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5 Critical Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Volunteer Organization

Volunteering abroad

Are you interested in volunteering abroad? Bombarded with lots of different organizations claiming they offer the best deals?

It is not always best to rely on a cool name, and a brand new website may not necessarily guarantee an organization's credibility.

Whether you are going away for four weeks, four months, or even a whole year – here are five important questions to ask before choosing a volunteer organization and taking the trip of a lifetime.

1. How long has the organization been running?

Taking a gap year or volunteering abroad has become increasingly popular.

All the cool kids are doing it, and there are a growing number of people taking trips in between jobs or as a total career break.

Due to this high demand, more and more organizations are becoming established in promoting volunteer abroad trips and eco-travel.

This is reflected in the seemingly endless organizations vying for your attention.  

However, one of the critical aspects of knowing if an organization is well run is finding out how long have they been running for.

When parting with your hard-earned cash, you want to be confident that the organization is reliable and in it for the long haul; they're not going to go bust and leave you out of pocket.

Scuba diving
PADI training may be included in some marine conservation programs

2. How long has the project been running?

If the project has been running for a while, the chances of them having a good working relationship with the locals is high.

Additionally, if a project is well established, it will have a much better chance of everything running smoothly, from the airport pickup to the accommodation you stay in; it should all be in place.

A good way of finding out if a project has been running for a while is by looking for feedback from past volunteers.

As well as feedback on independent travel websites, it's also worth looking at organizations' own Facebook page, where you can have a look at pictures uploaded by previous volunteers, which should give you a good idea of what it would be like out on the project you are interested in.

Other things to think about are nice freebies, such as will there be a complimentary airport pickup?

Are meals and accommodation included in the price?

Are there any other freebies thrown in, such as PADI training on marine conservation projects or a TEFL qualification in the teaching projects?

A fun day with elephants
A fun day with elephants

3. Has the organization been independently assessed, and do they have a responsible tourism policy?

You want to be traveling with an accredited and professional organization while you are in a country or countries you are not familiar with. 

Therefore, making sure the organization you choose has independent accreditation is crucial.

In the UK, the British Standard 8848 is given to organizations by the Young Explorers Trust and pulls together the expertise and good practice into a national standard for the safe management of overseas ventures.

Additionally, you also want to know that your organization is helping the local communities they work within.

There are many different types of volunteering organizations, and you want to ask questions such as are they a non-government organization (NGO)?

Are they non-profit organizations? Make sure you do your homework.

Travel is about giving something back, leaving a destination and host community in a better condition than when you found it, even if it simply means giving a smile to everyone you encounter.

By volunteering abroad, you should be able to make a real contribution to the lives of the communities you have visited via sustainable community development projects, teaching children, health care, or the conservation of wildlife, both terrestrial and marine.

4. How do you make sure that the program is suitable for you?

Choosing the appropriate project for you is another necessity. Will you be gaining qualifications to strengthen your CV? Will it give you relevant experience for a future job?

At Frontier you can choose a project that will give you a qualification when finishing your time abroad.

5. How will I contact my friends and family if I have an emergency during my program?

Not being in contact with your family for an extended period may seem like bliss to most of us.

No nagging parents telling you what to do or managers are giving you yet another deadline.

However, if an emergency arises, you want to ensure the volunteering organization has a 24-hour support line.

For example, with Frontier, no matter what the time difference is, an allocated staff member will be on standby to answer the emergency phone and ring you back if needed.

The next thing to decide is which country to visit?

I'll leave this one up to you. Good luck and happy traveling!

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:


Monday 9th of May 2011

This looks like a great opportunity to learn and see new things. My question is a little more pragmatic, how can one support himself during the volunteering period?

Frontier Conservation

Monday 9th of May 2011

Hi Mia,

Volunteers usually fundraise or save some money prior to a volunteering placement, which lets them go out to their choosen destination and just focus on the project they sign up for.

Additionally, we also offer some paid placements to qualified individuals who are placed in senior positions on Frontier led scientific projects.


Friday 6th of May 2011

Decent article but slightly biased towards Frontier isn't it? Good points to look into all the same but some other choices in the article would be appreciated.


Friday 6th of May 2011

Hi Ronnie, this post was sponsored by Frontier, which is why other organisations aren't mentioned by name. Thanks for checking it out.

Comments are closed.