5 Tips for Finding a Volunteer Placement You’ll Love (and Avoiding the Ones You Won’t)
It’s always a bit of a risk signing up for a volunteer placement you’ve found over the internet. No matter how much information you get, it’s never really possible to be sure of what to expect. However, after volunteering across the globe for the last few years, I’ve figured out what to look for when seeking a legitimate and trustworthy opportunity. These tips are for using websites like WWOOF, HelpX and Workaway, which are all free or low-cost volunteer placement organizations.
One of the best indicators of a volunteer placement’s worth is the way the organization describes itself. If a placement gives a thorough description of how they operate, what the volunteer duties will include, what the hours will be like and everything else in between, it usually means they are professional and organized. If they’ve only used one sentence to describe themselves, aside from being completely uninspiring, it is often sign that they aren’t very serious about their volunteers or that they don’t understand the importance of information and communication in recruiting volunteers.
Many of these websites give volunteers the opportunity to review their placements. These are a good way to get real-life stories from previous volunteers—I have very rarely volunteered somewhere that has no reviews at all. Let’s face it, if someone’s had a terrible experience, this is one of the first places they’ll go to shout about it. Having said that, hosts can respond to reviews and also leave reviews about volunteers, so always make sure you read both sides of the story before you make judgement.
If a placement has no pictures of the project or site up on their profile page, I usually keep looking. I want to be able to picture the environment I’m working in, and for the most part, the good placements will have a range of photos. Always have a look through these to see if it’s the kind of place you’d like to be. There should also be a link to the host’s website, if one exists, where you can find more photos (and more details!).
Volunteering is more than just working for someone; it allows you to meet new people and connect with locals. Aside from looking through descriptions for the work you’ll be doing, many of the best placements will tell you a little more about themselves, their hobbies and lifestyle. Take the time to read through these and find placements with common passions and interests—if you find a cause and a group of people you click with, you’ll get much more out the experience.
If you have more questions about the placement before you sign up for it, use the email address provided and fire away. Hosts are looking for good volunteers—just as much as you’re looking for a good project—so a good host will always appreciate people taking the time to ask for further information, and will be happy to provide it. Placements that only send vague information back should raise alarm bells. They’re obviously not as bothered about who turns up to volunteer. I find that the placements I love the most are clear, descriptive and friendly in their communication.
Using smart judgement and trusting your gut will go a long way to finding a volunteer placement you’ll really love.