During my travel in 2010, I embarked upon several volunteer-based projects. Most of it has been outlined in articles on this blog already, but here I’m drawing attention again to a problem I faced throughout my travels – the difficulty I had to find organisation either looking for, or willing to accept volunteers. I wrote about my frustrations in another article here.
This article is to describe my first attempt to address some of the problems of both volunteers and organisations.
The problems facing volunteers
The volunteering concept is now regarded as big business. And this means that almost anybody who thinks there’s a buck to be made in that industry has jumped on to the “voluntourism” bandwagon. They have marketed volunteering as a substitute holiday where you work on a project, with added fun and adventure activities, instead of the typical “top up your tan” beach holidays. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with any of these types of holidays in principle.
So what’s the problem? Many voluntourism holidays, though not all, are priced in-line with normal holidays you may book with any agent, though they are usually at least slightly more expensive due to their niche nature. Because of the places that many of these voluntour holidays are set, the cost of living is significantly cheaper. So why are they the same price of standard holidays, if not more expensive?
Further, what if I don’t want a holiday, but I want to work for a while, perhaps say at least a month? Surely if I went there, direct to the organisation who is looking for contributors, I could work for them and not pay huge agent fees? Well it seems that since that doesn’t bring in big revenues for anyone, it’s not a well catered for market. In fact, there isn’t really any profit to be made at all so organising this sector and creating a market for it is nearly impossible.
The problems facing organisations
Before setting out on my travels, one of my goals was to observe organisations and their leaders. I wanted to see what made them tick, what their passions were, and what skills they had that they brought to the project(s). I also needed to learn how these organisations functioned, how they were financed, what I thought they did right, and what I thought they did wrong. This article wont go into those details, but one aspect of the functioning that makes a huge difference is HR – human resources.
I could be wrong, but second to finances and cash flow, this is by far the biggest problem facing all not-for-profit, low-budget organisations and projects. It’s a very basic principle… if you imagine yourself at the helm of a small core group of staff in an organisation with a low-budget, and you need volunteers, there is a significant amount of work involved at each stage of the recruitment process, that no one person in the core staff group may have any particular expertise with performing. For example, here is a non-exhaustive list of tasks and skills:
- marketing/exposure – how do you get the word out to the world of your organisation/project based in a relatively obscure part of the world?
- advertisement of work/volunteer roles – I don’t necessarily mean paid advertising, but simply getting the word out about what sort of people they are looking for to join their project
- recruitment – the time required to process and field communications from potential volunteers/staff is monumental when your existing staff skills, count and budget are limited.
- management – once you have “recruited” a new volunteer you have to manage him or her. You need to assist in localization, orientation, training and ongoing task allocation.
How to fix this? Well you can’t remove any of these tasks, but I think you can reduce time taken up by existing staff, by offloading this to the prospective volunteers. This takes an investment of time however, to put into writing all that needs to be put into writing. It can also involve application of questionnaires to better categorize applicants and assess their suitability from the outset.
The solution – a first attempt
I don’t have all the answers, but my first attempt to assist the process is to create a centralised location where socially conscious organisations and projects can have themselves listed for the discovery by all prospecting volunteers. They can place succinct details of their organisation and projects, what they’re looking for in their volunteers, and how they can be contacted, all in 1 page. This page would be categorized by global location and tagged with the roles they are recruiting for, making it easier to make qualified connections between organisations and volunteers.
What is it? A directory of organisations that offer free volunteer opportunities.
What is free volunteering?
You can read my previous discussion on a related topic. Basically I define it as volunteering but without the price tag. Sure you can be charged fees for accommodation, management etc., but they are representative of the costs and not part of a profit-making venture. Free volunteers to do not pay an agents fee to arrange the placement, but may contribute towards the costs incurred for the placement itself.
I hope that’s clear =)
Here is the site:
If you know any organisations who could benefit from registering with the site, please contact them and encourage them to join in.