Voluntourism (Volunteer Tourism) is an ever-increasing travel niche that has introduced itself into the travel mainstream –and with a good purpose. Volunteer travel is a way to explore the world while helping a community, a wildlife cause, a non-profit organization, or others in need. It is a way to give a hand, give resources, and give hope to people and places you never knew, but that you’ll never forget once you’re back at home.
When looking for a volunteer host or program there are a couple questions you should ask yourself in order to make an informed decision. This selection process will be beneficial for you and for your cause because, in the end, the resources will be highly focused and productive. Here are some of the questions to consider when searching for a volunteer program.
Why should you volunteer?
Your assistance as a volunteer benefits a given program or cause and helps them realize their goals or at least make them more achievable by being part of an ongoing effort.
But first, consider why you want to volunteer. Do you want to help a community? Do you want to explore a different aspect of yourself, make new friends, and learn? Do you love what you do? Do you want to share your gifts with others or give something back? Answering these sort of questions will help you decide if volunteering is something you really want to do.
Volunteering is also a way to enrich yourself in many aspects like gaining new skills, learning a new language, and others. It helps enhance your resume and your career as well. If you’re still in school, it opens more possibilities for scholarships and financial aid to further your education. But even more important, it fulfills your need to help others.
Why should you pay to volunteer?
Most service organizations are non-profits and they only receive funding through donations, memberships, and grants. Your payment will help cover costs like business expenses, local staff, host families, food, orientation and training, supplies, airport pick up and drop off, manuals, etc.
Prices vary drastically among different programs, from only $20 per week to $1000+ per week. Make sure you verify what is included in your total capital contribution. But in the end, all or a portion of your payment will create a positive impact in a local family or individuals.
How much are you willing to pay?
Following the previous question, you should establish how much you consider your volunteer work is worth. You will find different organizations with different price settings performing the same tasks. Evaluate their prices (your capital donation), and see which one does the best benefit under your price range.
What do you want to do?
Volunteering provides many work opportunities that include: animal care and rescue, education, health, construction, local communities aid and development, and others.
Make sure you know what is involved in the program and what will be your role. You should feel comfortable with your roles as a volunteer in order to give your best (the biggest benefit) to your cause.
Where do you want to go?
As a traveler this is probably one of the first questions you should ask yourself. Decide a destination of your interest and search what volunteer programs they have available. Then out of those programs available, narrow it down to the programs and causes that appeals to you.
Another method can be by knowing a specific cause you want to contribute to and by searching locations around the world that address that cause.
How much time do you have?
Time is a big factor when volunteering. Your volunteer timeframe can vary from a week to a year and more. Be aware that you might introduce yourself to a project at the beginning, middle, or end of its timeline. Most volunteer opportunities are ongoing causes that have been active for some time and will continue indefinitely or until achieving their goal. Depending on the time you contribute to your cause, you might be able to see the direct impact of your work. If not, do not get discouraged. Volunteer programs have long-term projects that are accomplished through the help of many short-term participants.
Do you agree with the organization’s mission? Is their cause meaningful to you?
Choose an organization that is meaningful to you. There are organizations doing all sorts of work, and it is especially important with volunteer work that you choose something that you value.
Do your research about the organization that you’re interested in volunteering with. Read their mission and make sure that their working philosophy aligns with your goals and interest. Study their previous projects, organization history, goals achieved, and others.
See how open they are about their funding. Most organizations have it on display on their webpage or facilitate it to you when asked. Look at their spending breakdown and see how your volunteer fee is allotted.
If you feel comfortable with the above information, then feel free to go ahead with that organization; if not, then move along, as there are other organizations that can use your help.
How can you start?
Start small. If you’re not sure what you want to do, volunteer a small time so you can test the organization and the work you’ll be performing. You might be surprised how much you can accomplish and learn in even a little bit of time. Then, if you find you enjoy the work and feel good about what you’re doing, take on more volunteering time.
What do former volunteers say?
Social approval and word of mouth is one of the best ways to know how positive will be your contribution in a given project. Some volunteer organizations have forums that connect volunteers and help them share their thoughts and opinions. Forums are also a great way to get in touch with other volunteers that might be working on your same project. Google for articles and blog posts about the organization and projects. Connect with them through social networks to have a more interactive relationship even before you start your volunteer work.
A good directory that can help you select volunteer programs around the world is http://www.volunteerabroad.com. It helps you narrow down your search by type of work, world region, country, and duration.
As you can see, voluntourism is a great way to travel and get to know new places while helping others on the way. No matter how big or small your contribution might be, make sure that it is focused in something you are passionate about and that are willing to give your time and effort to improve it. In the end, you will have a gratifying experience and the satisfaction of having made a positive impact in the world.
I previously covered and discussed this topic with Jim from Holes In My Soles through a similar guest post on his site. As a result of that discussion, Jim expanded the information given on these previous questions with a follow up post, So You’ve Though About Volunteering 2. It gives more in dept resources that you can use if interested in knowing more about volunteering and he also shares some of his volunteering experiences.