If you want to do good while you’re traveling, but you don’t want to spend too much time looking for individual projects on the ground, why don’t you join a charity organization? Depending on the way they are managed, they might enable you to travel to exciting destinations for free while doing meaningful work. If they are classical rigid hierarchies it is very difficult to get your foot behind the door. They’ll simply tell you that they have already taken care of everything “internally”. But don’t give up! There are more interesting charities than you might have realized. Your first step is to find them.
How to find the right charity
You’ll start with your favorite search engine, of course. If you already know in which country you want to volunteer, what kind of work you want to do, and when, you can include that in your search. In my experience you’ll find a suitable organization after about five tries, but that depends of course. For example, if you want to join an animal charity that takes care of street cats, and are looking to help them in the summer of 2016, you’ll be amazed what shows up in search engines when you look for “charity work animal shelter summer 2016”. I literally found such an organization in Morocco myself a couple of years ago!
Another great way to look for the right charity is Twitter. Just look for the appropriate keywords and you can see the whole discussion going on about that keyword, all of the world, in real-time! You can answer some questions, and get in touch with people working for organizations you would love to join – you never know what it leads to!
If you are fluent in English but hail from a small country (say, Estonia, Sweden, or Iceland), you might consider becoming the country representative or volunteer coordinator of a charity there. This way, you build up a relationship and will be considered part of the team.
But that’s assuming we’re already “on board”.
Love at first e-mail
Once you have find the organization you want to join, you need to contact them. You have only one chance to write an engaging e-mail, in which you explain why you are the perfect person to join their theme. Don’t focus too much on what you have done in the past (you might do this in a resume or cv that you attach to your e-mail). Answer a set of very concrete questions:
- Which experience do you have with the subject? Be creative here! If you dig into your history you’ll always find something. From a highschool community service to some article you wrote back in the days. Remember: what we call just part of what we are without giving it much thought, your future employer considers invaluable experience
- What is your personal motivation? Keep in mind that the charity you are contacting doesn’t know you. Here you have to make it absolutely clear that you are not just another free loading traveler seeking free accommodation. Be personal. If you contact an animal shelter, talk about your pets. If you are writing to a human rights charity, tell a story that personally affected you or a friend. If you are into environmental work, mention something about your lifestyle. In short, paint a consistent picture of yourself.
- Explain that you are independent. Charities working abroad want reliable and dependable people, not an extra burden. If you have traveled before, mention that. Explain how you are familiar with all formalities, vaccinations, preparations. They should feel that they don’t need to invest in you.
Build a lasting relationship
Even if a charity doesn’t have an opportunity for you now, make sure that they save your name and contact information. When you show interest again in a couple of months or years, that signals that you are serious about it, and your interest in working with them was not just a way to satisfy immediate travel cravings. Also, once you are connected you can refer people, and you might be referred yourself. You are increasing your “social score”. Also, small charities grow, and when you were on their candidate list from the beginning, they will certainly think of you once they have expanded.