The Questions You Should Be Asking Before Volunteering

By Kirsty Petrides

We know volunteering can be overwhelming. Not only can the experience itself be mentally and emotionally challenging, finding the right volunteering agency can also be equally as daunting.

There are so many out there, all offering something different and most charging various ‘volunteering fees’ – so how do you find out which ones are legitimate, and which ones aren’t?

Well, for us it’s obviously a no-brainer – you choose Indigo, because we don’t charge any volunteer fees. But if you’re not choosing Indigo? Well then, you ask questions. Lots of them.

We got our very own boss-lady and expert on the matter, Indigo CEO Holly Penalver, to explain exactly what questions you should ask to find the most ethical volunteer placement for you.

Hey Holly! It sounds like you have to ask a lot of questions if you’re looking to volunteer?

“Yes, but you should! If you want to volunteer, you should definitely do your research and put some time into it. You’re parting with your money (for your flight to get there at least) and your time, so you should try to make it the most effective placement possible. Treat it like a secondment from your job, where you wouldn’t just say yes to the first thing that comes along – you would put a bit of time and energy into it.”

So what questions should people be asking their volunteer agency?

“Ask them direct questions about the sustainability of their projects and who is running their projects. What impact will you, as the volunteer, be having? What exactly will you be doing? And who will take over your project once your placement is over? You can even ask why nobody in the local area is fulfilling that role, and why the project needs external help.

Ask them the hard questions, because it’s all things they should be able to answer and they’re all questions we ask our projects during our assessment of them.”

Do people have to ask about money? Because that’s awkward…

“If you are being charged for your placement, then yes, you should definitely ask for a breakdown of costs. If an agency says to you, ‘Yeah, come volunteer through us, that’s going to be $1800, respond with ‘Thanks, great, what are the breakdowns?’ And don’t accept vague answers like “volunteer related costs” or “project running costs” because, what does that mean? For me, that means an admin fee. A true project running cost would mean the agency is paying to run the school, orphanage or whatever the project they’re sending people to is – and that is not what volunteer agencies typically do.

Agencies have overheads like staff, offices and advertising, and they need to recoup those costs somewhere. I would bet my bottom dollar that is where the majority of volunteer fees go.”

Ok, so questions aside, do you have any other advice for people looking to volunteer somewhere?

“Look at a few different organisations, check out your options, ask the questions and just go with what feels right for you at the end of the day. Ultimately it comes down you and whether you feel it is an ethical placement. Do you feel that you’re actually going to help, that you’re actually going to have an overall positive impact there. If you do, then go for it.”

Want to become an Indigo volunteer? Apply now.

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