I love traveling around the world and one of my main travel goals is to give back to this amazing world we live in. I love the idea of volunteering as I travel, of helping local communities while getting a better understanding of a new country, culture and language.
I’ve participated in a number of INCREDIBLE volunteer projects and I highly recommend every travel volunteer at least once during their travels.
Unfortunately, there a few “organizations” out there looking to make a quick buck off someone with good intentions. I compiled a list of advice volunteers should keep in mind when searching for potential volunteer programs to participate with, the following advice.
If you’d like to read about my volunteering gone wrong experience, go to my blog about the Nepal volunteer scam.
1. Always check for references
The organization’s website may look legitimate and they may even have a government-approved label of being a “charity organization,” but ALWAYS CHECK REFERENCES. Ask for emails of past volunteers and contact them to get a sense of what the volunteer experience will be. Don’t be shy to ask about the living arrangements as well!
2. Financial disclosure
The organization should be able to provide you with a financial break-down of their spendings. Makes sure that a majority of the money the organization makes from fundraising, donations, and your program fees goes back toward the organization and its programs.
3. Location, location, location
Do research to get a full sense of where exactly the volunteer organization is located as many cannot afford rent in the city center. Will there be things to do and places of interest to visit during your time off? Is there easy access to transportation to get around? You will be spending a significant amount of time in a foreign place and you don’t want to be bored while you’re there!
4. Word of mouth
Ask your friends and family if they, or anyone they know, have traveled abroad and done some volunteering. Travel forums and blogs are another good source of finding good volunteer organizations. Knowing someone who has had first-hand experience will give you a better sense of what to expect and can almost guarantee that you won’t have a negative experience.
5. Follow your instinct
If at any time, you get a I’m-not-so-sure-about-this feeling in your stomach, trust yourself and find another organization. You should feel 100% positive that your volunteer experience is going to be worth your time and efforts. If you don’t, keep searching until you do.
A growing number of international volunteers are finding their volunteer experiences to be less than what they expected, including not having work to do when they arrived or discovering that their “program fees” did not go directly to the organization’s work. Many international volunteers sometimes end up scammed out of money. Or worse, scammed out of their good intentions of helping others. Volunteering abroad can offer many amazing experiences, but it is important to understand that in developing countries where charity work can offer a sizeable income from well-intentioned donors, there is a lot of room for corruption and deceit.
Don’t be discouraged, there are A LOT of organizations out there that are doing good things! Just be smart, take some precautions and do your research. The experiences you will gain from volunteering abroad will offer you a changed perspective and a wonderful new outlook on life!