Passports with Purpose: Fundraising Gets Inspiring

It takes four travel writers to raise a village.

When Seattle-based Michelle Duffy met up with three friends for a coffee and a chat in 2008, she had no idea they were about to change the world. But if it weren’t for that fateful coffee, a village in Cambodia would not have a school and an entire village in India would not exist. That’s just for starters.

The four friends all happened to be travel writers – Michelle writes at Wandermom, Debbie Dubrow is the brains behind family travel blog Delicious Baby, Pam Mandel the eponymous nerd of Nerd’s Eye View and Beth Whitman the founder of Wanderlust and Lipstick.

“It was literally four friends having coffee,” Michelle recalls. “I think it was Debbie who originally said ‘why don’t we see if we can raise money using our blogs?'” That first year, the friends rounded up a few fellow travel writers to host some raffle prizes and raised $7,400 for Heifer International without too much effort. Thus Passports with Purpose was born.

Fast forward to this year and the stakes are somewhat higher. The goal is to raise $80,000 to build two libraries in Zambia with Room to Read. There are dozens of travel sites participating by hosting prizes – everything from a Kindle Fire (several, in fact) to bungee jumping in New Zealand. You have until midnight Seattle time on December 16 to enter the raffle for the prize of your choice by donating $10 at All proceeds, aside from PayPal fees, go directly to Room to Read.

In 2009 Passports with Purpose raised almost $30,000 to build a school – with a vegetable garden and other enhancements – in rural Cambodia. The school is now complete and Michelle visited earlier this year and wrote this post for Passports with Purpose. The kids previously would have finished school at fifth grade but can now go to eighth grade in their village, qualifying them for high school in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. “My husband and I were wondering why we needed a driver and why we couldn’t just show up without all the formalities,” Michelle says. “Then we got there and there was an honour guard of all the kids from smallest up to 15 years old and we realized that it was a really big deal. It impacted on a very visceral level because I never thought I could make that kind of difference to anybody’s life.”

In 2010, the tally was $64,128 for LAFTI to build a village in South India for people of the ex-untouchable caste. Beth has written about her visit to the village, which is currently under construction.

The four spend from February to May each year deciding which charity to work with. Since the four of them come from diverse backgrounds and represent a diverse bunch of travel bloggers, they try to select an organization that is not religious. They prefer to work in developing countries where the fundraising dollars can have a greater impact and they like to work for causes that focus on women and children. Room to Read has a focus on educating girls, which research suggests benefits wider society. “As bloggers, we’re people who like to read and people who like to write so Room to Read hits that sweet spot of something we love to do and bringing it to kids who would not have had the chance,” Michelle says. “I was totally shocked by the lack of education infrastructure in Laos when I traveled there and I know Pam has similar stories about Tanzania.”

You can personally make a difference by making a $10 donation in exchange for a raffle ticket for a prize of your choice. You can also spread the word to your networks – last year Facebook was the biggest referrer of traffic. Passports with Purpose is built on the back of $10 donations but since the second year there have been a few larger sponsors as well – in 2011, the sponsors are Round The World With UsTravellersPointHome Away and Good2Go Travel Insurance.

“It’s brought home to me how much you can do as an individual, even if you can’t write a check like Bill Gates” Michelle says. “What I believe from being involved with Passports with Purpose is that… it’s more important to be involved, find a cause you’re passionate about and leverage your network. If you do that it can be life changing.”

Editors note: Writer Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a participating blogger in Passports with Purpose and hosting two prizes – accommodation at the beautiful MacCallum House Inn in Mendocino, California and a cookery workshop at Freestyle Escape on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Australia.

Images: Room to Read, Wandermom