For virtually all forms of healthcare facilities, underserved areas and populations with a lack of access to health practitioners and medical programs require support around the world. Over 1.3 billion people worldwide, largely because of a shortage of health professionals and insufficient access to advanced healthcare technologies, lack access to basic healthcare services. 

Unsurprisingly, with almost every skill set in nearly every corner of the globe, there are voluntary resources, covering everything from basic health checkups to vaccine coverage to preventive health care.

The next move is to carefully evaluate your volunteer goals and study the organizations that provide services that attract you if you have chosen to become part of the solution and devote your time, resources, and expertise to a good cause. 

It can be a wonderful opportunity to volunteer abroad, and while most organizations have the same positive intentions, you do and are genuinely trying to help their people, there are some bad apples and scams out there. To ensure that the company is legitimately serving the people and places they represent, it is important to diligently vet any program you are considering.

Here, we have a list of ways to assess the authenticity of your Programme 

1) Ahead of your arrival, contact the host organization

An increasing interest in voluntary travel has prompted an increase in less legitimate organizations in recent years. The cautionary tales of orphanage scandals or the tragic stories of volunteer participants arriving in a rural village were all heard by those of us who were interested in traveling abroad only to discover that the organization with which they were expected to volunteer was closed for a year or did not exist at all.

You should have no trouble finding information about your host organization as a volunteer and should be able to talk to them in advance about logistics, living conditions, what kind of job you are going to do, and essential regulations of the country where you are going to volunteer. 

It may be an indicator that it's not legitimate if you have a hard time finding details about the program or making contact with the organization. A responsible company should at least be able to provide you with guidelines on the program's work specifications and objectives. 

If red flags emerge, instead of going alone, suggest partnering with a volunteer placement provider. Companies such as Maximo Nivel, Foreign Volunteer HQ, or Volunteering Solutions are reputable providers of trustworthy placement who have already met and vetted the partner organizations in which they operate.

2) You are given Prior to Departure, Instructions on Visas and Essential Logistics

Your volunteer organization should have expertise in hosting and placing volunteers, including learning what there is to know about the country's laws and regulations where you will spend your time. 

Many countries, for example, demand that foreign visitors have a full-time work visa (even if the work is unpaid) and will only issue a tourist visa to individuals who spend 90 to 180 days in the country. You might need to apply for a real visa if you're planning on spending more time in the country.

It should be a red flag that the organization does not have the expertise or care much for your experience if your organization does not seem to know or care about what you need to ensure that your time spent in the country is entirely legal. 

Before you commit to traveling, you should be sure to ask questions about visa, medical and other conditions for your destination country. You may want to explore other options if you are not happy with the consistency of the answers.

3) You understand clearly where your money is going

When they provide volunteers with lodging, food, instruction, transportation, and program supplies, volunteer organizations incur costs. They still have the running expenses to support the project, which is why most organizations request to engage in a financial contribution or program fee. As a potential volunteer, if an organization demands a charge, it shouldn't scare you, because it doesn't mean that they are a scam.

However, asking questions about where your money is going and demanding a certain degree of financial accountability is fair for you. You may request a summary of how your contribution is distributed if the company does not have the details online. 

It should be possible for a reputable organization to clarify explicitly what the donation covers and how much of the fee goes back into the project or group. Nonprofits are required by law in the United States to make public financial statements containing details of their program costs and financial management. 

In other nations, reporting standards differ, but that shouldn't stop you from asking questions about where your money goes. It may be a big warning sign if an organization is evasive or refuses to publicize financial details.

It is normal to have different names and definitions for their expenditures for charitable organizations, but they usually fall into the following functional categories:

Administrative/Managerial Costs-These are costs associated with the administration of an organization's day-to-day operations that usually involve organizational and administrative costs such as bookkeeping, governance, and management. Although essential, where practicable, organizations usually aim to minimize these costs.

Volunteer Costs: Volunteer accommodation, health care, orientation, room and board, volunteer grants, and other training expenses, which are required to keep the program going, usually fall into the volunteer expense category.

Program Expenses/Field Operations-In general, program costs reflect much of the organization's total budget for responsible charitable organizations. These are costs associated with delivering programs and services that meet the given purpose of the organization. People usually tend to see the highest allocation of company funds to this group when determining an organization's financial obligation.

Staff/Personnel Costs-Compensation (i.e. salary) for operations support, including field staff, program executives, and volunteer support.

Promotion & Fundraising-Any costs related to the advertisement, publicity, and fundraising (activities that appeal for financial support). Online marketing and advertising, hosting a fundraiser event, and the compensation of individuals who spearhead the fundraising process are examples of these costs.

As a general rule, about 75-85 percent of the outgoing funds will be allocated to program costs by an organization with credibility, which ensures that a significant chunk of the fees contributed by volunteers and donors are directed back into the community and its growth. There would be no problem with a good company sharing this knowledge with you.

4) They Consider the Skills and Credentials of Volunteers.

To ensure that they have the expertise to be successful, a responsible volunteer program would show a dedication to vetting their volunteers. No valid volunteer program should ever allow their volunteers to take part in activities that they would not be eligible to take part in back home. Of course, depending on the group served and the program goals, the level of skills needed by a volunteer project can vary-some projects need highly skilled volunteers, while others need no more than able-bodied volunteers with a willingness to help-but an effort should always be made to ensure that volunteers have some appropriate previous experience, language skills, are mentally healthy

You may want to look elsewhere if you're ever told that the need for volunteers is so high that the company is willing to take anyone willing to make the trip and contribute a program fee. If an organization does not appear to care about your history or have any interest in your unique abilities, it could be an indication that whether your inclusion is a good match for you or the people it represents does not matter to the organization.

This is particularly true for services for medical and health care or work involving children. Evidence of a professional license in good standing should be required for medical, nursing, and healthcare practitioners, and anyone working with children, in any capacity, should be required to present a background check. Organizations refuse to prioritize the wellbeing of everyone they are meant to be serving without these conditions.

5) It is not a requirement for the company to purchase flights, visa assistance, or travel insurance.

As a matter of convenience, purchasing your flight and any transportation abroad via the volunteer organization hosting your program may seem like a pleasant choice. Especially in cases where larger groups are involved, arranging for any travel through your volunteer provider can make logistical sense.

If the above case is valid, the option, rather than a necessity, should still be viewed as a preference. If your volunteer provider orders you to buy a flight or needs you to make arrangements through a specific travel agent or insurance provider, the company may benefit from additional markup or obtain a fee for referring your company to a partner. Our advice is to do your homework on a travel website and separately inquire with a travel insurance company before consenting to buy from your voluntary provider, to ease any fears of a scam.

6) Chat with other Travellers and Read Reviews too

The best approach to support you when making a tough decision, like most big decisions in life, might be to seek guidance from those who have been through a similar experience. In the case of selecting a successful volunteer service, reading feedback from other individuals who have been through the program themselves can also save a lot of time, energy, and heartache. There is no assurance that your experience will represent another's experience, but you will undoubtedly have more knowledge and peace of mind that you are dealing with a trustworthy organization.

May 12, 2023

Natasha Osei

Passionate Nurse Practitioner | People person
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