Volunteering is usually considered to be altruistic. Family and friends see the donation of time and expertise, whatever that may be, as promoting some good or improving quality of life. While this is the end result, some volunteer to develop their own skills, for networking opportunities, and for fun, all of which would be looked upon as self-serving. Volunteerism is defined as the principle of donating time and energy for the benefit of other people in the community as a social responsibility rather than for any financial reward.
Most are probably familiar with skills-based volunteering. These volunteers offer not just their time but a particular skill that they have which will be helpful to the person or organization they choose to serve. Other types include volunteering in developing countries, virtual volunteering, micro-volunteering, environmental volunteering, volunteering in an emergency, volunteering in schools, corporate and employee volunteering, community volunteering, and international workcamps.
It’s important to carefully consider the volunteer organization before making a commitment. After all, a good deal of time, as well as your talent(s), will be invested. In a nutshell, here is what to look for in a responsible volunteering organization:
Choosing a volunteering organization.
With so many volunteering organizations around these days, deciding which ones are responsible is a hefty task. There are plenty of independent resources which suggest questions for you to ask to help you develop your own criteria but to start with it’s good to ask some general questions first.
Questions could include
Where can I find your responsible tourism policy?
How much of my trip cost or donation goes into the host country and into projects there?
What work have previous volunteers achieved and what projects have been completed? Have you had any research published? (especially important if they are involved in conservation volunteering)
But, as you assess their responses, if any of the following questions come to mind …
Why haven’t they asked more of me than my credit card number – don’t local people need to know about me and how I’ll work in the project?
Why are they reluctant to put me in touch with previous volunteers or local people – surely I need to understand where and how I fit into the bigger picture – or isn’t there one?
Why can’t they tell me how much of what I’m spending reaches my hosts – how do I know that my hosts are being fairly recompensed for their hospitality?
… we would suggest that it’s unlikely that the particular organization can help you achieve your goals.
Once you’ve worked your way through this far, you’ll have a short-list of ‘good guys’ and most will have responsible travel policies. Through talking with previous volunteers or local people, you’ll be able to find out if the organizations actually do what they say they do – then make your choice and take responsibility for your decision!
Habitat for Humanity is an organization that offers opportunities for most, if not all, types of volunteerism. Their vision: a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Do you have to know how to build a house to get involved? In fact, if you’d like to learn how, you can, but if writing is one of your skills, that is needed as well.
Habitat for Humanity slideshow that highlights how you can volunteer.
Why is Habitat for Humanity a good choice when making the decision to volunteer? They pass the choosing “test” questions, and from the fiscal responsibility standpoint, they have “a commitment to global stewardship”. Details of their financial stewardship can be found beginning on page 23 of their latest Annual Report.
If you’re interested in more information, or in volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, you can Find Local Affiliates, Volunteer Opportunities, News, and Events here. Locally, you can find Habitat in Newark, Morris County, Bergen County (Hackensack), Trenton, Camden, and Burlington County.