Thursday, March 24, 2011

Volunteer Service Checklist

By Anni Kasari, Volunteer, Program Manager

The opportunity to make a difference through volunteer service is an incredible experience. There are lots of organisations in need, but sometimes it can be a challenge to find the perfect fit. When deciding to volunteer abroad, it is important to know as much as you can about an organization before committing your time or your money - you don’t want to fly across the world only to find the organisation doesn’t meet your expectations. So how do you find the perfect match?

Here are a few tips to help you decide whether a volunteering opportunity is right for you:

1. Define your goals. Volunteering is an investment of your time and money, so make sure you know what you will gain from the experience. Whether it is wanting to improve your resume, learn a new language, contribute to a good cause, or just take a break from your everyday life, ensure the position will give you just that. Getting direct experience with microfinance, learning more about development, and getting experience managing teams of people were all reasons behind my decision to volunteer with En Vía.

2. Measure your impact. As well as gaining from the experience on a personal level, it is also important to know what you are going to contribute to the project. One of the things that drew me to volunteering with En Via was that I knew I would have a lot of responsibility and that by having a lot of responsibility with such a new, growing organisation, I would be able to make a significant contribution to the program.

3. Know the job description. So you've found the perfect position in turtle conservation in
Costa Rica – before you pack your bags, be clear of what is expected of you both in terms of your responsibilities as well as time commitment. A perfect opportunity to enquire about this more specifically is during the interview, which is what I did.

4. Research the organisation. Who will you be working for and what are their values? Make
sure you know who the organisation is funded by and whether they make a profit. You don't want to be breaking your back for someone whose intentions aren't as good as yours. I knew En Vía's cause was genuine because 100% of the money received goes towards the microloans.

5. Inquire about the team. How many staff and other volunteers are there and who are they?
Are they people you think you will get along with? Will you be able to build personal and professional relationships with them? Will you be able to learn from them? Besides having formed great friendships with the En Vía team, I love getting to meet people from all walks of life on our tours.

6. Evaluate the costs. It may seem like all volunteer positions come with a big price tag, but it doesn't necessarily have to be the case. Define your budget and do your research. Make sure you know exactly how much you are paying: does the organisation charge volunteers a fee? Do you need to pay for transportation? Know what you are paying for and how big a part of the money goes to the organisation itself rather than intermediaries.

Volunteering with En Vía was perfect for me as they don't charge volunteers a fee, so it was well within my budget. After figuring out travel and living costs, I knew the money invested would be more than worth it in the long run.

Some other useful websites for finding low-cost or free volunteering opportunities are, and

I love En Via's volunteer program because it ticks all the boxes for me. It's a two-way thing that both En Vía and I benefit from, and that's the way it should be.

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