Yesterday Cassandra Tomkin spoke about the beginnings of Cross-Cultural Solutions, developing industry-leading standards for international volunteering, and the unique challenges of managing programs and volunteers around the world. Today she will explore how a volunteer organization develops relationships with programs abroad. She will also discuss emerging trends in the field of volunteer travel and her advice for emerging organizations. I would like to thank Cassandra Tomkin for her great insights. Enjoy!
I am interested in how a volunteer organization establishes their connections with programs abroad. How do you go about doing this? How do you decide who to work with?
At CCS, our philosophy is that local people know best what is appropriate for their own communities, and that our work should be sustainable and have a positive impact. One of the primary ways in which we do this is the setup of our program sites. When we are establishing a program site, we first locate an experienced Country Director who has extensive experience in international development and international volunteering, and is, very importantly, a local national to that country and community. Due to this experience with development and in the location, they have established existing local contacts with NGO organizations, and throughout the community that they know and have worked with. We expand upon these contacts through word of mouth and community networking to create placements for volunteers that are meaningful and individually sustainable.
When placing a volunteer, we look at the skills & interests of each volunteer as well as the needs of each placement. We match these through a process where we also meet with each volunteer placement individually about the skills & contributions of the volunteer that will be arriving to find a match that will be mutually beneficial. Our full in-country staff then supports the volunteer throughout the placement experience through individual and group feedback meetings and placement visits, taking that responsibility off the placement so they can focus on their important work.
Have you seen any emerging trends in the types of people who are volunteering? Do you see volunteerism growing?
We have seen some trends in international volunteering – we have many ages and backgrounds of individuals that are traveling on this type of program – from “8 to 80!”. We also see families volunteering, as well as mid-career professionals taking either a longer career break or volunteering in their one-week vacation, as well as corporate volunteering sponsored by corporations committed to social responsibility.
I think volunteering is a growing field – we are seeing more start-up volunteer organizations coming into our field, and more volunteers overall interested in something more meaningful and deep than your typical tourist experience.
What advice would you give to an emerging non-profit volunteer organization?
My primary piece of advice to any organization is think of the community needs first- volunteering is a beneficial experience for the volunteer, certainly, and making meaningful connections with those in other countries can shape your worldview. However, it is extremely important to follow key best practices in the field, such as measuring impact, looking at sustainability of placements, not creating dependency on volunteers, and following the needs and direction of the local community; all which make the volunteer experience a truly meaningful experience because it is meaningful to both sides!
In addition, I would suggest that they look carefully at safety and security and the information they are providing to volunteers. It is a great responsibility being entrusted to create an international experience for an individual or a group, and that trust needs to be taken extremely seriously.