How Sustainable Volunteering Can Make a Greater Difference

How Sustainable Volunteering Can Make a Greater Difference

It’s easy to fall into the mindset that all volunteer work must be helpful…

Who would set up a volunteer programme that didn’t really help people?

Unfortunately, some of them are set up to make a quick buck. They can be unhelpful at best, or harmful at worst.

To make sure that your time, energy and funds really make a difference, do your homework and choose a genuinely sustainable volunteer programme.


What Makes a Volunteer Programme Sustainable and Ethical?

First, check their priorities. Does the organisation work to further the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

These are objectives set out by the United Nations that work to solve worldwide issues. They include poverty, hunger, health, clean water, education, gender equality, and more.

A good volunteer programme will be designed to focus on making an impact in one or more of these goals.


What are the Organisation’s History and Local Partnerships?

Issues in a community are often multidisciplinary, and thus the solutions should be too.

Does your volunteer organisation collaborate with well-known local, regional, or international NGOs? Do they share similar objectives? A co-ordinated approach like this is essential in order to create truly long-lasting impact.

  • First, this type of approach helps ensure that no one is working at cross purposes or
  • doing the same work twice. A phenomenon that can occur in a place where several organisations are working on the same issue, without communicating or coordinating with each other.

  • Second, it helps ensure that funds are being spent effectively and efficiently.
  • Organisations working together can take a big-picture perspective of what kind of funding they have. This helps to collectively address the most important problems in the community.

  • Finally, and very importantly, collaboration prioritises the needs and engagement of the community. This combats disorganised approaches and conflicting messages for everyone involved.

Read or ask about the organisation’s history. Find out who they work with, how long it has been running? You should also discover what it’s achieved so far in terms of its stated objectives.


Is the Local Community Consulted?

A good volunteer programme first evaluates the needs and preferences of the local community.

The organisation completes all the necessary research before implementing a programme, starting with in-depth surveys and data gathering. This allows them to first fully understand the current situation, and whether the planned intervention will actually be helpful.

From there, they can determine the best way to help and implement a plan of action based on the data collected. Once this plan is underway, the organisation should be diligent about measuring its effectiveness using ongoing monitoring.

Briefing Volunteers
A good volunteer programme will also fully brief you before departure.

Not only about your own accommodation and safety information but also about the culture, history, background, and challenges faced by the people you’ll be working with.

This demonstrates respect for both the local community and your own skills as a professional. They will want to set you both up for success and will provide the tools needed to create the most impact possible.

Approaches to Sustainability
The organisation should also approach the community’s needs on multiple levels. Nothing should prevent any one intervention from being successful. Problems in the real-world are almost always multi-faceted, and should be approached as such.

For example, an organisation working in teaching might also run a clean water programme. This would ensure that kids don’t have to miss school while fetching water or being ill from waterborne diseases.

Another strategy could be training teachers to work more effectively with fewer resources. Other organisations might help promote self-sufficiency amongst women or entrepreneurs. They might teach skills required to make the most of local economic trends, like tourism.

Check out Inspire’s programmes for some examples of this multi-strand approach.


Does the Programme Support the Local Economy?

While jobs like harvesting coffee or other crops might seem like a novel, fun activity for someone who doesn’t do them all the time. These jobs are likely to be a source of seasonal income for many locals, so doing them could mean a loss of income.

a good programme will bring in volunteers who can assist and train local specialists to work in a more effeciantly productive way. Using fewer resources rather than replacing them completely.

Ask yourself, and your volunteer organisation if the skills and knowledge you’ll bring are currently unavailable in the community. This is the best way that you can add value during your volunteer placement.

The programme should also be structured to make the best use of your abilities. It shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all list of activities that may or may not be useful to the community, or suited to your personal and professional strengths.


Is the Initiative Sustainable by the Community?

How Being Part of a Sustainable Volunteering Programme Can Make a Greater Difference
The goal of any good volunteer programme is to lend a helping hand.

Most importantly, the initial assistance should enable the programme to eventually be self-sufficient. The community should be provided with the skills and tools to continue or maintain the support initially implemented by the aid.


Are the Children’s Interests at the Heart of the Programme?

There are many children in need all over the world. As such volunteer placements with children must be managed by a highly responsible and dedicated organisation in order to be beneficial. Longer term placements are normally much better for children, as children can get attached quickly.

A high volunteer turnover rate can often mean a great deal of heartbreak and disappointment for the children. In fact, a quick succession of different volunteers might actually cause more problems than it solves.

This is why Inspire ensures that its shorter volunteering opportunities are carefully slotted into existing programmes. Which helps to maximize the positive effects its volunteers can have on local children.


Does the Programme’s Funds Go Directly into the Communities?

An ethical volunteer programme that is truly dedicated to the local community ensures that it contributes in every way possible. Starting, for example, by making sure that its funds go directly into the community.

A good programme should ask you to pay a fee that will adequately cover your stay. It should fund safe local accommodation, at least two meals a day, in country transfers, and a project coordinator to be responsible for your wellbeing whilst in country. Nearly all of which can also represent income for local people.


Ready to Volunteer?

Still haven’t decided if a volunteer trip is for you, or have a question we haven’t answered here?

Get in touch with us any time by calling us at +44 1635 285666, go to our enquiries page, or leave a comment below.

Prakriti Malhotra is the founding director of Inspire. She has over 12 years’ experience helping individuals plan their overseas volunteering trips whether it be for their gap year, a sabbatical from work or a post retirement adventure.
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