Finding a volunteer placement
Finding the Right Placement
When you are searching for an organisation to volunteer with, you should be asking the following questions:
Whose idea was the volunteer project and who runs it?
Who understands a community better than the community itself? Volunteer projects should be designed and led by the community to meet needs that they have identified. If the organisation you’re volunteering with isn’t based in the country you’re travelling to, check they have collaborative partnerships with local organisations and people.
What will I be doing?
Ask the organisation for a position description or clear outline of your role.
Your tasks and responsibilities & any training you need
What outcomes are they hoping you achieve by the end of your placement?
Who will you be working with?
Will you have a supervisor, or someone to provide support and guidance?
How many hours a day will you be expected to do?
Will you need to bring your own laptop?
Asking these questions will help to establish your expectations of the role.
Am I the best person for the job?
Volunteer placements should make the best use of your skills by carefully matching you with a role that suits your level of experience.
Are you actually qualified to be a teacher, social worker, or builder? Unskilled volunteers in these roles can take jobs away from local people and can cause more harm than good, particularly when working with children or vulnerable groups.
A good question to ask yourself is, if you’re not qualified for these roles in Australia, should you really be doing them overseas?
When, how and where is my money spent?
If you are paying a program fee, you have a right to know how that is spent. Organisations should be transparent and willing to show you their financial statements.
Always check that at least a portion of your fee is going to the local community. There may be some administrative costs that need to be covered but your fee should also help to support the community you are working with. Ideally, if your placement is organising your accommodation, meals or transport they should be engaging local providers and hiring local people so that your money is invested back into the community.
Will you advise me about local culture and customs and how I should behave respectfully?
We need to learn before we can help. Choose an organisation that provides training for your role, as well as an understanding of the cultural customs and political, economic and social context of the country you’ll be working in. Ask: Do you run a pre-departure session or a welcome briefing? Do you provide resources for me to read before I go?
We also encourage you to do your own research, and remember as GLP students you can also attend any relevant GLP Colloquia or Think Tanks before you leave.
What kind of medical, security and safety support will be available for me?
Look for an organisation that supports you while you’re away - who could you contact if you have an emergency or a problem while on a volunteer placement? Where is the closest medical clinic? Will you be able to check in with someone regularly if you’re having trouble adjusting to the new environment?
And most importantly, never travel without travel insurance.
Do you have a child protection policy?
The answer should be yes! Make sure you ask to see the policy. If the answer is, “erm…we can’t show you that right now”, reconsider the organisation. If the answer is yes, ask:
Are all staff, including volunteers, trained on how to implement and abide by the policy? Are local and international staff adequately screened before commencing their roles? Are visitors and volunteers registered on arrival and always supervised? Is there a system in place that allows children to safely and confidentially report complaints and concerns?
Do you have policies and initiatives to protect wildlife and the environment?
Choose an organisation that supports conservation and animal welfare efforts. Avoid volunteer placements that offer animal rides or allow you to touch and play with the animals.
Here are a couple more questions you can ask if you are looking for a volunteer opportunity with animals.
What happens when I leave?
Volunteer placements should have a process in place to handover work so that it can be continued after you leave.
Ideally, local staff will guide you and ensure your work is relevant to their needs and can be seen through after you have returned home. But if you’re working by yourself, or if your skills are hard to come by locally, make sure your role includes spending time training local staff. This reduces the risk of creating dependency through volunteering where a rotation of volunteers means local people don’t develop the skills or experience to drive development in their own communities.
Can I talk to previous volunteers?
This is a good way of finding out more about the organisation, volunteer placement and country before you commit. You find more questions to ask in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Smart Volunteer Checklist.
Okay, I’m ready to start looking – where do I begin?
The GLP iLearn! On the GLP iLearn you’ll find a list of quality volunteering organisations. If you would like to volunteer overseas with an organisation that is not on this list, you need to get approval from your GLP Advisor – if you don’t your experience may not be credited back to your GLP.
Claiming your volunteering experience for GLP credit
Remember to claim your volunteering placement towards your GLP you’ll need to meet an hour requirement. Check the Experiential Credit table or Cross-Cultural Practicum table and contact your GLP Advisor if you have any questions.