Things to do before you begin
Before undertaking a volunteer placement, it is important to research your organisation to ensure they operate in an ethical manner and benefit local communities.
Finding the right placement
When you are searching for an organisation to volunteer with, consider the following:
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.
Check your organisation has collaborative partnerships with local organisations and people if they are in another country.
A position description will help to establish your expectations of the role.
Ask the organisation for a position description or clear outline of your role covering:
- your tasks and responsibilities and any training needed
- the outcomes they are hoping you will achieve by the end of your placement
- details about who you will be working with
- whether you will have a supervisor, or someone to provide support and guidance
- how many hours a day will you be expected to commit
- whether you need to bring your own laptop.
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 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?
Money and costs
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.
There may be some administrative costs that need to be covered. Always check that at least a portion of your fee is going to the local community.
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.
Local culture and customs
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.
- 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. Remember, as GLP students you can also attend any relevant GLP Colloquia or Think Tanks before you leave.
Medical, security and safety support
Look for an organisation that supports you while you’re away. It is important to ask your organisation the following questions:
- 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.
Child protection policies
Ask the organisation whether they have any child protection policies - 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 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?
Wildlife and environment policies
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.
Leaving the placement
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.
Spending time training local staff is recommended. A rotation of volunteers means local people don’t develop the skills or experience to drive development.
Talk to previous volunteers
This is a good way of finding out more about the organisation, volunteer placement and country before you commit.
You can find more questions to ask in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Smart Volunteer Checklist [PDF 1.44MB].
If you would like to volunteer overseas with an organisation and want GLP credit, you need to get approval from your GLP Advisor – if you don’t, your experience may not be credited back to your GLP.
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.