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Information for Volunteers

Read this section for useful information that will enable you to make the correct decisions, ask the right questions, and ensure you have the best experience possible!

What to Look For In a Volunteer Program Provider


There are many options for volunteers and the task of choosing the right volunteer program provider can be daunting.  Like choosing any service provider, there are a number of factors to consider as volunteer program providers vary with respect to quality, price, and customer care. You may have a number of questions, like “How much support will I receive before I depart?”, and “What happens if something goes wrong overseas?”.  

With over 30,000 volunteers on hundreds of projects since 2002, ISV has had our fair share of experiences that have helped shape us into one of the highest rated volunteer programs in the world.  We believe it’s important that you make an informed choice about who you choose to volunteer with based on the type of experience you wish to have.  

Below is a check list of what you should look for in a volunteer organization.  ISV believes that if you are paying money to volunteer – then your experience should be nothing less than life-changing while making a positive and sustainable difference to the environment or communities where you are volunteering. We hope this list helps you with your decision-making. 

Issues to consider

Safety


Your safety should be your providers number one priority.  You'll be participating on tasks you may not be trained in, possibly in a foreign speaking country, you may not have much international travel experience and therefore many questions about vaccinations and other safety concerns, and if something unfortunate may happen to you while overseas such as an illness, injury or accident, can your provider support and guide you? These are all important questions. Don't be afraid to dig deeper, does the provider just say "safety first" or, do they have the formal processes and procedures and an office providing 24/hr support in your host country to back up what they say?

How ISV meets these issues

  • Risk Assessment Procedure, governed by ISV Global Risk Management Plan, and Country Emergency Response Plans 
  • Thorough pre-departure information related to safety
  • 24/7 Office Support in the event of an Emergency
  • First aid qualified project staff
  • Emergency Response planning
  • Training on tasks, supervision from project organization and daily briefings on safety concerns

Projects Contribute to Sustainable Development

You want to make a difference, but to what?  It's a huge effort to fly overseas and volunteer for a cause so it's crucial to make a careful choice about what sort of organization to support. With so many needs in the world, a volunteer project should address REAL issues so that your time and effort is being used where it is most needed. Above and beyond "financial aid," your service should contribute to a greater cause where the goal is to make a positive impact for people and planet.

Also to consider, as a volunteer, you are there for a finite period of time. What happens to the project after you leave? What is the management plan? Some volunteer providers do not make the effort to visit projects and have a deep understanding of what they involve. Not only is this risky, it means that even they don't know what sort of volunteer experience you would really get.  The project and related tasks must be meaningful and their goals achievable; part of ISV’s mission is to support sustainable development projects thus the type of project and associated goals must fit within this mission. When we say "contribute to sustainable development", the projects focus on improving social conditions (i.e. infrastructure development, children's education programs etc, or, focus on environmental issues (such as conservation research or environmental management). 

Some projects may look exciting (often related to animals), but you should be sure that the project is really making a difference to help our planet. Don't be afraid to ask your host organization to justify the projects that they run. ISV prides itself on only supporting projects that meet our goals to contribute to sustainable development. As a volunteer, you should be able to see how your involvement contributes to the goals of the project and to sustainable development overall. 

How ISV meets these issues

  • ISV researches and assesses Host Organization's mission and background to ensure that their goals are in line with ISV's 
  • ISV site inspects every project and meets with project staff to satisfy that the project meets our standards 
  • ISV project managers and country coordinators have academic and/or practical experience in areas related to the environment or social issues, and are therefore qualified to decide which projects will in fact contribute to sustainable development 
  • Project goals relate to conservation or community development 
  • Volunteer tasks link to the project's goals 
  • A management plan is in place to ensure that each project is completed or continued after the volunteer leaves 
  • ISV project leaders ensure volunteers understand how their project helps others or the environment, at the local, national and global levels

Volunteer preparation

What do I need to bring?  Do I need vaccinations? What about money or communications in my host country?  Are there any cultural issues I should be aware of?  Who will meet me when I arrive? Do I get an orientation? When will I get information on my project?  These are some of many questions relating to preparation prior to departure to your host country.  A volunteer program provider should be able to answer your questions to your satisfaction in a timely manner. You should be talk to a person about your concerns, and be provided with relevant information about your experience with sufficient time to prepare. In addition, upon arrival in your host country and beginning your project experience, you should receive information and training to enable you to comfortably settle in and give you the tools to effectively and safety participate.

How ISV meets these issues

  • Office staff and support in major outbound cities including Sydney and Los Angeles. 
  • Timely and accurate communication with relevant information 
  • Informative Website plus: upon confirmation of program placement, the ISV Handbook, approximately 2 months prior to departure, the Participant Travel Manual (specific to volunteers' host country), Project Overview (specific to the volunteer placement) and Country Resource Document (relevant historical, cultural and environmental information) 
  • All volunteers receive regular updates from ISV offices relevant to their program.  Approximately 2 weeks prior to departure, the ISV project leader will also email volunteers with special reminders and a welcome. 
  • Thorough orientation meeting conducted upon arrival at the volunteer project by ISV staff or the host organization and ISV staff, in accordance with a standardized orientation meeting outline to ensure all the important information is covered. 

Volunteer support

Many volunteers are traveling to a new destination, possibly to a place where their first language is not well spoken. Some travel with a friend, others alone. A volunteer program provider should provide their volunteers with support. By this, we mean guidance, and in the worst case scenario if something does go wrong while overseas (medical, logistical or even a problem with the project itself), they are there to help you.  As a bare bones requirement, you should always have a 24hr emergency line while overseas, but the best practice approach is that a representative should be physically able to assist and support you if it is required. 

How ISV meets these issues

  • ISV Project Leaders, working side by side with volunteers. 
  • ISV regional offices and staff with 24hr support. 
  • ISV outbound offices in the USA and Australia with 24hr emergency support. 
  • Strong partnerships with host project organizations, tour operators, airlines and transport companies to provide access to additional resources if and when required. 

Site inspections of projects

How can you be assured that your volunteer program provider really knows what they are offering inside out? Not only should  volunteer experiences be accurately represented on websites and other promotional materials, program providers' staff should be able to provide answers to questions due to real experiences. The only real way to know for sure what type of volunteer experience is on offer, is to visit it, meet with the host organizations, talk to other volunteers, complete a thorough checklist of your project visit, see the accommodations, know how meals will be provided, meet with host families (if applicable), get an indication of free time activities there are and find out how to get to the nearest medical clinic or hospital.  ISV would never lend their name by offering a project experience we knew nothing about. Site inspections are conducted routinely by ISV with our partners. 

How ISV meets these issues

  • Prior to entering into partnerships with host organizations or running our own projects direct with communities or researchers, ISV staff personally site inspects each project.  
  • To ensure consistency and that all inspections are thorough, staff complete documentation on each visit.
  • Projects are regularly inspected by ISV staff, including when groups are present, to ensure standards and goals are being met. 

The experience will be educational

We believe that a volunteer experience is about giving, but also about learning. Learning can be about personal development such as learning new skills and working in a challenging new environment. At the very least it's important for volunteers to understand how each project's activities link to the overall goals of the project, within the context of local, national and international levels.

Your volunteer program provider should help you to understand the "big picture", and in addition learn about the culture as well. Thorough pre-departure preparation is essential; the responsible traveler will learn about their host country and culture before they travel. ISV provides our volunteers with a project overview, a country specific travel manual and a country resource manual which gives cultural, historical, geographical and environmental issues. At the project site, your host organization should teach you more about the importance of your tasks at the local, national and global levels- if you don't understand these things you'll waste an incredible opportunity to broaden your awareness. ISV project leaders guide all volunteers through an incredible journey that facilitates an understanding of what sustainable development means, along with responsible tourism and other local issues relevant to your project.

You should walk away inspired and informed by your project. Ask questions of a provider - how do you ensure that volunteers understand the importance of their work and the "big picture" issues? 

How ISV meets these issues

  • All projects are selected for educational value in addition to making a positive impact for sustainable development
  • Host organizations work with ISV staff to ensure the experience is as educational as possible, connecting the project tasks to the "big picture" issues. 
  • One of the primary responsibilties of ISV project leaders is to facilitate an educational experience for all volunteers.  Project leaders are well educated and experienced in conservation and/or community development and are passionate about these issues! 
  • Core educational components of an ISV volunteer project experience are the keeping of a daily experiential journal to record and reflect upon the project, and the participation in fun and informative group discussions about relevant topics including but not limited to sustainable development, responsible tourism, and much more.  Project leaders also incorporate a number of other interesting learning opportunities such as interpretive hikes, guest speakers, and much much more.  

The experience will be fun

Volunteering can be hard work and at times demanding. Sometimes it can be stressful and challenge you like never before. However, the best programs will also allow you to have fun!  Are there opportunities to interact with local people or other volunteers?  ISV's projects always involve teams of like-minded volunteers working together, supported by their host organization and an ISV project leader. Your project should permit you some free time so that you can take advantage of your surroundings, relax and meet the local people.

You should be well supported in the event that you need advice or suggestions for safe and fun free time activities. Even while you work, a good volunteer program provider will understand that motivation and task diversity go along way to creating a positive volunteer environment. Knowing in advance if your project will be fun might be hard to test for - our best advice, use social networking to ask past volunteers and you'll sure to get some insight into what their experience was like in this regard.  

How ISV meets these issues

  • Careful selection of Host Organizations that value and appreciate volunteers and go above and beyond to make the project experience life-changing
  • Free time to ensure that volunteers can explore the local area. Free time options given to volunteers in advance as part of the Project Overview
  • ISV project leaders are trained to use team building activities, icebreakers and games to ensure there's never a dull moment. 

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