Travel & Leisure

Want to Volunteer Abroad? Do Your Homework First

Opportunities to volunteer internationally abound, but you need to know who it is that you’d be working with

By Katrina Caruso

The benefits of volunteering are many, for both the volunteer and the organization. Volunteering can make life better for others, while giving you a sense of purpose and well-being. It even confers health benefits.

There are many kinds of volunteering opportunities in Canada, offering the chance to serve almost any cause. If you’re not sure where to start, check out Volunteer Canada’s website to explore options. Most Canadian cities have volunteer centres that can help prospective volunteers.

Many people set their sites more internationally. A Google search for “volunteer internationally” brings up thousands of hits, but there are some things to consider before you commit to something that sounds too good to be true (warning: it might be).

  • Be leery if the organization asks for a lot of money from volunteers, especially upfront. It’s not unusual to have to spend some money to get to the destination or to host fundraisers for the organization to offset costs, but make sure you know where that money goes.
  • Beware of “voluntourism” opportunities that sound great, but don’t actually do a lot of good for the hosting community.
  • Check to see if the organization is a non-profit organization. There are a lot of for-profit companies that offer “volunteer” opportunities.
  • Websites like Charity Navigator and Charity Intelligence can provide details on what the organization does, how transparent it is about finances, and other criteria.
  • Ask yourself what you want to get out of volunteering, whom you want to help, and what you can offer. Most organizations offer testimonials from past travellers.

Here are just a few of the reliable non-profit organizations with opportunities for Canadians to volunteer abroad:

Looking for more? The website, Idealist, can help you find additional opportunities.

Photo: iStock/Rawpixel.