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Guest post by Anni Murray, Journeys4Good
I have always been interested in volunteering. As a young girl, I worked with my mom at our local shelter and collected canned food from my classmates at school. I participated in fundraising events like a “fun run” for cancer and Boston’s famous Walk for Hunger (a Project Bread initiative).
My family traveled a lot and I was exposed to the inequities of the world. We lived in Kenya when I was seven and I came home piping mad. The children there had no shoes! They couldn’t go to school! It was all a young idealist could do to keep her ears from steaming up the place.
As I got older I started investigating volunteer opportunities overseas. I was inundated with choices and was both overwhelmed and frustrated by the intense commercial pressure I felt from all sides. I knew a lot of these organizations were businesses, but I was in this to help people, not to support an industry.
The more I learned, the more I realized how complicated that intersection is: the space between industry and activism. There are many for-profit organizations who do amazing work and there are equally as many nonprofits who don’t. Sorting through the opportunities was an onerous process but, in the end, I learned some important lessons about what to look for—lessons I think volunteer organizations need to learn, too.
Buzzwords are a major buzz kill. Sure, every organization wants to communicate the “sustainability” and “eco-friendliness” of their programs, but I need to see more. How is your program sustainable? What steps do you take to make your projects eco-friendly? In many cases I found that “eco-friendly” simply means “some recycling.” That’s not enough for me. I want an explanation with details and examples. Show me proof.
Pictures are wonderful but they have to be real. I’m so tired of the same stock images of smiling volunteers in Africa. Smiling volunteers are lovely but they have to be authentic. Photos of volunteers wearing a t-shirt with your logo are great. Also great: a site that is recognizably yours. If I see multiple pictures of the same site, I know the pictures are legitimate.
Last (and I know I’m not the first to say this,) include as much volunteer-generated content as possible. When I read stories from real volunteers, I get excited about a project. It’s even better when those volunteers include their contact information so I can ask them questions directly. I’m a hard worker. I simply want to find a great organization that I can believe in. Help me find yours.
Anni Murray is a writer who contributes to Journeys4Good.com. She is also a biology student, science artist, nerdcore rapper, and heliocentrist. She enjoys bats, fake news, cartoon classics, and mushroom hunting. She is currently working on Prism, a speculative science fiction story cycle.