I’m always writing about how important it is for volunteers to have information they can trust. As I’ve discussed before, there are many organizations that organize and vet opportunities but sometimes it can be difficult to tell how they choose the programs they feature. Do they have a financial incentive? Are they only featuring programs that agree to exchange online traffic? The average volunteer may find herself frustrated by the lack of straightforwardness and transparency. Sometimes it’s necessary to dig rather deeply to uncover the motives of an organization. Most of us simply don’t have the time, energy, technical expertise, or team of crack private investigators to do that kind of digging. This is where rating programs and associations with high standards can really help separate the legitimate opportunities from the rest.
The International Volunteer Programs Association (IVPA) is a group of non-governmental volunteer organizations united by a common mission: to offer responsible, top-notch volunteer experiences. IVPA membership is prestigious: only the very best organizations may become members. The guidelines are strict, as they should be. For an organization like IVPA to mean something, it must be a mark of excellence. Qualifying programs “offer unique hands-on learning experiences which promote cross-cultural understanding, cooperation, and solidarity among individuals and communities around the world. They encourage participating volunteers to examine how their work and daily choices back home can have an impact on economic and social conditions in other parts of the world.”
Volunteer organizations dedicated to these principles (and I have encountered many excellent organizations that are) should investigate becoming members of IVPA. For volunteers, the IVPA seal is akin to a familiar and trusted brand. It reflects standards and best practices. In the sea of opportunity, having a reliable seal of approval goes a long way. I’d like to see this seal on some of the wonderful smaller-scale organizations I’ve profiled here on Journeys for Good. Surely, gaining membership opens the doors to a large number of cautious and educated volunteers—people who only want to be part of something if it’s something wholly positive. I was excited to see some of our favorite organizations listed as IVPA members. These include: Cross-Cultural Solutions, Globe Aware, and Habitat for Humanity.
In addition to the obvious marketing and publicity benefits of IVPA membership, the volunteers that travel with member organizations also have access to some great grants to help them fund their volunteer adventures. Most of the scholarships and grants listed are for students, but these are excellent opportunities for those struggling to fund trips on their own.