Nowadays, there are many operators offering volunteer abroad projects. Unfortunately, with so many, there can be a big difference in quality and standards.
That’s why it’s important for you to research which volunteer abroad organisations you can trust. This will help you make an informed decision that enables you to make a genuine difference, and keeps you safe while you’re overseas. In other words, it will help you find out which organisations are responsible and provide ethical volunteering opportunities.
At Projects Abroad, we’ve been arranging sustainable projects around the world for more than 25 years. To date, over 115,000 participants have trusted us.
As an industry leader in responsible travel, we created a checklist that we always follow, and that we encourage all other organisations to do the same.
The 8-part checklist determines how we define Responsible Volunteering:
1. There’s real evidence of impact
Organisations should be transparent about their impact. We believe best practice is for organisations to publish an annual impact report.
In addition, organisations focused on sustainable volunteering abroad must work towards long-term goals and have robust monitoring and evaluation procedures in place. This is essential to measure impact.
At Projects Abroad, we work toward the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and set up our own extensive monitoring and evaluating tools, such as our Management Plans and Global Impact Database. This structure also means that you can participate in responsible travel last minute, as these measures are in place year-round at all of our projects, and you can join at any time.
Concerned about what kind of impact you can have if you only travel for a short time? Read our blog about short-term volunteering to learn how you can still make a difference on our sustainable volunteer opportunities.
2. Don’t leave your safety up to chance
It’s easy for a volunteering organisation to say ‘safety is paramount’. We recommend you dig deeper and find out what are an organisation’s exact safety measures and precautions.
Projects Abroad is the gold standard in safety and staff support because:
- We have a Risk Management Team who is responsible for implementing and regularly checking our Health and Safety protocols.
- All our projects, accommodation, and transport are regularly vetted and risk assessed (risk assessments are available on request).
- We employ our own full-time staff in each of our destinations, who are screened through Criminal Record Checks, and receive regular training, including First Aid training.
- We have Crisis Management Plans and Emergency Response Plans for each destination to make sure we’re prepared for any eventuality.
- We have our own In-House Medical Advisor
- Every participant receives medical and travel insurance in our standard price. This includes cover for everything from medical expenses and repatriations to lost baggage.
- We have rigorous child safeguarding protocols.
- We provide thorough pre-departure preparation and cultural awareness training.
- Our safety practices have been externally checked and earned accreditation from leading bodies such as the Expedition Providers Association, the Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge, and British Standard 8848.
3. In-country staff support
We think it’s critical to always find out before you book who will be responsible for your safety and welfare on the ground.
Some organisations simply recruit volunteers and send them to independent third party providers. So you might think you’re volunteering with one company but in fact they’ve sub-contracted you out to a completely different local company. This means the organisation you pay doesn’t have end-to-end accountability for the project or your safety. They’re simply volunteer-brokers.
We never outsource our volunteer’s safety and welfare to others. When you book with Projects Abroad, you’re with Projects Abroad from start to finish. Why is this a good thing? Because we take full accountability for what we do from the moment you first contact us, until the moment you return home.
4. Find out how your fee is spent
Volunteering organisations should always be transparent about where your money is going. An organisation should be able to provide you with a clear breakdown of how your programme fee is spent. You can read our breakdown that explains why we charge a fee.
We also encourage you to find out what’s included in your fee and what’s not. Our price might be higher than some other volunteering organisations but we’re proud that we never include any hidden fees. Our programme fee includes everything as standard, including things like:
- Airport pickups/drop offs
- Ground transportation to and from your placement
- Three meals a day
- Medical and travel insurance
- International banking and credit card fees
We don’t like surprises and don’t like being tricked, and we don’t expect you do either!
6. Getting placement information upfront
We believe it’s important that you receive full details of you specific project and accommodation before you travel. How else can you be expected to come prepared and make the best of your time abroad from the start?
In order to hit the ground running, and make an impact from day one, we make sure that you receive detailed information at least one month before you travel (and earlier if requested) via your personal webpage. This information includes details about your:
- Work placement
- Host family members
- Resources to start preparing activities/tasks
- Contact details of our staff in destination.
You can always reach out to us if you have any questions.
7. Can you trust an organisation’s integrity
Integrity is a core value for us, both for our volunteers and interns, as well as the communities we work in. We therefore believe all volunteering organisations should have their own policies and protocols detailing how they deal with:
- Child protection
- Animal welfare
- Medical ethics
- Volunteer code of conduct
- Health and safety
A responsible volunteering organisation should always have well-documented policies that are available to read before you book with them.
8. Are skills matched to a need
Volunteers without professional skills can make an impact, but only if the organisation makes sure the necessary structures are place. At Projects Abroad, we always make sure:
- Your role is to support local professionals
- You are assigned a local supervisor
- You have the right experience if a project needs it
- Our Project Experts match your experience to the perfect project
- We organise workshops and training in your destination to build your skills
- Our native English speakers assist with English lessons
Projects Abroad follows each point on this checklist. As an industry leader, we also encourage all other volunteer-sending organisations to follow the same high standards.