Updated March 16, 2017
Hosting International Volunteers:
A Where-To-Start Guide For Local Organizations
More and more local organizations in developing countries are turning to
local expertise, rather than international volunteers, to support and
sustain their efforts. However, the need for international volunteers
remains, and will for many, many years to come.
The following are suggestions for local organizations in developing
countries interested in gaining access to international volunteers. This
is a "getting started" guide, NOT a comprehensive guide: it's impossible
within the boundaries of a simple web page to detail all an organization
needs to do to host volunteers from other countries.
- Affiliation with international non-governmental organizations
Your organization needs to be recognized, at least informally, by local
offices in developing countries of organizations such as the United
Nations Development Programme, OneWorld,
Save the Children, Oxfam,
World Vision, MercyCorps,
Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Such recognition takes
much more than one meeting: it means that the staff at the local office
is familiar with your organization's work because you have regularly
updated the office about such, that a representative from the local
office visits your organization periodically, and that the staff at the
local office knows enough about your organization to be able to provide
a reference for it back to the main office. You need these local INGOs
affiliates to be in a position to verify your organization's credibility
- Collaboration with other local NGOs
In addition to affiliating with INGOs, local organizations should be in
a position to verify your organization's credibility to others. That
means that, like international groups, staff at local NGOs should be
familiar with your organization's work because you have regularly
updated them about such, that they visit your organization periodically,
and that they know enough about your organization to be able to provide
a reference for it to other organizations. If you have engaged together
with another NGO in a project, all the better!
- Membership in formal networks and associations
If your country or region has a network or association of NGOs, you
should be a member. You can find these by contacting other local
organizations to find out if such exists, or searching on the Internet
- Excellent online profile
If you type your organization's name into google,
what happens? Does your organization's web site come up (if you have
such)? What about an online document by an INGO that references your
organization? Or a newspaper article highlighting your organization's
good work? Anything negative? An online profile adds to your
- A clear, complete, easy-to-use web site
It's not essential that your organization have a web site in
order to host international volunteers. But if your organization does
have a web site, it should:
- not have advertising for other companies and businesses (no
banner ads, no google ads!)
- be free of misspellings
- well-designed, without lots of cumbersome graphics complete, with
a listing of your staff, your board of directors, your
organization's address, contact information, and at least a summary
of your organization's budget.
- Academic profile
It's not essential, but it will certainly add greatly to your
organization's credibility if it has been referred to in a
university-related paper. Of course, it's not always possible to say yes
to participation in an academic research project, given your other
priorities. But your organization should try to, whenever possible and
when asked, to participate, as such will add to the appearance of your
organization as transparent and credible to anyone investigating your
organization for such.
- Have official papers in order
You need to have copies of your organization's official government
documentation/registration papers (if you are, indeed, officially
registered), brochures, press releases, staff list and financial
statements ready for review by other organizations -- or even by
potential international volunteers. Volunteer-placement organizations
will consider how quickly and completely you respond to their request
for such, so get them in order and ready-to-share before you start
meeting with such organizations. If you don't have any of this -- if you
are a tiny grassroots-based organization that has not registered with
your government and has no paperwork whatsoever, then you will have to
formally partner with an organization that does have such, who can take
formal legal responsibility for the international volunteer(s).
- Draft documents associated with your planned involvement of
This step is essential -- there's no substitute for it. Saying
you need volunteers is not enough for you to get them. Your organization
needs to draft documents that detail the following, which you will
eventually share and discuss with organizations that place international
volunteers (it is very important that this information be in writing,
even if it's all still being negotiated!):
- the location(s) of the volunteering assignment(s) -- city or
cities, and exact addresses whenever possible.
- the tasks volunteers will be expected to complete, the resources
that will be available to volunteers (translators? a desk? a car? a
bicycle?) and the time frame for the volunteer to provide his or her
service (what months and for how long?).
- a description of why the service of this international volunteer
is needed, and how, after the volunteer departs, his or her work
will be sustained or built-upon.
- detailed information about the volunteers' work environment. Will
the volunteer have daily access to a phone? computer access? Will
the volunteer need to have a security escort when traveling from
housing to the volunteer assignment, or in any other situations,
and, if so, who is going to provide this security escort? Will the
volunteer ever be expected to be alone with a client or a child?
- detailed information on to whom the volunteer will report to at
your organization, who at your organization will supervise the
volunteer's work, who at your organization will provide support to
the volunteer as needed, what staff members at your organization
will work with the volunteer and how, how the volunteer will be
expected to interact with local people, etc.
- information regarding translators. Will a translator accompany
volunteers during his or her work? What percentage of the people the
volunteer will work with speak English? Will your organization
provide a translator?
- detailed information about where your organization will house
international volunteers, if the placement organization cannot
provide housing (more and more placement organizations are requiring
local hosting organizations to provide housing). Your organization
must provide more than just a statement that your organization will
house such volunteers; it needs to note where, and what the
conditions will be -- Will it be with a family and, if so, what are
their names? Will each volunteer have his or her own room? Will
there be locks on the windows and doors? Will it be within walking
distance of the volunteering assignment?
- detailed information on how your organization will support the
volunteer during arrival and departure into the country. Will there
be someone at the airport from your organization to help the
volunteer through the entry process? Will your organization provide
transport from the airport to its location? Will your organization
provide transportation assistance and help with customs and other
officials when the volunteer leaves the country?
- detailed information about the nearest health care facilities
(individual doctor, clinic and hospital), and how your organization
will or will not help to get a volunteer to such if needed.
- detailed information about to whom the volunteer should complain
regarding any issue - a name, an email address and a phone number.
- detailed lists of what costs your organization cannot
pay for (airfare, housing, bedding, food, transportation, security,
insurance for the volunteer, etc.). Remember that most international
placement organizations will expect your organization to bear at
least some costs!
- a draft evacuation plan for volunteers, in case of
natural disaster or a man-made crisis, or, clarification that the
volunteer placement organization is in charge of such. What
assistance will your organization guarantee in the event of a flood,
a hurricane, a tsunami, a mass fire, a military coup, a raid by a
militant group, etc., and what assistance will your organization NOT
If you do not have all of the above in place, expect to take at least
several months to do so. Without the above, it is unlikely a
volunteer-placement organization will want to partner with your
Also consider making a statement, in writing, that says your organization
understands that volunteers are free to leave the program at any time, and
what your refund policy is regarding funds. If there is no refund policy,
say so, but also make it clear that the volunteer is under no obligation
to stay at the organization. Emphasize that you hope they will stay for
two weeks or two months or whatever the amount of time it is you want the
volunteer for, but remember, they are volunteers- and, in many cases, paying
customers - and you have no right to imply that they must stay at a work
site. Some countries, such as the UK, assert that creating
a written agreement with a volunteer that says the volunteer agrees to
stay for a certain amount of time is an employment contract, and
this could allow the volunteer to sue for payment for services.
Also see my advice for people interested in vetting
organizations in other countries, and consider how your own
organization would measure up to the vetting steps offered.
In addition, read this resource for Creating
Group Volunteering Activities. It details just how much you will
need to do to prepare a site for group volunteering. It's an expensive,
time-consuming endeavor - are you ready?
Once you have all of the above in place, you are ready to approach
existing volunteer-placement organizations. Begin by looking in your local
geographic area for local organizations already hosting such volunteers,
and ask if they would introduce you to a representative of the volunteers'
sponsoring organization, either face-to-face or via the phone. Such
organizations include (and please note that this is not a comprehensive
Embassies for other countries can also help put you in contact with
In addition to onsite international volunteers, has your organization
considered hosting online international volunteers? Online
volunteers can help your organization with translation and research tasks,
designing publications and web sites, developing databases, and activities
relating to marketing, fund raising and business planning. UNDP's UN
Volunteers program has a FREE online
volunteering service that provides access to thousands of online
volunteers and resources to help your organization involve such.
Starting a Nonprofit or
Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)
The laws and procedures for starting a nonprofit organization, a
non-governmental organization (NGO), a charity or a foundation vary from
country to country. The laws and procedures are never exactly the same.
This page offers general advice that is usually required in most
countries, as well as a list of web sites for various countries regarding
how to start a nonprofit organization, NGO, etc.
Organizations in Other Countries:
A resource that can help you evaluate volunteer-placement organizations that
charge you for your placement as a volunteer, as well as for people
interested in partnering or supporting an organization abroad but wanting to
know it's a credible organization, that it's not some sort of scam, or an
'organization' of just one person.
Fund-Raising for Small NGOs in the Developing World, a guide
I developed a decade ago and regularly update until October 2015.
Requesting NGOs have been based primarily in Africa, Asia and parts of
Return to my volunteer-related resources
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