7 Steps to Choosing the Best Volunteer Organization
Deciding to take time out of your life to volunteer is an admirable undertaking. Whether you’re doing so full-time with an organization like the Peace Corps, taking a gap year before university, or using your hard-earned vacation time to make a difference, volunteering can bring you a sense of purpose that you may not find in your daily routine. That’s why I decided to volunteer when I began traveling full-time in January 2017. I wanted to leave a mark on the world, no matter how small it may be, by dedicating the majority of my time for the foreseeable future to helping non-profit organizations.
I’ve spent countless hours reading about and researching volunteering projects around the world. That effort and my experience volunteering abroad is what lead me to start GOAT Volunteers. I knew that I wanted to create the best volunteer organization for individuals looking for low-cost, ethical, transparent, and impactful projects.
These are the steps I took to find the agencies that I initially volunteered with. It also served as the foundation upon which GOAT Volunteers was built. As much as I want you to join a project with GOAT Volunteers, I want you to make that decision from an informed position.
Follow these 7 steps to help find the best volunteer organization to fit your volunteering goals!
Step 1: Ask yourself “Why do I want to volunteer?”
I’m not going to dive deep into the reasons for volunteering, they’re too personal. But, make sure you’re doing it for the “right” reasons. Be honest with yourself. If you’re not, you will be disappointed in the experience. Or worse, your host organization will be stuck with someone who really doesn’t want to be there. Have you ever worked with somebody who absolutely hated their job and made it well known (verbally or non-verbally) on a daily basis? Yeah, real ray of sunshine there. Also, not the kind of person who makes a good volunteer. (Disclaimer: I’ve been that guy. That’s why I quit to travel and volunteer. Don’t be that guy!).
Step 2: Ask yourself “What type of project do I want to work on?”
There are countless projects you can work on all around the world. Only you can decide which one fits your specific goals, skills, and abilities. Do you want to work with animals, children, or rural development? Do you want to teach English? Are you a medical professional who wants to deliver care in developing countries?
Volunteering is not always glamorous. It’s not an Instagram-filtered vacation. Yes, you’ll get to experience amazing things and meet some fantastic people. But, you’ll also have to shovel elephant poop, console crying children, or observe and record information about a beached whale. Think about the less-fun tasks and how comfortable you are with them before deciding.
Think about your skills, abilities, and personality. Chances are, if you’re not a medical professional, you’re not going to be participating in any medical programs. If you’re considering teaching yet can’t stand public speaking, you might want to look into a different project. However, if you have a background in business, science, or agriculture…your skillset may be in great need in countries with a developing infrastructure. Great with kids and experienced in a specific subject that you love talking about? Then maybe teaching is for right you!
Step 3: Ask yourself: “Where do I want to go?”
This step is pretty simple. Where in the world do you want to go? Do you prefer tropical islands? Or maybe you want to experience the excitement of East Africa? Are you a huge fan of Spanish food?Perhaps you want to see what Nepal is like in the summer? Maybe a rural village in the Cambodian countryside is more your speed?
Not sure where you want to go? The next step can help you figure it out.
Step 4: Google it!
Now that you know what you want to do and (potentially) where you want to go, it’s time to start looking for the best volunteering organization to get you there.
Google “volunteering” and you’ll get hundreds of results. It’s a lot to sift through. My advice, choose some keywords relating to the type of project you decided on in Step 1 and the countries you are considering from Step 2. This will help you narrow the pool of possibilities. From there, start clicking!
A few things to note during this step:
- Does the website look professional? – if it looks like something from Geocities back in 1997, with “Under Construction” sections, I’d suggest moving on to the next link.
- Is the company present on social media? – one of the best ways to get a feel for a company is to research it on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. This gives you the ability to see unfiltered comments and reviews from past volunteers.
- Does the website answer questions you have? – a good organization should have a well thought out FAQ section and/or project descriptions that provides answers to common questions.
This is one of the most in depth steps and can take some time. As I mentioned, there are hundreds of companies that offer volunteer placement services.
GOAT Volunteers is a brand new operator as of 2018. I’m well aware that this means choosing to volunteer through my agency requires a volunteer to take a leap of faith. I’m also confident that volunteers who take that leap will be rewarded with exceptional service by myself and GOAT’s NGO partners. Check out the About GOAT and Why GOAT pages on this website for more personal insight on who I am and why you should trust that GOAT Volunteers is the best volunteering organization for you!
Step 5: Follow the Money
Contrary to popular belief, volunteering is not free. If the project is free, it probably doesn’t include accommodation, meals, local transport, etc. Small NGOs like the ones GOAT works with typically run on very limited funding. They can’t afford to support their projects and cover the expenses of a volunteer. However, just because volunteering is not free doesn’t mean it should be expensive.
There are large organizations out there that charge thousands of dollars for just a week or two of volunteering. I don’t know about you, but the thought of spending more than a mortgage payment for such a (relatively) short period of time is ludicrous. Those companies likely have large staffs housed in offices, high-priced advertising, and extensive overhead. They pass those costs on to the volunteer who thinks paying more will get them a better experience. That’s not necessarily the case.
On the other hand, if the costs are significantly lower than all other options for similar projects, you should definitely recheck what’s included in the price. It’s possible that the program doesn’t provide accommodations and/or meals.
Personally, I’m not cheap. But, I am frugal. I also want to know where my money is going when I commit to a project. The best companies are the most transparent. They will provide you with a breakdown of where the finances go. If it isn’t already on their website, email them and ask. If they’re shady about their response, they’re probably not the kind of company you want to work with.
GOAT Volunteers charges two fees, the application fee and a project fee. This is standard for most of the best volunteer organizations. Check out The Fine Print page for an explanation of these fees.
Which leads us to our next step…
Step 6: Make Contact & Check Response
Putting your faith into a company to organize an overseas volunteering commitment for you is a big step. You should never do so blindly. Always reach out to the organizations you’re considering and ask them questions.
I did this with the 4 companies when I first began researching what I considered the best volunteering organizations available. I asked them all the same question: “I noticed that most organizations require background checks to volunteer. Do you require the form to be the physical paperwork in a sealed envelope or is a scanned copy sufficient?”
The purpose of this question was twofold:
- To answer an important question
- To gauge the organization’s response time and transparency
Tip: organizations should require background checks for all programs involving children – this is a requirement of GOAT Volunteers
If the company is vague in their response, uncomfortably slow to respond, or doesn’t respond at all; you may want to consider different options.
Even before launching this agency, I’ve fielded dozens of questions about volunteering and the projects GOAT Volunteers offers. I love it when potential volunteers do their homework and I’m always happy to answer any questions and provide guidance.
Step 7: Decide & Apply!
Now that you’ve done your homework, researched extensively, and feel comfortable with the company that you want to work with – go for it! Book the project. It will be challenging. You will be outside of your comfort zone at least a little bit (and maybe a lot!). But it will be worth it.
Volunteering is a deeply personal, but very social decision. Talk to your friends and family about it. Be open to the new experience. Get to know your fellow volunteers and the staff where you work. Immerse yourself in their culture and be more than a “voluntourist”. Be a member of the team.
I hope that you go through these steps and find yourself drawn to a project offered by GOAT Volunteers. Compare our projects to other agencies and follow the steps above to determine the best volunteering organization for you. Hopefully, that means leading you to join GOAT Volunteers!
This article was originally posted on Justin’s personal blog, BeerAndaBackpack. It has been updated to reflect the current position of GOAT Volunteers as an option in volunteer placement.