Responsible volunteer program design

Open questionsCategory: Information requestResponsible volunteer program design
Greg Schroeder asked 3 years ago

I’m helping a Dominican Republic-based 501(c)(3) design a formal volunteer program for their organization. They’re hoping for a split volunteer model using skilled, long-term volunteers to help with their education program while also offering pay-for, short-term, unskilled volunteering opportunities (i.e. voluntourism) to help with community projects, raise awareness of the organization, and increase revenue. I’ve been researching as much as I can regarding responsible practices for the short-term, unskilled opps and can’t say that I’ve found a model that sounds totally responsible on all fronts. I believe in the organization’s mission and I know that the money will be used to benefit the local community in a non-savior manner, but it seems like the unskilled volunteers could easily be kept out of the equation if not for them being a revenue source. I’ve discouraged the idea, but the organization wants to move forward with it, so I’m doing what I can to make it as responsible as possible.
Short-term and unskilled labor on community projects could be completed by locals. Short-term and unskilled volunteers provide no opportunity for consistency and relationship building for the program beneficiaries (minors). Any suggestions? Thanks!

1 Answers
Daniel Großbröhmer Staff answered 3 years ago

Hi Greg and thank you for reaching out! 
Without having more details it is challenging to give substantial advice, but you are welcome this discussion by sending us a mail. 
Actually, that idea of using volunteers to generate income is not very uncommon and I would already rate it as a good sign that the organization is already very aware of the risks and benefits of working with volunteers and reflects who can be helpful and how.
We consider it totally legit to develop volunteer programs with the clear purpose of income generation as long as this is reflected in the communication with the volunteers. However, it clearly is a challenge to run this successfully. 
When designing the short-term volunteer program, our recommendation would be to give it a clear educational focus. The less participants actually DO and the more they actually LEARN, the more sustainable and harmless the program will probably be. Maybe you can design the volunteer activities in a way that they will be executed jointly with local volunteers so you can create informal rooms for exchange and mutual learning. Try to infuse them with a mission the will want to continue later after returning home either by advocating for your cause, organizing support remotely or maybe to continue their engagement locally. 
But please also do not underestimate the effort the organization needs to take to run this program. There is a lot of competition for paying volunteers and communication and accompaniment need to be professional. And if you are working with kids, a vetting process for candidates is absolutely essential. From our experience, you will probably need to account for at least one full-time staff to run this program.

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