It’s been a while since I’ve written about a long-standing NGO—the kind of organization that has roots overseas, and in US politics. Global Volunteers has been working on grassroots international aid projects since 1984. They work with the United Nations, UNICEF, and the Food and Agriculture Organization. They are known as the “grandfather of volunteer vacations.” Indeed, they are pioneers. They “engage short-term volunteers in long-term projects,” a model that hundreds (even thousands?) of volunteer organizations use today.
To write about Global Volunteers is to get at the source—the place where all of this began—and not just the source of volunteer vacations, the source of best practices. Global Volunteers have always had a dedication to sustainable projects; to communicating openly, freely, and often with local people to cater projects to their needs and to respect their opinions about what projects are needed most; and to preparing volunteers for the unexpected risks and wonders of volunteering abroad. Their mission is the same mission many of our best organizations share: to “wage peace and promote justice worldwide through comprehensive community development partnerships.”
Being a pioneer does not automatically make an organization great, or business savvy, but Global Volunteers is both. Their website caters to the volunteer looking for information. They also include testimonials from experienced volunteers. The first testimonial on their site is from a volunteer who has participated in 19 different projects! They also have a YouTube channel with videos of volunteers working at a variety of locations. Their site is well designed and intuitive with all the bells and whistles: easy navigation, social network links, tons of information on getting involved, and a live-chat function.
Their videos all seem to have a particular focus: families. Their minimum age requirement (to work at a women’s COOP in Monteverde, Costa Rica) is five. This is significantly younger than the age requirements I’ve seen elsewhere and may make Global Volunteers particularly attractive to volunteering families with small children. In addition to families, Global Volunteers offers trips for a wide variety of travelers, from students to elderly adults. They also encourage groups to travel together.
Any new (or established) volunteer organization can learn from the Global Volunteers example. A volunteer organization that thrives for nearly 30 years in such a dynamic world is worthy of our admiration and our attention. If the goal is to enact real, sustained long-term change, Global Volunteers has succeeded.