March 11, 2012; Source: The Columbian

The Nonprofit Network of Southwest Washington is using a novel approach to public education on community issues that mirrors the site visit bus tours often associated with philanthropic and nonprofit conferences. Half-day “Community Cares” bus tours provide 10 to 15 local residents with an introductory talk by an expert on the issue at hand followed by visits to Vancouver, Washington-based agencies and nonprofits. This months’ bus tour will visit four diverse organizations that address homelessness. Future tours will focus on at-risk youth, environmental sustainability, and other issue areas.

People want to make informed decisions about what they get involved with and give their time or money to,” said Jeanne Kojis, executive director of the Nonprofit Network. “Doing these tours…gives people a big picture as to what’s happening in our community.”

By immersing tour participants in the work of community-based organizations, the Nonprofit Network is going beyond the typical “drive by” bus tours that look at the effects of poverty, abandoned housing, or disaster sites like Hurricane Katrina—tours where people in the community are sometimes made to feel like guinea pigs or photo ops. According the group’s website, the tours are also not used as pitch sessions for the participating nonprofits. “This is issue education,” said Kojis. “And we address how different agencies are doing the work differently.”

Kojis said the tours got started because whenever a new organization joins the Nonprofit Network, she pays a visit to learn more about it. As anyone who has participated in these kinds of site visits can attest, these types of tours provide a far deeper understanding of the problems and the players than a speech, panel discussion, or video.

We’re curious to know if others have offered similar bus tours to the general public and what the results have been. –John Hoffman