With travel and volunteerism going hand in hand in recent years, it is understandable if there is confusion among terms.
Voluntourism usually encompasses vacation travel that has some component of volunteer work. An example from my time with Elderhostel (now renamed RoadScholar) is a program where the participants visit a Native American area of the southwest. While there, they provide free tutoring to the students in an elementary school located on a reservation.
The travelers receive education about the locale, its history, and its people. Usually travelers in such programs are able to deduct some of the expenses of the trip as a charitable deduction on their tax returns.
Voluntourism opportunities may be as short as a week or take place over several months. One of the fastest growing areas of voluntourism is going abroad to developing countries to help teach, build schools, help with agriculture, or other community projects.
The best voluntourism opportunities involve participants in the volunteer work for the majority of the time, are prearranged with the community being helped, and make sure that help is actually being rendered in a culturally sensitive way. Think service first, vacation second when picking an opportunity.
I think the safest voluntourism opportunities are provided by long-established nonprofits. To avoid hopping from website to website in search of these programs, you might try out GoVoluntouring, which is a sort of search engine for voluntourism. You can look for your ideal opportunity using a number of parameters, including location, type of program, and cost.
Philanthropic travel, on the other hand, usually means that a philanthropist, considering a substantial philanthropic gift, visits the possible recipient.
The purpose of the trip can be research, to get to know the recipient better, to establish an ongoing relationship, or to reassure oneself that the gift is really worthwhile.
Often philanthropic advisory organizations facilitate philanthropic travel. They might send a donor or a group of donors to an international project that is a good candidate for major support. The philanthropist is not volunteering his/her service, but establishing trust for himself and the recipient organization so that a donation can be made.
Some nonprofits that work internationally provide opportunities for potential donors to visit their projects. For instance, Room to Read arranges "site visits" for interested donors while Soles4Souls arranges group shoe distribution trips for donors and volunteers.
Whatever travel for good is called, it is a growing trend and especially appealing to those who enjoy combining helping, learning and somewhat exotic traveling.