For a lot of Americans, using their gap year or holiday break to travel overseas and volunteer at charity organizations is the highlight of their year. Not only does this type of working holiday give people a chance to see different parts of the world, but being able to give back to communities is a reward in itself.
According to statistics, approximately 25% of Americans volunteer their talent, time, and energy to this type of activity. Unfortunately, due to the popularity of this type of work, there are many fake volunteer organizations out there looking to exploit individuals who may not know how to recognize false opportunities from real charity work. So, before you take the dive and book your flights, be sure to take a few minutes to ask the following questions about the volunteer organization you are interested in.
Are they Legitimate and Ethical?
You may have heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” but first impressions do go a long way in helping to identify if an organization is legitimate or not. When it comes to choosing a volunteer organization, you should closely examine all the available media regarding the company. This could include a website, a social media page, or other forms of advertising.
Look at the pictures they have chosen to post; what do these images tell you about how they interact with the local community they may be claiming to help? Are there pictures of real work being done or just people posing? Be wary of organizations that only post pictures of children or animals rather than images of previous volunteers working alongside their host community.
When looking at their website, look at what language they use when describing the work that they do. Does it seem patronizing? Look for positive and encouraging words but avoid websites that use rhetoric phrases such as “Do you want to help change the world”.
There are several different types of volunteering open to individuals. From medical volunteering to volunteer teaching, to wildlife and conservation volunteering, to more general options. When choosing an organization you should always remember that volunteering your time should never be seen as an opportunity to “try new skills” but should be a focus on using your preexisting skills to help others, so be wary of organizations that offer this kind of service. Look out for volunteer organizations that don’t list any specific skills as a requirement for applying as these are most likely scam organizations.
One of the easiest ways to determine if a volunteer organization is legitimate or not is by looking at their selection process. Organizations should be looking for volunteers who have skills on offer that they could utilize in their home community so if their application form only asks basic questions rather than questions about your skills, personality, and experience then stay away. Most reputable companies will request that an interview be set up, either in person or online via a service such as Skype, to ensure that you are right for the position.
What Training Do They Offer?
Even though reputable volunteer organizations will be looking for people who have some of the necessary skills they need, there will always be room for further guidance and training, especially for first-time volunteers. For example, a person who may want to assist a humanitarian organization such as Alight; a refugee charity that recruits and deploys volunteers to assist in bringing clean water, health care, protection, shelter, and economic opportunity to marginalized communities around the world; may ask that people undergo some additional training to learn how to handle the emotional strain of volunteer work in a foreign country.
Choosing the right volunteer organization that will suit your skill set so you can assist in the best way possible takes time and effort but the rewards of finding an opportunity where you can make a difference will make the process more than worthwhile.