Updated January 9, 2012

Vetting Organizations in Other Countries

Maybe you want to evaluate a volunteer-placement organizations that charges volunteers for their placements. Maybe you are interested in partnering or supporting an organization abroad but want to know it's a credible organization, that it's not some sort of scam, or an "organization" of just one person.

To find credible international volunteer, sponsorship or donation opportunities, your safest bet is to go through an internationally-recognized, well-known organization in your own country that is networked with organizations in other countries. International mission-based organizations, also known as international non-governmental organizations, or INGOs, have a tremendous amount of experience in other countries, and work with credible local organizations. INGOs can connect you with official volunteering or donation programs to help local organizations in other countries, particularly those in the developing world.

Trying to give directly to an organization in the developing world can present various problems, namely: establishing whether or not a local organization is credible, and ensuring that your donation funds programs that help people, rather than such going to bribes or an individual.

If you absolutely cannot find an organization in your own country that can connect you with local organizations in other countries, then here are tips for vetting local organizations in other countries on your own (and you should undertake all of these activities -- don't rely on just one source):

If you know of a country not listed above that has a web site of government-registered nonprofit organizations, please send me the URL for such. Please do not say, "I think such-and-such has a web site like that", but not provide the URL.

Other sites that can help you evaluate an organization to know if it's a credible place to volunteer with or through:

Another great resource for vetting organizations is Guidelines For Evaluating Volunteer Abroad Programs. Although designed for people looking for volunteering-abroad programs, these are excellent suggestions for anyone needing to evaluate an NGO in another country.

Third-Party web sites that list volunteering opportunities, such as the IdeaList.org or VolunteerMatch, do not always have in-depth vetting systems for those organizations that use their services outside of the USA. Before you take an organization's listing on such a site as an endorsement, check how the organization was vetted on such a third party site, if at all. Note that, at least as of 2005, the UN's Online Volunteering service does require organizations that use its service to provide official government documentation, and does occasionally do reference checks on organizations.

Volunteering On Your Own Internationally

I do not advise, under any circumstances, for a person to volunteer entirely on his or her own in a foreign country, outside of the official affiliation of an official international organization. Volunteering through an established international organization is not only safer, but also, it offers you a way to network your volunteer contributions with those of others, so that your volunteering doesn't happen in a vacuum. Volunteering on your own can incur many unintended consequences: for instance, what happens if the family you are helping accuses you of stealing, or of doing something inappropriate with one of their children, and you are jailed, or pressured to pay money or hand over all of your possessions? Or, what if there is a coup, or a natural disaster -- who will be responsible for evacuating you? Volunteering through an official organization helps protect you from many possible hazards and dangerous circumstances.

Of course, you can work with an organization in your home country that has contacts in a country you are going to visit, BEFORE your trip, to see if you could do anything on the organization's behalf while you are abroad. For instance, the World Computer Exchange (WCE) welcomes inquiries from people visiting developing countries who might be interested in doing outreach or other volunteer work on WCE's behalf. There is no charge for such participation, however, you must contact WCE first and get oriented and pre-approval before your trip. WCE's behalf. Please do not ever say you represent an organization, or speak on any organization's behalf, while you are abroad unless you have written authority from the organization to do so.

More and more local organizations in developing countries are posting requests for volunteers directly to online groups, in order to directly reach potential volunteers, rather than going through INGOs. But even if a local organization in another country clears all of the above vetting criteria, consider that, if you pack your bags and head off to help such an organization, rather than going through an established international volunteering program, you will be doing this entirely on your own, as an individual, and therefore, there will be no organization officially responsible for your security and safety.

Before you volunteer onsite in another country, outside of an established international volunteering agency, you should get all of the following information in detail and in writing, and you should do this in addition to all of the aforementioned vetting activities:

It cannot be emphasized enough: get all of the above information in writing .

You would also need to, on your own:

Again, I do not advise for a person to volunteer entirely on his or her own in a foreign country. The aforementioned advice is not meant as an endorsement of your doing such. Here is information especially for Westerners regarding volunteering in the developing world.

Organizations -- do you want to host international volunteers through a credible international organization? Here is a bit of advice to help organizations gain access to volunteers from other countries.

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