Volunteering Abroad: Know Before You Go

Part of my job at Idealist is to ensure that the organizations that apply for inclusion in our directory are legitimate and adhere to our mission to create a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives. With hundreds of organizations applying from all over the world every week, it can be pretty difficult to know for certain that an organization is for real. That’s why, as a savvy potential volunteer or intern, you should take the time to research any organization you’re interested in working for, especially when traveling abroad.


From flickr user khym54 (Creative Commons)

First, take some time to get familiar with the nonprofit landscape in the country where the organization is located. We recommend searching the internet for additional information about the organization and/or testimonials from individuals that have had direct experience working for the organization. Don’t hesitate to ask for references from the organization. In our International Volunteer Resource Center, we list some additional sample questions that you may want to consider asking the organization, such as:

  • How old is the program or organization? How long have you worked with international volunteers?
  • What is the organization’s mission?
  • (If going with a volunteer-sending organization,) how long has your organization partnered with this local volunteer site? What impact have your volunteers had for their organization?
  • (If going solo,) do you regularly accept international volunteers?
  • How many international volunteers have you accepted (if going solo) or sent (if going with a volunteer-sending organization)?

Remember: Although some international volunteer organizations require fees, you should never reveal information like your Social Security number, credit card number, or Paypal account details. Before you sign on to a project, make sure you are getting all relevant details of your work in writing. That way, you have something to rely on if the reality of your project ends up not meeting what was promised to you.

International volunteering is a great way to hone your skills and gain experience abroad for your résumé, and also gives you first hand experience on a new culture and society different from your own. Just make sure you do your homework and if you find anything fishy about an organization listed on Idealist, don’t hesitate to report it so that we can follow up.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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