In my research over the past few months, I’ve come across an astonishingly wide variety of volunteering organizations. Many of them have a specific demographic target: college students, established professionals, the under 18 crowd, or retirees. From a business perspective, it makes good sense to choose a niche. It’s easier to plan for the needs of a specific group than for the needs of all. It’s also easier to market to one demographic—you can focus your efforts on a narrower field of publications, television programs, social media platforms or events. This strategy is ideal for the volunteer looking to find a group of similarly situated people with which to travel and work, but what about the volunteer who wants a more diverse experience?
Cross Cultural Solutions is a volunteer company that welcomes all sorts of applicants. Volunteers work with CCS staff to find the perfect opportunity, and they can choose a placement with people like them, or with a collection of all sorts of people, from all over the world. Volunteer placements include: orphanages, child care centers, schools, hospitals and health clinics, centers for people with disabilities, homes for the elderly, and other community organizations. They have outposts in 12 countries: Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Chana, Guatemala, India, Morocco, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Thailand.
CCS offers all of the amenities I’ve come to expect from a solid volunteering organization. They employ local staff for volunteer placement, oversight, and to assess the ever-changing needs of the communities they serve. Volunteers always have a resource in-country in case of emergency or to answer run-of-the-mill questions. CCS also offers cultural education opportunities so volunteers can learn about local cultures and customs. Volunteers leave the experience with a complex and nuanced understanding of the challenges that face the communities in which they work.
CCS is a non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable projects. This philosophy—to establish a lasting presence that continues to serve local needs over time—puts CCS in the elite category of volunteer organizations that make a legitimate, permanent difference. Any new volunteer organization, no matter what project it champions or what demographics it targets, should be taking a lesson from CCS. The organizations that stick around are the ones that put down roots. It doesn’t matter if organization has a single project in a single village, if that organization is dedicated to the long-term success of that single project, the business will likely succeed because the volunteers will come. Everyone wants to be part of something real, something bigger than themselves. Create that thing, and watch people get inspired.