I want to start this blog by emphatically stating that I firmly believe that no one should have to pay thousands of dollars to do volunteer work abroad. However, this does mean volunteer work should be completely free. You should have to pay for the services that you are using and/or being provided. Examples may include: housing, meals, in-country transportation, and excursion opportunities. I am also not opposed to the organization you are working through charging an administrative fee for the work they put into placing you and for logistics, as long as it is reasonable, based on duration of stay, project, etc. It would be okay as well to include a small payment to the organization you are being placed at for hosting you and as a gesture of good will.
However, where my ethical and moral concerns come in is when organizations/providers charge $3,000 or more for 2-3 weeks of volunteering abroad. This price does not include airfare either. I am not going to name organizations because, unfortunately, there are too many to list. I find this pricing atrocious and unethical. The main objectives of volunteer work should be two fold and two fold only. It should be to expose people to different cultures, ways of life, situations, etc. It is also to provide assistance, new ideas, cultural exchange, and more to local organizations. What it never should be is a money maker for the host organization/provider. Yes, people, need to survive and I am not stating people who operate volunteer programs need to become martyrs and pious people. However, as with almost anything related to international education you shouldn't be getting into this to suddenly make millions, especially on the backs of people that want to good work abroad.
How do you find good, trustworthy, and vetted volunteer programs so you can avoid the scam programs that are out there?
Here are a few questions you can ask and things you can do:
1. Conduct Google Searches
There are a ton of volunteer organizations and providers out there, don't just go with the first one that sounds good.
2. Ask the provider/organization for a quote that includes a breakdown of the costs so you can see where you money is going.
3. Ask to speak to current or recently returned volunteers to get their feedback.
4. Don't just take their feedback - look for reviews online.
5. Check out the organization's/provider's website.
If it doesn't provide much information, I would suggest moving on to another program on your list. Program websites should give you almost everything you need to know about your program. If they don't, it is a sign that there could be problems with the program.
6. If the organization/provider doesn't answer your inquiry email within 3 business days move on to another program on your list.
Prompt responses are a sign of good communication. You only want to work with organizations that can communicate with you effectively and promptly. However, keep in mind any time differences and have some extra patience with this.
This same idea applies to responses. If they don't respond to your questions after your first email, never pay a deposit. You need to have all your questions answered and sufficient program information before you pay any money.
7. Make sure the organization/provider can guarantee, in writing, everything you are requesting and they say they can provide.
8. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to feel comfortable with the organization/provider.
Yes, you may think you are being a pest by asking so many questions but, this is your program and even if you aren't spending $3,000 you will still be spending a significant amount of money and time and you want to ensure it is going to the right place and you are getting your money's worth.
9. Do your own research on how much thing's cost in the host country you are going to.
You may have some negotiating power with increased knowledge.
10. Last, but not least, never let anyone talk you into a program you are unsure of or have questions about.
If you don't know or are unsure, take the time to think it over and/or ask more questions.
Remember this is your program and in the end your money. So you make the decisions.
It is also okay to go with an in-country provider. They tend to be cheaper and also tend to have better connections. Just follow the above advise.
If you use these tips you have a much better chance of still finding an amazing volunteer program as well as something that fits within your budget.
Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com.
Mandy Reinig is the Director of International Education at a college in Southern Maryland. She is also the owner and founder of Mandy's Mashups. A company that provides training, particularly to the international education and travel fields, on effective use of social media. We offer webinars and workshops routinely and are available to provide consulting to your office/organization on creating an effective social media strategy.
This blog contains my travel adventures, tips, advice and more. Enjoy the ride!