Volunteer in a school in Peru for $2,000 for three months. This is just the first of literally hundreds of ads that caught my eye as I started browsing the Internet looking for places to volunteer. These packages sold by companies are part of a booming volunteering for profit industry where middlemen take large commissions for their services.
The companies involved are not all bad; some are looking to give you the best volunteering experience possible. A large portion of the fees you pay might well end up being given to the organisations that you are working for, useful funds for organisations that are frequently desperate for cash. The rest however will go on admin fees.
I’ve spent the last four years of my life volunteering in some form or other and not once have I paid a penny for the experience. I’ve made some lifelong friends along the way and had some kick ass experiences to boot. So here’s how I go about giving a hand without paying a middleman.
What Have You Got to Offer?
If you’re looking to volunteer at a busy organisation sometimes-boundless enthusiasm just wont be enough. Smaller organisations have more limited human resources, and if a person is spending their time babysitting you then they’re not doing their job efficiently. So before you start looking for volunteer positions consider what skills you has to offer. I guarantee that in the end these five minutes you spend considering your attributes will improve your volunteer experience no end.
Browse the Internet
The person who decided to link computers together made the world just that much simpler. Using a combination of google translate and search engines you can find just about any organisation in the world that might be interested in a volunteer. This could take a lot of time and be quite frustrating, but at the end of it you should have a list of organisations you’re interested in helping out.
Cut out the Middleman
Another way of searching for volunteer positions is to browse through websites offering paid placements and contact the organisations directly. As so often in life cutting out the middleman will reduce prices, so don’t be afraid to try some intuitive googling.
Believe me they’re as desperate for volunteers to help out, as you are to give a hand, so don’t be afraid to get in touch. E-mail is normally the best place to start. Introduce yourself politely with the reason you wanted to get in touch. If you want to try the more direct approach then you can phone directly. For international calls I always use Skype because it’s just so cheap. Nowadays there’s little difference on call quality.
Organisations are normally quite happy to point you in the way of cheap accommodation and deal with your other enquiries. If they’re unfriendly or unhelpful then maybe this is a warning sign and you should reconsider the placement. Alternatively the person could just be having a bad day and have too many things on their plate to be your travel agent.