If you are considering joining a volunteer program then the likelihood is that you are the kind of person who wants to make a positive contribution, be it to conservation or to a community in need. However, before making the decision about which project you want to join there are a few things that you may want to consider…

#1. Does the project have a genuine need for volunteers?

The whole idea of volunteering is for you to make a real and significant contribution to a cause through your specialist skills, or simply through your hard work and enthusiasm! Be sure that the project/organization is recruiting volunteers because they have a genuine need for them – any ethical organization should be interested in finding volunteers to assist with projects, not creating projects to attract volunteers.

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#2. Is the project sustainable?

‘Sustainability’ is a term you come across a lot these days and is definitely something you need to consider when thinking of volunteering. If a project is not sustainable then however much you may put into that project in the short term, in the grand scheme of things what is that project really contributing? Sustainability will help to ensure that the project achieves its long term goals…and that all your hard work won’t become meaningless. Always think about the BIG PICTURE.

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#3. What is your motivation for volunteering?

Question your own reasons for choosing to be a volunteer. For example, if you are thinking of volunteering for a conservation project ask yourself ‘Do I really want to make a genuine difference to conservation, or do I just want to play with cute cuddly animals?’ Obviously any animal lover would be thrilled by that, but if you want to make a real contribution to conservation then just be sure that it isn’t your only motivation – if your dazzled by the idea of all those fluffy animals, there’s a chance you’ll skim over the actual purpose of the project and what it contributes to conservation in the long term.

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#4. Is the organisation/project ethical?

Do some research, look at the way in which the organization describes its projects; for example if you’re looking at doing a community project (particularly in a developing country) look at how the organization is portraying that community – any ethical organization shouldn’t be telling you that you will be changing the world or suggesting that this community can’t function on its own, they should be inspiring you to come and work together with these people to help them achieve their goals and develop as a community.

Simply look at how much information you are receiving about the projects you are looking at – if an organization has good, ethical projects then they don’t have anything to hide and therefore should be able to provide you with all the information you need about what the projects involve and what your role will be.

Obviously for most people choosing to become a volunteer isn’t a completely selfless act, it’s about you too– you want to see new places, meet new people, experience new things; and that’s great, volunteering doesn’t have to be solely about contributing to a good cause, it can also be about you having a new experience and growing as a person…but take your time to do some research so you can be sure that you’re signing up for a meaningful, ethical project. That way you’ll get far more out of it in the end!!

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