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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!

The Basics of Volunteering Abroad

The Basics of Volunteering Abroad With volunteering abroad, there are two types of organizations: local NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and volunteer service organizations. These organizations are also commonly referred to as “receivers” as they receive volunteers or “senders” as they send volunteers overseas. Local NGOs are commonly small non-profits with a specific cause, such as running orphanages or animal rescue centers. These organizations rarely have the funding required to recruit and support international volunteers themselves. To help recruit international volunteers, many local NGOs partner with volunteer service organizations.

Sending organizations, such as ISV, serve to recruit, manage, and support international volunteers, and to research, select, liaise with and manage volunteer placements with receiving organizations. (ISV also functions as a receiving organization in some cases as we operate some of our own projects). Most volunteer service organizations charge the volunteers a fee to volunteer through their organization, as well as collect money that is forwarded to receiving organizations to cover on-site costs such as transport, meals, accommodations and materials which receiving organizations usually cannot afford to provide for free for the volunteers.

The values of effective partnerships are that there is a shared vision for making a difference through volunteerism whereby a sender and receiver working together, can achieve more in partnership than they could working on their own.  Without senders, many receiving organizations would never be able to carry out their projects as volunteers would never know about the local opportunities without the senders. Senders also do much of the placement, screening and pre-departure preparation. Receivers provide local expertise, supervision and on the ground logistics for the project. ISV goes far beyond this basic requirement (see Why Volunteer with ISV).  A good partnership between receiving and sending organizations means that volunteers have the opportunity to travel overseas and have a life changing volunteer experience where the goals of the local organization are met or exceeded.

Why can't I volunteer on my own?

Why can't I volunteer on my own? You can! Many people choose to volunteer independently of volunteer service organizations. For those who are comfortable with international travel, independent volunteering is a good option. To volunteer abroad independently, you can decide on the country you want to visit and then start researching volunteer opportunities. The difficult part is finding an organization you want to work for that meets your needs as a volunteer, will support you should something go wrong, and is willing to accept you as a volunteer. Some receiving organizations have strict requirements, such as the length of your stay and special skills they may be seeking.  Some organizations also have more experience than others, or are making more of a positive impact than others.

Finding the right volunteer experience is not as easy as it may seem on the surface.  It is the responsibility of the volunteer to organize housing, food, medical and travel insurance, and local transportation. While independent volunteering is a good option for some experienced travelers, most do not have the time or knowledge to organize everything themselves. For these people, sending organizations are the perfect solution. For a fee, sending organizations organize, support, and guide volunteers through every aspect of their trip. That is where ISV comes in- we do all the leg work to make sure your volunteer experience is life changing!

What am I paying for?

What am I paying for? Administration
Sending organizations employ full time staff to build partnerships and recruit, support, and manage volunteers. There is a lot of work that goes into ensuring your program is set up and you are supported before and during your trip.

Recruiting Volunteers:
Most local NGOs are unable to afford the cost of recruiting international volunteers. This cost is taken up by the sending organization and includes advertising, brochures, and customer service for prospective volunteers. A portion of a volunteer's fee goes directly into maintaining this recruitment drive for the future to ensure a consistent flow of volunteers.

Supporting Volunteers:

Many international volunteers have never traveled overseas. Sending organizations provide a wide range of support to their volunteers including pre-departure help with information about vaccinations, travel insurance, and fundraising. During the volunteer experience, some organizations (like ISV) provide continued support even while a volunteer is working with the receiving organization in their host country.  If something goes wrong, a sending organization should be there to support you and have the resources available to do so. This means staffing, vehicles, emergency funds, etc.

Building Partnerships:

Sending organizations aim to build long term partnerships with reputable local NGOs and through these, volunteers are given access to the local community or environment in a way no unsupported volunteer could hope for. Projects often take many months to organize so that when volunteers arrive, they can use their time effectively and productively. So, even if a project does not receive volunteers year-round, it is often an annual cycle to plan, carry out and review a volunteer program. This means a continued staff presence in building and maintaining relationships. ISV staff visit every project, often more than once in the lead up to sending volunteers, and often when volunteers are there, to ensure that the project is going to plan and operating to ISV’s high standards.

Managing Volunteers:
Depending on the goals, the projects of local NGOs can take weeks or years to complete. Short term volunteers often cannot complete an entire project during their stay. In communication with the receiving organization, it is the role of the sending organization to manage the flow of volunteers to and from projects. This management allows volunteers with limited time to hit the ground running.

We are very proud to be part of ISV program in Thailand. ISV students have brought strong enthusiasm, excitement and joy with them. They are hardworking young people and have made a strong contribution in our villages and also in the surrounding villages as well as both tangible and non-tangible aspects. The program truly incorporates local experience and we are glad to see the students enjoy their experience with us.” Khlong Khian Village, Thailand

Supervising Volunteers:
Fees paid by volunteers often support one or more persons from the host organization to provide daily or regular coordination and direction to the project. Their daily costs such as meals, accommodation and transport are also considered. In addition, ISV provides a trained, professional group leader who works alongside the volunteers and is with the group 24/7 to oversee safety, the educational experience and assist with project logistics.

Training and Orientation:

Many projects require volunteers to have orientations and training in special skills. A portion of the fee paid by volunteers goes towards this orientation and training when necessary.

Meals and Accommodation:
Fees paid to a volunteer service organization cover costs of meals and accommodations for volunteers. Host Organizations receive a stipend to provide food and accommodations, usually in hostels, family home stays, or group accommodations. Receiving organization provide a safe and welcoming atmosphere for the volunteers.

Local Transport:
Local transportation in a foreign country can be intimidating, especially when you are new to the country. Sending organizations often arrange safe local transport to and from the airport and other destinations. On a project site, if local transport is required, normally a project’s fees will include transport between the project accommodations and the work site. It is usual for volunteers to pay for their own transport during free time.

Local Volunteer Support:
ISV’s international headquarters are in the USA and Australia. However, we also have ISV regional offices whose sole function is to oversee the programs in the countries where we operate and to provide hands-on volunteer support in times of need. These are ISV’s own employees (not loosely contracted ‘representatives’) who live and work there year round, who are there 24/7 when our programs are running to provide a valuable safety net at all times. No matter how well a trip is organised, sometimes things outside of our control mean that we need to help our volunteers and be there for them – whether it’s airline, an extreme weather event, illness or injury, lost belongings or needing to return home early, volunteers can rest assured that our professional and caring staff are there to help them. One of the most important aspects of ISV is our volunteer support system and our whole “student-care” philosophy which means safety first at all times and making sure that our volunteers know that with ISV they’re in good hands.

The Project Itself:

The most important use for the volunteer fees is on the project itself. Program fees help fund the project activities and pay for much-needed resources, from school supplies to construction materials.  That said, it’s not uncommon for receiving organizations to have a “wish list” of additional donation items that may be difficult to source locally, anything from second hand electronics, to English books for children. Depending on the scope of the project, a receiving organization may also need to source additional funding through grants or local fundraising.  However, every dollar, peso or rand, counts; with every new volunteer comes the funding to continue the project into the future.

ISV Program Cost (2 week project and 2 week tour) includes

ISV Program Cost (2 week project and 2 week tour) includes

  • Project fees as required by the host volunteer organization, i.e. project materials and supervision from host organization staff
  • Project and tour set-up: including  but not limited to site inspections by ISV staff to perform risk assessments and carefully select projects and confirm tour itineraries
  • All accommodations during the 4-week ISV Program
  • All meals during 2-Week Volunteer Project(s) and at least half of meals during 2-Week Adventure Tour(s) as indicated in the ISV Travel Manual
  • At least five (5) Adventure Tour activities as stated in the ISV Travel Manual and the ISV website (activities vary by country)
  • All Program ground transportation in host country
  • Orientation(s) in host country
  • Administration and recruitment costs
  • Professionally trained ISV Project Leader(s)
  • Professionally trained ISV Tour Leaders(s)
  • ISV Travel Manual, Project Overview, Country Resource Document and additional ISV documentation to prepare you for the ISV Program
  • ISV T-shirt

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