Developing an International Volunteer Program: 5 Details Your Organization Shouldn’t Ignore

Guest post by Stacie Moore, Worldreader

Worldreader is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco and Barcelona, whose mission is to transform reading in the developing world by making e-books available to all.Worldreader is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco and Barcelona, whose mission is to transform reading in the developing world by making e-books available to all.

Earlier this year I visited Ghana for the first time to observe our work in action. I spent several days in the villages interacting with students in their classrooms.

One day, we went to a school to run an out-of-classroom experience (OCE). OCE is an optional reading and learning experience giving kids the opportunity to be creative, active, and excited about reading. Watching the kids having a blast, I immediately thought we needed to get volunteers out to participate! On the flight home I started developing an international volunteer program to enhance our vacation reading school.

Deciding to start an international volunteer program was easy. Creating and supporting an international volunteer program brought challenges that I never imagined.

Here are the top 5 things that I had to consider when developing my program:

1. People Power

Do you have enough staff in the hosting country to support volunteers? Organizations must be prepared to host volunteers and meet their needs constantly. Plan for cultural, dietary, and language differences. What if one of the volunteers gets a severe case of food poisoning? Do you have a plan?

2. Creature Comforts

Can we provide safe and comfortable surroundings so volunteers enjoy their experience and tell all their friends and family about their extraordinary trip and become lifelong supporters? Can we manage expectations so that every volunteer is challenged and gets a true taste of the culture, but is not under or overwhelmed?

3. Cost Efficiency

Hosting volunteers can be quite expensive. Costs include: airfare, hotel, meals, local transportation, supplies, extra-curricular activities and enough overhead to cover unforeseen costs. It may be more cost-effective to use local people, but are you missing an opportunity to add diversity to your program?

4. Programmatic Gains

Every organization must have an honest discussion about the purpose of international volunteers. Is the goal to spread awareness, create financial support, encourage large-scale donations, or provide something that local employees cannot? Clearly define your motives. Everyone must support the final decision-it will be tested many times as you recruit your first group of volunteers.

Here are the top 5 things to consider when developing and international volunteer program.5. Impact on the Local Community

Make sure that your volunteer programs consider the impact on local communities, and don’t merely benefit the volunteers. Involve community leaders and others who support your program so they can express their concerns. They may have ideas to enhance the experience.

An international volunteer program will impact your organization like nothing else. Defining your goals clearly and agreeing on them before recruiting will make for a smoother process and help you calmly handle situations that will inevitably arise during your first year.

What have you experienced when launching new volunteer programs? Got any advice and tips?

Stacie Moore is a recruiter and manager of volunteers for an international education nonprofit called Worldreader. She is a volunteer herself and is experienced with many volunteer management styles. She specializes in providing a memorable experience for all volunteers regardless of their time commitment or skill level. For more information about Worldreader’s new vacation volunteer program in Ghana, click here.