How to Volunteer Ethically

I recently found myself contemplating overseas volunteer work. It seemed like a great way to travel sustainably and put some of my money into communities that need it most. But in my quest to find the perfect position, I uncovered how volunteer work can negatively impact people, animals, towns and entire countries.

It turns out, it's not enough to simply volunteer with a company that offers an experience you're looking for – just because you're offering a helping hand, doesn't mean you're positively impacting the community. There are a lot of organisations out there that take very  little responsibility and even take advantage of communities they're involved in. Unbelievably, the industry as a whole is unregulated.

After looking more into it and becoming increasingly disappointed, I decided it's time we start a conversation about volunteering ethically.

Volunteering is a fantastic way to travel sustainably – if it's done right of course. So here's my guide how to volunteer ethically.

Get to know the developing world

To volunteer ethically you need to get to know what the country you're looking to volunteer your services needs for the long run. You need to work out what your work is doing for the community as a whole – the people, the culture, the traditions, the ongoing support and the environment. A trick is to think of sustainability – is the work helping short-term or long-term?

All you need to do is start Googling. Read as much as you can, and gain a really good understanding of the country you're interested in visiting.

Do your research

Shortlist companies that look like they're doing ethical work. Check out their company policies, their philosophies and remember to research beyond their website. Then, ask the companies the hard questions:

+ Can you break down where your money goes?
+ How has your work made a difference? Please provide examples.
+ How does your organisation work with the community?
+ How does your work affect communities in the long-run and without your support?
+ What is expected of the volunteers?
+ What kind of support do volunteers have?

A company will answer all these questions if they have nothing to hide.

Volunteering ethically doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg

Often you'll find the more organisations charge for your placement, the more they're actually taking advantage of the community. So don't judge the organisation based on how much they're charging. Do the research and figure it out for yourself.

A little help to get you started

Here are a few organisations that I've found throughout my research. But remember, I've never personally worked with these companies, I'm recommending based on the information I've found. So it's still a good idea to do the steps!

Volunteer HQ

Volunteer HQ programs are focused on the long-term approach. They also offer placements all around the world at a really reasonable price.


World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms is a site that links volunteers with farmers all around the world. It's a fantastic way to give back to the community in an authentic, necessary way, without worrying about the repercussions.

Pod Volunteer

Pod Volunteer seem to genuinely want to run an ethical volunteer program. You need to provide a police check to even be considered – which is how it should be done!


What are your thoughts on ethical volunteer work? Have you volunteered before?