After I sifted through 152 club emails and Canvas announcements a week ago, I stumbled across an email telling me: “You’ve been nominated for Wharton International Volunteer Program’s (WIVP) Charity Date Auction!”
As a life-long volunteer and self-admitted community service junkie, I was excited about the chance to get on stage and make a fool of myself for a good cause (it certainly trumps just making a fool of myself, as I have a tendency to do every weekend). Then I wanted to read the fine print and reached out to WIVP to find out what exactly they meant by “charity”. I found out that the funds raised through the auction subsidize 30% of the WIVP volunteers’ travel cost required for their 2-week consulting projects with international NGOs.
I have no problem with student organizations raising money to fund their programs. In fact, last week I helped out with the Follies Live Auction at Pub. What disappoints me about the WIVP Date Auction is being asked to rally my friends and family to raise $1000+ to send Wharton kids on 2-week volunteer vacations to consult with international NGOs and calling it charity. It would be completely unacceptable for me to ask my classmates to organize a fundraising campaign to support my Leadership Venture costs. So, why is it acceptable for WIVP to ask me to do the same thing?
You might be thinking, “but WIVP is different than a Leadership Venture….they’re providing valuable services to nonprofits that need their help.” Most short-term volunteer trips that provide “expert” consulting “free of cost” provide little to no lasting benefits to the organizations they work with. They cost the organizations days of preparation time and hosting time that could have otherwise been spent on core programming. I saw this first hand while I was working for the Ashoka Foundation in India as we hosted MBA volunteers (from a school that shall not be named) every year. Their enthusiasm and intelligence could not make up for their lack of experience on the ground. Like many other nonprofits, we decided to no longer accept “free” help from short-term volunteers.
WIVP may be different. Perhaps they provide invaluable advice and services to the organizations they work with. But given the breadth of legitimate charitable organizations with strong track records of impact right in our back yard in Philadelphia, I cannot in good faith rally my friends to send someone half way around the world to maybe make an impact. So, instead of participating in the date auction, I’m making a donation to SPARK, an education nonprofit in Philadelphia. At the risk upsetting WIVP enthusiasts, I will donate $100 to a local charity of your choice to any other nominee who decides not participate. Think before you donate this year.