April 02, 2011
WorldVentures: Living and Giving
by Katherine B. Ponder
Traveling opens doors to the world, and helping others opens doors to hearts.
Year Founded: 2010
WorldVentures was started with corporate philanthropy in mind. From their official launch in 2005, giving and helping others was part of the founders’ vision from the very beginning. Wayne Nugent, Co-Founder and Chief Visionary Officer, and Mike Azcue, Co-Founder and CEO, saw giving as part of living. “To me, it’s just good, sound business,” says Nugent. “It dovetails with everything we do.”
Those dovetails fall into place with the company’s leisure travel offerings, where representatives and customers can explore the world, take amazing trips, enjoy once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and do it all at a significant discount. Of course, on any trip, travelers see and interact with the local people. In areas where there are stunning resorts and then stark poverty beyond the grounds, visitors want to help. WorldVentures’ programs give them a way to do this.
In the beginning, the company’s founders realized that they did not need to build a cause organization of their own. There were plenty of existing nonprofits doing great things, and WorldVentures sought them out. The company reached out locally to support organizations and efforts that were near and dear to representatives’ hearts. All of this took place with existing organizations, empowering those who already served others around the world. The approach was a great way to launch corporate giving from the very start, and continues to deliver today.
“Our goal is to be known as a company that truly gives, and has a heart,” says Dan Stammen, Chief Marketing Officer. “When people think of WorldVentures, we want them to know about the great things we do for others around the world and we hope they are excited about being a part of that.”
Up until April 2010, corporate charitable efforts at WorldVentures generally had a grassroots feel. Representatives and corporate leaders’ causes often led the way toward philanthropic choices. They included many worthy recipients and inspired generous donations. In a 10-month period, the company and their representatives raised $350,000 for various causes. Now, the company has created their own Manifest Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to delivering “lasting, positive change around the world by impacting the lives of children.” Within 11 months of the Manifest Foundation’s creation, more than half a million dollars has been donated to charitable works. The foundation perpetuates the focus on partnering with other organizations, and it’s putting a framework around those partnerships.
The Manifest Foundation is WorldVentures’ way of structuring within the company a formal commitment to corporate philanthropy. Now the efforts are more “official” and will deliver even greater results with select partners. “As a company that is really about empowering people and effecting positive change in the world, the Manifest Foundation is how we do that,” says Eddie Head, Chief Strategy Officer. “Because of this passion, we felt absolutely compelled to form the Manifest Foundation. Our company’s culture was dictating this must be done.”
Nugent agrees that charitable activities are part and parcel to direct selling: “In this business, the most successful people really love people. The Manifest Foundation is an extension of that.”
The foundation did more than clarify how WorldVentures would deliver upon their charitable intentions. The Manifest Foundation revealed details about the core philosophies behind the company and brought an entirely new appeal to the marketplace. “As a company, we have grown tremendously since Manifest was formed,” explains Jon McKillip, Chief Operating Officer. “It gave us a 360-degree view and even clarified our mission and vision statements. People are looking for a purpose in life. Not everybody is interested in a business opportunity, but there are a number of people who have gotten involved in our business because of Manifest, because of the calling that it has.”
WorldVentures has raised $300,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters, enough to match up 1,000 brother/sister pairs.
As momentum continues to build, the foundation is gaining more structure. Spryte Loriano was hired as Executive Director of the foundation. Under her leadership, the partnership process is being formalized. “We’re really making our partnerships very strategic,” Loriano says. “We’re looking for nonprofit and for-profit organizations that align with our new mission and vision, and that are willing to go through an application process, as well as an accountability process with us.”
Part of the new impetus behind the foundation is for representatives and customers to have national and international opportunities to get hands-on experience helping others. There are currently two ways they can do this. One is the mini-service adventure, where people go on a WorldVentures DreamTrip and can add service opportunities as part of their trip agenda. The other is the “Voluntourism” initiative where they can go on a trip to a WorldVentures resort and add several days to help with local aid partners’ programs. “Until you get that heartwarming feeling of visibly seeing people’s lives that you’ve changed, not just for a moment but for maybe the rest of their lives, it goes beyond just giving a donation,” McKillip says.
These are just a few of the immediate goals and efforts of the foundation, and more are on the horizon.
The Building Blocks of the Foundation
Ever since the company was founded—even before the foundation was created—WorldVentures has actively reached out to help wherever possible. The corporation supported and encouraged its employees to lace up athletic shoes to run or walk the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Also, more than $25,000 was donated to help Haitian relief efforts after the destructive January 2010 earthquake. In addition to these endeavors, when neighbors in the company’s home city of Plano, Texas, are hungry, they can go to the North Texas Food Bank for help; and WorldVentures Representatives, executives and staff have even donated to put food on the plates of those in the most dire situations.
WorldVentures and its travel agency, Rovia, helped raise more than $30,000 for LyVell Gipson, an Iraq veteran wounded by a suicide bomber.
Representatives recently heard firsthand about how their efforts with the Iraq Star Organization impacted many soldiers’ lives. Rovia is the travel agency that fulfills DreamTrips for WorldVentures, and at the second Rovia Annual Travel Conference, the audience listened to the story of LyVell Gipson. He was only 20 years old when his unit in Iraq was hit by a suicide bomber; one of his buddies did not survive. Gipson spent a month in a coma and woke to find that he had severe injuries to his leg. After 42 surgeries and two years of incredibly difficult physical therapy, he learned to walk again. Iraq Stars helped Gipson receive reconstructive surgery and provided ways to heal from the extensive physical and emotional trauma. Gipson shared with the audience that he wants to rebuild his life and be a good father to his now 2-year-old daughter. At just this one event, his emotional testimonial encouraged more than $30,000 in donations from WorldVentures and Rovia.
Military members and their families are always on the list for gratitude with WorldVentures. The company provides additional discounts for current and former military service people, and for disabled veterans, the travel is free. “We consider it an honor to extend these opportunities to the distinguished men and women who have served the United States so unselfishly,” says Azcue.
Another group of recipients topping WorldVentures’ list is children. The company continuously strives to help the next generation of kids who truly have not had their chances yet. In the United States, WorldVentures has teamed with Nancy Lieberman, a two-time Olympian and former WNBA player and coach, to develop “Dream Courts” basketball courts and facilities for kids in less-advantaged areas to learn the sport, develop teamwork skills, get exercise and stay out of trouble. The first of several basketball courts was built in Frisco, Texas.
Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) is another organization that shares many of the same goals as WorldVentures, and this drew the attention of the travel company. Through just one auction, WorldVentures’ top earners combined bids to raise more than $50,000 for BBBS, and the company matched the funds. The final donation exceeded $136,000—all at just one event. “For Big Brothers Big Sisters, we’ve raised $300,000,” Stammen says. “It was enough to match up 1,000 brother/sister pairs.” And today, WorldVentures continues to support BBBS.
Internationally, WorldVentures works with the Hug It Forward Foundation to build “bottle schools.” These schools are literally made of plastic bottles filled with inorganic trash like plastic bits. The stuffed bottles are bound together with chicken wire and covered with concrete. Within days, a school is built, and a significant amount of trash is recovered and put to use. So far, WorldVentures has built four bottle schools in Guatemala, and is currently expanding their philanthropy efforts.
The Big Motivation
When a company is in startup mode, corporate giving isn’t always a top priority. For WorldVentures, however, it was. One can look to the founders, executive team and top leaders to discover why. They all knew that once success was achieved there was a sense of incompletion, a gnawing feeling that “this isn’t everything I thought it would be.”
“There were many of us who had been successful in the past,” Nugent says. “We noticed that just having ‘stuff’ wasn’t very fulfilling. Early on, our tagline for the opportunity was, ‘Make a living … Living.’ We’ve always had it in mind to add, ‘Make a living … Giving.’ ”
The giving that WorldVentures has undertaken accomplishes much. First, it has provided immediate needs to many. Second, it has created hope for the future to give others a chance to improve their lives. Lastly, it has inspired WorldVentures representatives and customers to come together as a team and do even more for the less fortunate. “Give-back programs are more than a way to feel good,” Loriano explains. “They create bonds and camaraderie.”
Stammen says he knows the many aspects of giving. He had been CEO for the first two and a half years of WorldVentures’ existence, and he, too, wanted to include philanthropy from the get-go. Coming out of semi-retirement, with many financial blessings, Stammen knew that the accumulation of treasures wasn’t everything: “At the end of life, will people look at how much you made, or how much you helped?”