Everything in life has a pro and a contra. And there are many things one can criticise when looking at volunteering*. Especially when volunteers go abroad to combine their short volunteer service with tourism/travelling (often referred to as “voluntourism”) there are many critical issues which can be discussed…
However, there are also many reasons why we still should volunteer! So, we want to give you some information about what we should consider before we do voluntary work and how we can make a responsible and sustainable contribution to society.
6 typical arguments against volunteering and how we can turn them around
#1) (Non ethical) Organisations are only making profit with volunteers
Unfortunately, there do exist some organizations who are only offering volunteering service to make money with it. Why some non profit organizations do charge money from their volunteers and what they do with it, you can read here. There have been reported cases of corrupt volunteering organizations, doing non ethical or doubtful work. Of course, we definitely don´t want to support anything like that.
Our tip: before you go off to volunteer for any organization, you should get as much information about the organization as possible. You can check if they are a registered non profit organization, do some research about their work and find out if they are actually contributing to society in a positive way. You can try to find some reviews, get to know the owners/team and ask them what your money is used for. And if you are already working for them and you find out something upsetting, don´t be shy to quit your service and help to uncover corrupt/non-ethical work.
#2) The state/government is not doing enough
There is much work done by volunteers, which actually in a good social system the state/government should care for. Wherever politicians are not interested in specific topics or where there are no resources, there volunteers have to fill the gap. The work they do could, however, also be a paid job and done by professionals; or it should not even be necessary at all (e.g. in case of environmental problems).
Our tip: When the state/government is not doing enough to implement a good social & ecofriendly system, we have to claim for it! Getting politically active doesn´t mean that we have to do riots or join a political party. Small contributions like informing people about injustice, inequality, missing necessities or hidden problems/damages can build up awareness. Using the right of democracy and supporting organizations which do fight the specific problems, are important actions.
#3) Volunteering as a threat for jobs
The first point leads quickly to another downside – wherever work could be done by (paid) workers/professionals, it can also mean, that volunteers are taking away potential jobs from local people. Furthermore, volunteers might not be as well educated in the specific topic as professionals and could decrease the quality of the service. Besides, wherever volunteers do jobs which could be done by professionals, the willingness of organizations decreases to pay people for the work others do for free.
Our tip: Compare which work should be done by professionals and reflect why the resources are missing or if it is just a question of the organization´s willingness to pay for it. Choose the organization wisely and ask yourself how you could best contribute to the situation/organization. Which are your strengths and for which tasks you should (first) learn more and improve your skills? Be open to do work which is necessary but not likely to be done or wanted by any local or professional person.
#4) It´s all about fun or a good CV
Volunteering can be very rewarding and even a life-changing experience, however some people focus too much on that point and think that volunteering is all about having a great time. Naturally people want to travel to exotic countries, get to know other people, party or just enjoy nature. But if we think volunteering is a great opportunity to do so and forget that this is not the purpose of volunteering, it can lead to problems. That doesn´t mean that we shouldn´t have a good time while volunteering (on the contrary, we probably do a much better work when we enjoy it!), however our intention and expectations should be different. The same goes for people doing a voluntary service because they want to get some social recognition or because it looks good in their CV.
Our tip: Stay true to yourself. Volunteering should come from an intrinsic motivation: the will to contribute to society, to help out where it is needed and to know that this kind of work is important and we make a difference. We are sure, everyone of us has this aspiration deep inside! When we are doing volunteering work with this intention, we accept to do tasks which are not fun, to face difficulties and frustrating moments, because we know what we are doing has a meaning. There will come many good things with it automatically, we can learn from every moment and we will personally grow.
#5) Volunteers from abroad are not behaving adequately
Especially when people do volunteer work abroad and because of the already mentioned reasons (tourism, fun, etc.), there is the danger that they are behaving in a way that can not only lead to misunderstandings but also to problems. Those can range from thinking that their way of working/thinking is superior than the ones they are working with, up to not respecting locals and making more damage than good.
Our tip: If you want to volunteer abroad, then get prepared – for more information you can read our article about intercultural competence. And of course, don´t forget that you can also do a voluntary service in your hometown. Even if you are from a very developed country, there are always social or environmental organizations which can need an extra hand.
#6) Short term volunteering is not sustainable
If you have very limited time (e.g. a short holiday), the question raises, if it still makes sense to do a voluntary service. There are many reasons why helping out for a short time can be seen as not sustainable and organizations ask for minimum commitments, e.g. 1-3 months. Wherever you build up relationships, wherever you have to adapt to the environment, local infrastructure and culture, wherever you need to get used to the work and develop your skills, there, of course it is better that you spent as much time as possible. The longer you can volunteer, the more and better you will contribute.
Our tip: If you have very limited time, think well of the organization and tasks which still make sense to contribute to and how you can best invest your time & effort. In our opinion it really depends on every single situation, the person, the work, the organization and the conditions – one long term volunteer might do as much harm/good as e.g. three short term volunteers. If you are behaving correctly (see #5) and the conditions are adequately then: go ahead; then voluntary work is (always) a good contribution to society 🙂 !
But what is your opinion about that topic? Let us know in a comment below! We are looking forward to hearing from you!
*We are talking about volunteering for non-profit organizations, mostly social or environmental active organization (read more about our criteria for volunteering organization). So this doesn´t include volunteering for any “normal” hostel, farm, family, company etc.
Fotocredit: Natalie Pedigo