Read our 10-point volunteering checklist

People generally volunteer overseas to contribute something meaningful and experience a new culture. However, some volunteer-sending companies may be more concerned with creating a ‘life-changing’ experience for the volunteer, with less focus on the purpose and the needs of local communities. Here’s what to look for to make sure your time overseas is genuinely spent making a difference:     

About the volunteering opportunity  

1. The needs have been set out by the local community

Find out why the project has been set up and volunteers are needed. It should be directed and run by local people.

2. It’s sustainable

Projects shouldn’t create a dependency on volunteers. Ask what happens to the project when volunteers return home.

3. There’s no local alternative

Look for projects where volunteers are brought in to enhance local capacity, e.g. to provide training or meet a short-term skills gap working with local people.

4. It doesn’t involve ‘orphans’ or vulnerable children 

Choose a company that has never or has ceased running orphanage volunteering programmes

About you

5. There’s a skills match

Think about the skills you to offer. Those in demand include digital, monitoring and evaluation skills, photography, fundraising, language and computer skills. Don’t be tempted by placements for which you are not skilled or qualified – e.g. teaching or caring for children or providing medical care.

6. It adds value

Seek opportunities where you can apply your learnings back home. Employers will be interested in evidence of impact, not just the fact that you have volunteered overseas.   

About the volunteering-sending company

7. There’s evidence of impact

Check that the company you will be volunteering with has a proven track record. Find out about their achievements and how projects are monitored and evaluated.  

8. You’ll be safe

Some companies simply recruit volunteers for third parties, whereas others recruit volunteers for their own projects.  Find out who will be responsible for your safety and is the point of contact for you and your family should anything go wrong.  

9. You’re not being ‘sold to’

Be wise to emotive language sometimes used to recruit volunteers. Avoid companies that talk of volunteers ‘saving the world’, ‘giving children the love they need’ or focus heavily on the tourism part of the trip.

10. You must apply to volunteer

Be prepared to apply for a post and be vetted, as if you were applying for a job or university. You should also receive pre-departure support and maybe training before you travel.