Pack for a Purpose is a non-profit, based in Raleigh, NC, that makes it easy for global travelers to donate much needed supplies to the local communities they plan to visit. Pack for a Purpose lists requested items provided by our more than 440 participants in our initiative, making it simple for travelers to make a difference on every trip. Since their inception in January 2010, the global travel community has donated more than 194,140 kgs (427,108 pounds) of needed supplies to community projects supporting education, health, child welfare, animal welfare, and socieconomic development. By simply adding a few medical, school, or other requested supplies in their luggage, these travelers have made a big impact.

PfaP travelers, Paul and Roseanne, used extra luggage space to bring needed supplies for remote schools, the projects supported by Ecuador Freedom Bike Rentals.

When and why did you begin your impact tourism program?

Rebecca Rothney founded Pack for a Purpose (PfaP) in 2009. Rebecca wanted to create a website that would make it easy for travelers to find the information they needed to make a positive impact in the communities they visited. This desire stemmed from her family’s belief that you should always take a hostess gift to express your gratitude for a person’s (or in this case, a country’s hospitality.) Rebecca also believes that many people are generous and given a simple and effective way, are more than willing to help.

What is your impact tourism model? Please help us to understand your unique approach.

Impact tourism is the core of our existence. PfaP’s goal is to assist travelers who want to say thank you in this manner or who simply want to expand their generosity beyond their own communities. Travelers who want to Pack for a Purpose are encouraged to pack at least 5 pounds (2.27 kg) of requested supplies in their luggage and deliver the items to one of PfaP’s participant accommodations or tour operators when they arrive at their destination. This form of impact travel is not only educating travelers about how they can make better use of their luggage but is encouraging travelers to take action and commit to make a meaningful impact on their next trip.

When travelers Pack for a Purpose, communities benefit by receiving the requested supplies needed for their ongoing projects. Travelers benefit by the knowledge that the supplies they take have been requested by that community and by knowing that they will have expressed their gratitude in a meaningful way to the community they have visited. Packing for a Purpose demonstrates the impact an individual can have in the process of positive global change. A stethoscope weighs less than a kilo but can touch 10,000 hearts.

Image, right: A stethoscope weighs less than a kilo but can touch 10,000 hearts

Please provide brief examples of some of your most impactful projects.

Whether you are traveling for a destination wedding, returning home to visit family, or going to a company meeting, travelers can choose to Pack for a Purpose. The links below share stories from travelers’ perspectives and the enormous impact their experience had on them and the communities they visited.

To read more stories from Pack for a Purpose travelers, click here.

Vetting Process

How do you select projects?

We promote projects fall into 5 select areas: Education, Health, Child Welfare, Animal Welfare, and Socioeconomic Development. For individual project selection, we start with the belief that local businesses are most aware of what projects local communities will benefit from. Therefore, Pack for a Purpose does not select the projects, but rather works with accommodations and tour companies who are already supporting local projects in their communities around the world.

What is the structure to ensure ongoing accountability?

We require all of the accommodations and tour operators who participate in our program to report back to us three times a year to confirm the weight of the supplies they have received during that time period. This reporting helps us verify that the supplies are being delivered by the participants themselves and not by travelers directly, thereby ensuring that supplies are delivered at a convenient time and without disrupting the community projects. This can only be coordinated on a local level through the participants.

We also do a link check every month to ensure that projects they support and their affiliation with us are up on their website and links through to their needs list. Participants that do not comply with our requirements are removed from our website. We always follow up with any travelers’ concerns. On our website, we provide easy-to-complete forms to update the needs list and to add and remove projects. Once received, these are promptly posted on our website. We track our success by the weight of supplies received each trimester and by the stories submitted by communities and travelers, also published on our website. We closely monitor social media, so we are aware and keep track of when participants post stories about receiving supplies.

Employee Engagement

How are your employees and your organization involved in the projects?

Pack for a Purpose is an all-volunteer organization. From the Webmaster to the graphic designer, individuals volunteer their time because they passionately believe in the mission. The PfaP website went live in December 2009. Rebecca relies primarily on college interns to help her manage social media, produce content, and keep in contact with their connections all over the world.  She pays them in her famous homemade mint chocolate chip cookies, as well as her ability to make everyone she meets feel like family. 

What have been volunteer reactions?

Many of these talented volunteers have chosen to Pack for a Purpose on their own trips. Here are a few of their stories:

Some of the many faces of Pack for a Purpose volunteers.

Funding Model

What is your funding model? How are funds raised to support your program?

Pack for a Purpose’s mission is to encourage travelers to make in-kind donations of suggested items to destinations. To support the organization’s operations, Pack for a Purpose accepts monetary tax-deductible donations directly to ensure that the all-volunteer organization’s activities continue to help impact our partners’ projects. Pack for a Purpose is also actively seeking corporate or philanthropic donations that will allow Pack for a Purpose to have the resources to expand its outreach and impact to include/promote more community projects.

Are donations tax deductible?

In the US, donations made directly to PfaP are tax deductible. Travelers taking supplies to destinations should keep their receipts from the store where they purchased the supplies and take the deduction as a non-cash contribution.

PfaP Travelers give back in Brazil.

To date, how much has been raised?

Over 194,140 kilograms (427,108 pounds) of supplies have been received by community projects meeting essential needs in 60 countries.

Visitor Engagement

Do travelers visit the project sites? Why or why not?

It is not part of the mission of Pack for a Purpose to arrange project visits for travelers. If travelers wish to visit a project site, it must be coordinated between the traveler and the Participant supporting that specific project, who will determine if it is appropriate.

How are the supported projects promoted or marketed to travelers?

PfaP uses a variety of social media to get the word out to other travelers. The organization uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Its motto is Small Space. Little Effort. Big Impact.

Two brother collected 66 pounds (30 kgs) for a primary school supported by Wilderness Safaris, Zimbabwe.

What type of educational opportunities and/or materials do you give to travelers?

Our website provides travelers with curated information regarding the specific needs for the projects supported by our Participants. This makes the trip that PfaP travelers take go farther than the miles they travel. We actively reply to traveler questions to the best of our ability. Additional information is provided on our FAQ page . We also provide information on how to pack and what not to bring. Not only do we help promote impact tourism for tourists, we also help businesses by enhancing their brand awareness in the market through their engagement with PfaP. If our Participants inform us that the supplies can be purchased locally that information is noted for travelers.

Community Partnerships

Children receive toothbrushes and toothpaste from PfaP travelers staying with Princess Hotels & Resorts, Mexico.

How do you ensure that your values and approach align with the community supported?

Before projects are accepted, they are reviewed to ensure they align with our core values.

How are you ensuring that your projects meet the most relevant needs of the community?

The supply lists for destinations on our website are provided directly by the local community-based projects that receive and use the supplies, enabling travelers to make informed decisions and to take items that meet the needs of those who will be using them.

Do you engage in ongoing dialogue with the local community? If so, how?

We contact our participants at least three times a year with a weight of supplies request email and send out a renewal agreement every year. We update needs lists and add additional projects upon request from our participants.

Has there ever been a time when adjustments to your approach or project have needed to be made as a result of community feedback? Please explain how you were able to adapt.

In the early days, we did not specify expiration dates on over-the-counter or other medications that were requested. After hearing from a valued participant, that information is now included on our How to Pack page. We have also updated the information on this page regarding countries which no longer allow plastic bags. After the CREST/OAS World Tourism Day Forum in September 2019, we added information regarding the visitation of orphanages on both our FAQ page and individual pages where an orphanage was a project.

Community Perspectives:

These blogs are written from participants supporting community projects and reflect the impact that Pack for a Purpose makes.

To read more stories of how Pack for a Purpose has impacted communities across the globe, click here.

Lessons Learned

Why do you feel your organization/impact tourism program has been so successful?

Generosity and helping others are feelings that resonate deeply across cultures. For this reason, travelers from six continents, representing a wide range of age, religious beliefs, and ethnic diversity have all chosen to Pack for a Purpose. This is confirmed in the stories on our website submitted by PfaP travelers. These common values and our simple and easy to use website have contributed to PfaP’s success.

Generosity is a feeling that resonates deeply across cultures.

We also use the weight of supplies received as a metric of our success. Since 2010, Pack for a Purpose travelers have taken over 165,149 kgs (363,327 pounds) of supplies, meeting essential needs in over 60 countries.

What challenges has your company faced in developing a successful program?

As an all-volunteer organization, we have been challenged with finding the time needed to continue to grow our mission in a way that is accountable and transparent.  We have only one full-time volunteer who is incredibly slow when it comes to computer skills. (That would be me, Rebecca Rothney, the Founder of Pack for a Purpose.) To be a truly sustainable organization and continue our success decades to come, we need to raise enough funds to support two full-time positions. We are currently working towards this goal in every way that we can and, in the meantime, with the help of our interns and volunteers, continue to do our best.

Of course, another challenge is making sure 460 different business around the world maintain the rigorous commitment they made when we accepted them as participants. This requires monthly link checks, regular follow-ups, and addressing any traveler’s concerns, which thankfully are few. We are very proud of the integrity our global brand personifies; however, this takes a great investment of time.

Why do you feel it is important for the tourism industry to not only promote a product but to provide environmental and community support?

We recognize the scope of the tourism industry and the enormous impact tourism has. Promoting and providing environmental and community support is a crucial part of ensuring that tourism has a positive impact. The effectiveness and reliability of environmental and community support will determine how positive the impact of tourism will be.

For more information contact: Rebecca Rothney,

This Impact Tourism Handbook was made possible by generous financial support from Elevate Destinations, Hilton, Holbrook Travel, and Overseas Adventure Travel.