Short-term Mission Trips

vs. Visions Trips:

The Same or Different?

On the surface, Short-term Mission trips (STM) and Vision trips have a lot in common. After all, they include people who travel to the third world or developing countries and partner up with nonprofits and ministries working there. The travelers typically have big hearts and want to make a difference in the world. This post will explore definitions of both types of trips and why it matters.

Defining Short-term Mission Trips

Let's start with defining Short-term Mission trips.  Sometimes called service trips, these are typically designed for individuals or small groups who want to serve in some capacity. Participants go with the intent to do work and help. The focus is on doing and contributing. Rolling up one's sleeves to paint a building, teach English, run a vacation Bible school, organize a sports camps or administer health services are common tasks. A trip's length can be anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks or even up to a year. They often include youth, but many adults and family groups also participate in STM trips. In addition to the hands-on tasks taking place, the ultimate goal of those serving is to share the love of Christ. They take Matthew 25:40 to heart when it says, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me".


Organizations enjoy hosting STM teams for a couple of reasons.  Not only do they help with projects, but they also bring with them greatly needed finances. Approximately 30-40% of the trip cost goes directly to the host organization. Imagine a team of 20 high school students who are spending their spring break to build houses in Mexico. Perhaps they fundraised $2000 each to go on this service trip. The host organization is likely gaining $12,000-$16,000 in addition to the physical labor of the team. Of course, a portion of that money would go toward building supplies for the houses, but you can bet they are counting on there being leftovers to apply to other projects or needs. Some organizations rely on the funds of short-term missions teams and even work those forecasts into their annual budget.

From the perspective of the hosting organization, the benefits are immediate. It's like a gigantic boost forward. All at once, they receive eager and able-bodied helpers. Plus, they have access to financial resources that would be hard to come by otherwise. 


In addition, the benefit to the volunteer cannot be understated. Many people have been so impacted by such experiences in their youth that it has effected their life's vocation, habits of generosity and worldview. 

Defining Vision Trips

Now let's define a Vision trip. The term is most often used to describe a small group of people who visit an organization in the field. It's more of a "go and see" type of trip that seldom includes hands-on volunteering. Compassion International defines a Vision trip as "an event that engages strategic existing or potential partnerships with Compassion's work in the field." Vision trips often include donors, potential donors and influencers who can help share the story of the organization. These trips provide cross-cultural and relational experiences that lead to education, advocacy, and sponsorship. The goal is to cultivate long-term relationships. The duration of Vision Trips can be anywhere from 3-4 days and up to ten days, depending on the distance traveled and the programming planned.


In the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself, authors Corbett and Finkert, provide an additional defining phrase for Vision trips: Go, Learn, Return, Respond.  Participants learn how the organization operates, what their methods are, and how they are making an impact in that community.  Ultimately, participants are deciding how they personally might become more engaged in the future. 


From the perspective of the hosting organization, the benefit is long term. They may not see an immediate return on investment for months or even years down the road. But the slow, ripple effect of these visitors can make a huge impact in the long run. 

Similar Purpose

So what do these two types of trip share? It's in the intent. People with big hearts who want to do something that matters are attracted to both types of trips. While personal motivation for participating can vary, making a difference in the world for the Kingdom of God, are the common theme. Spending time on the ground with a nonprofit or ministry happens with both types of trip. Both types of trips also include an introduction to culture, history and getting to know people.

Fundamental Differences

Beyond the obvious differences that have already been pointed out, Short-term Mission trips and Vision trips are fundamentally different because of the focus during the trip and the intended result after the trip. STM trips are all about jumping in and completing a specific task. The focus is on working, serving and doing. Once the trip is completed, participants have sore muscles and memories to carry home with them. The organization has the benefit of projects completed and extra funds at their disposal.


Because the main intent of a Vision trip is to observe and learn, the result ends up being different. Non-profits rely heavily on fundraising, Vision trips can help get their story out to more people. Not only do the participants have a greater understanding of their work, they can also carry home what they learned to others in their sphere of influence. This in turn causes a ripple effect that fosters relationship and support. 


So then, What is a Travel on Purpose Trip?

Well, that's a great question. A Travel on Purpose trip can have elements of both, and depending on the location and the organization involved, it can resemble either. But I think the best way to describe a Travel on Purpose trip is with words like... discovery and learning. Travel on Purpose trips are really a vacation first and foremost, but with an added bonus of being purpose-driven. Because of the way we connect travelers to a non-profit organization and place an emphasis on getting to know them, it becomes a vacation with a side of purpose. By providing opportunities for the traveler to connect, discover, and learn they will likely go home with a desire to respond in a way that brings out fulfillment on the side of the traveler and needed support and encouragement on the side of the people and organizations they spent time with. Vision trips are often limited to donors and influencers. These trips provide an opportunity for everyone!


If you'd like to learn more about a Travel on Purpose Trip, the organizations we partner with and the countries we plan travel for, get in touch with us today! 


This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click through and order a book, we will receive a percentage back from that sale.  It doesn't cost you anymore than if you go to Amazon directly, but it puts a couple of cents in our pockets.