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.

  1. Affiliation with international non-governmental organizations (INGOs)
    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, Doctors Without 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 to others.


  2. 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!


  3. 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 for such.


  4. 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 organization's credibility.


  5. 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:


  6. 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.


  7. 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).


  8. Draft documents associated with your planned involvement of volunteers
    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!):


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 organization.

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 list):

Embassies for other countries can also help put you in contact with volunteer-placement organizations.

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.

Also see:

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.

Vetting 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.

Basic 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 Eastern Europe.

Return to my volunteer-related resources

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