students to go abroad and learn about different ways of life. Many GO! members, when asked, will readily admit to this. Yet this is not the way they are marketed. Their own promotional material lists them as a “service and immersion program.”

A picture of students participating in GO! Mexico put out by Campus Ministry (which administers GO!) with the caption “Feed the hungry. Comfort the afflicted.” has appeared all over campus (including, strangely, on the napkin dispensers in the cafeteria).

You could be forgiven for thinking that they’re an organization primarily engaged in service. However, they aren’t.

Students looking to make a genuine impact should look elsewhere. The fact there is an appetite for GO! trips shows Fordham students have a genuine interest in service and charity, which is laudable.

Students who are interested in serving others. They could volunteer with homegrown organizations like FDM or venture out further into the Bronx with organizations like the Bronx Volunteer Coalition. There are plenty of opportunities right here at home that will do far more good than a GO! trip ever will.

Campus Ministry, for their part, should either fully finance GO! trips or leave the cost up to the students alone.

Encouraging GO! members to engage in this kind of disingenuous fundraising is unacceptable. Unless GO! becomes more transparent about the nature of its projects, it should not be soliciting donations.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine asked me to buy a Fordham hat for $20 to support her GO! trip to New Orleans. I didn’t, but in her honor I took that $20 and donated it to UNICEF.

The next time someone asks you to donate to their GO! trip, I would urge you to do something similar. Don’t let their good intentions go to waste.

 

Sean Franklin, FCRH ’21, in an urban studies and economics major from Alexandria, Virginia.