How do you spot a responsible volunteering organisation?
Volunteering abroad is an incredible opportunity to grow personally and professionally. It gives you the opportunity to make a long term impact, experience a new country, and gain skills and knowledge that can help you in your career. In order to make a difference and have a positive experience, the sustainability of volunteering placements – and therefore volunteering organisations – is crucial.
When planning your next sustainable volunteer placement, there are 3 questions you can ask yourself to find the best opportunity for you. You are then ready to look into volunteer organisations, and find the ones that practise sustainably. These are the important factors to take into account:
Does the volunteer organisation focus on the experience of the volunteer, or the benefits to the local community?
Often, organisations only pay attention to the benefits of the volunteer. Whilst this is a clever sales tactic, it doesn’t speak for their sustainable practices.
Of course it is important that your volunteering experience is beneficial for you, that you stay safe, and that you get to travel the country. But truly responsible and sustainable volunteering pays equal attention to your benefits, and the benefits to local partners. You should therefore look for volunteer organisations that put great value on the work you are doing and the impact you are having.
Another good way to check up on this is to look at how many hours you are actually volunteering. How much could you really get done in three hours of volunteering per day?
What does the on-the-ground support look like?
One of the main reasons you are choosing to organise your volunteering placement through an organisation is the on-the-ground support. First, it is difficult to connect with legitimate NGOs and social organisations that do impactful work and have the support structures for international volunteers. Second, it can be challenging to find affordable accommodation for an extended period of time in a place you’ve never visited. And third, it is absolutely essential to have in-country support to stay safe and in case of emergencies.
It is therefore crucial to pay close attention to the support that volunteer organisations provide once you’ve entered the destination country. This doesn’t mean you should be accompanied by a volunteer manager at all times. In the end part of the experience is cultural immersion and the challenge and thrill of living like a local. But if you need help in any way – be it travel recommendations for the weekend, or in-country staff to accompany you to the hospital in case of emergencies – you want the organisation to be there and ready to support you.
Before booking your experience you should therefore ask questions about the ground support, and carefully assess the answers to situational questions.
Does the volunteer placement include training?
It often happens that volunteers are merely introduced to the CEO of the local organisation they work for. Then have to start their volunteer work straight away. Efforts of the volunteers are barely ever streamlined with the organisational workflow, or incorporated into the overall strategy.
When it comes to responsible and sustainable volunteering, training is essential. This doesn’t mean you will have to attend classes once you get here. But there should be an elaborate introduction session. You need to be able to understand what the organisation does and wants to achieve, and how your work fits into it. Another good sign is the matching of your skills to the needs of the organisation. Especially if you can collaborate in developing a job description. This way you can truly apply your skills where they are needed, and work in a position that really interests you.
Are you looking to volunteer your skills sustainably? Ask us about our responsible volunteer placements and we are happy to answer all of your questions.