For most people, a volunteer abroad placement is something they embark on solo or with a close friend to fit in with their individual work or study schedules. But with some careful planning, a group volunteer trip can offer some great benefits and a real sense of camaraderie as you work alongside friends, family and colleagues to achieve a common goal.
Most volunteer abroad organizations are more than happy to plan group trips, based on the destination and project of your choice. They will even help to plan logistics above and beyond their usual role, including group sightseeing excursions and customized itineraries that meet your interests and schedule. But this all requires a little forward planning. It requires someone to take charge as the team leader in organizing the logistics and ensuring that each participant is aware of what they need to do and the expectations on them throughout the project placement.
Seems overwhelming? We’ve put together a short guide to help you plan and make the most of a group volunteering trip.
Why do a group volunteer trip?
Group volunteering offers a few distinct benefits when compared to venturing off solo. Firstly, you can get a lot more achieved with a large group of people and see the results of your efforts first-hand. When you participate as an individual, you often just see a fraction of the bigger project that will be completed by those who come after you. But when you volunteer as a group, you can build an entire home in as little as a week, with a greater sense of satisfaction that your contributions are making a big impact in the lives of others.
Volunteering as a group is also a great way to bond with people you rarely get to see or those who you might like to get to know better. You’ll be living, working and socializing together, allowing you to make strong connections. For families, it can be a fantastic opportunity to spend time together in the midst of otherwise busy lives and for work colleagues, it’s a perfect chance to connect and socialize outside of the office.
Another benefit of volunteering as a group is that you can plan excursions together on your days off and before or after your placement. Hire a vehicle and guide to head off and explore ancient ruins or enjoy a few days of well-earned relaxation on a beach after your placement is complete. If you travel abroad as an individual, you’ll most likely need to organize these things yourself and if you’re not confident traveling solo, it can be quite daunting. But with a big group, everything can be organized for you and you’ll have the added support of being with people that you feel comfortable around.
Who can you volunteer with?
Group volunteering placements can be planned as a family, offering a meaningful way to connect with those closest to you and reaffirm the bond you have as a family unit. You can select a volunteer abroad placement in a destination that you’ve always wanted to visit as a family and a project that meets your interests, whether it be building disaster relief housing, working on environmental conservation initiatives or assisting disadvantaged families who might be doing it tough.
You can also opt to participate in a group volunteering experience with friends, planning a once-in-a-lifetime experience to travel abroad and make a difference in the lives of others. Consider those around you who might have a similar social conscience and would be motivated to get hands-on in helping to change the world.
If you’re studying at high school or university, consider organizing a group of fellow students to head abroad for a group volunteer placement. You can select a field that relates to your studies (perhaps architecture or social work) and plan a placement that fits within your study commitments. You might even be eligible for credits from your school or college, so chat with a relevant staff member for assistance planning.
Those who are already in the workforce won’t miss out either, with it possible to plan a group trip to volunteer in a destination of your choice. Many companies are actually encouraging their employees to participate in volunteer abroad initiatives as part of their corporate social responsibility goals and may be willing to sponsor the placement and/or give you paid time off to go. It’s an opportunity to connect with your colleagues and improve team relations. You can opt to work in a field that is related to your company’s line of work or that just adheres to their ethos or company philosophy.
How to plan a group volunteer trip
Because a group volunteer abroad placement involves many people, it can take a little more planning to execute. Rather than just submitting an application form for yourself and booking flights, you need to organize the logistics for multiple people.
Where do you want to go?
Firstly, decide where you want to go and what kind of project you want to be involved in. A quick look online will come up with a whole host of placement options in destinations around the globe and in various fields. Consider the interests of your group and the logistics of visas and travel arrangements that the destination might entail.
When should you go?
It’s also important to determine when you want to go and how this fits in with the work and study commitments of others. If you require visas for your destination, it might be difficult to plan a trip at short notice, particularly if the visas take several weeks to process. Contact the volunteer abroad company directly to check if it’s possible to plan a group placement that fits within your preferred schedule, then get to work organizing your group.
Decide how many people should go first
Firstly, you need to decide how many people you want to have involved or that the group placement can facilitate. Then send out emails to at least that number, as not everyone will want or be able to participate. If you want a group of 12, then send emails to around 30 people who you think might be interested, giving them the details of dates, placement destination, costs and project requirements.
It’s really important to create deadlines and outline these clearly in your first email. When do you need a response of “yes, I’m going” or “no, I can’t go” and when would you need a deposit to confirm the placement?
You should also outline when flights need to booked (with details of the flight number and where to find the best prices online) or opt to go through a travel agent and book the flights as a group so you know you will all be together. This will make things easier at the other end in terms of in-country transportation to your project placement and avoid any logistical chaos due to canceled/delayed flights.
Also, clearly outline when the final deadline is for the remaining payments. It’s a good idea to make this a few days earlier than the due date outlined by the volunteer abroad organization, just to compensate for any late payments.
Fundraising for your group trip
If you know that the project fee or flight costs for a volunteer abroad placement is going to be outside the means of many people in your group, you can opt to fundraise some or all of the costs. Friends, family members and local organizations will probably be more than happy to chip in when they know it’s for a good cause. But a successful fundraising campaign is not just about listing your project and hoping that the money rolls in. It actually takes a little bit of research and know-how, which is not difficult to find.
At Build Abroad, we have partnered with FundMy Travel, a unique crowdfunding site that focuses exclusively on assisting those who are heading abroad for meaningful projects. You can take advantage of free access to their Fundraiser’s Toolkit, which will walk you through every step of the way in creating a successful fundraising campaign. In some cases, you will be able to raise enough to cover the entire costs of a trip, while in others you will be able to significantly reduce the financial costs on the individual.
Heading abroad on your group trip
In the process of planning your group volunteer placement, there are a few other things you need to keep in mind in terms of information that should be conveyed to your group. For example, how can they apply for any required visas for your destination and what are the fees involved? Send through a link to the relevant consulate, together with approximate processing times, so that everyone has their visas secured well in advance of your travel date.
It’s also important to consider any vaccinations that are needed and offer helpful information about where participants can have these vaccinations done. For some destinations, there may be required vaccinations (like yellow fever) that must be done before entry to the country. In other cases, there will be recommended vaccinations to ensure your own safety while abroad. Some of these vaccinations need to be administered over a long-term period (every few weeks) before they are fully protective, so it’s a good idea to get organized early.
Check-in with your volunteer abroad organization for any documentation about the placement schedule and forward this on to the participants so they have an idea of the expectations throughout the project. How many hours will they be working each day and will there be the opportunity to go sightseeing either during or after the placement?
If you’re traveling to a destination that has a different culture to your own, consider doing some research about local beliefs and traditions so you know what to expect. This will prevent you from stepping on any toes or causing offense in the local community in which you are working. Maybe not everyone in your group will have traveled abroad before, so offering some information to educate them about the local culture (lifestyle, gender roles and beliefs) will be a good starting point. Understanding the historical, social and religious influences at play in your destination may also help to reduce any culture shock on arrival.
Keep an open mind!
Lastly, it’s important that you go with an open mind and leave your judgments behind. Chances are the local community will live a different lifestyle than your own and may choose to do things quite differently. Rather than persuading them to do things your way or imposing your beliefs, it’s important that you are accepting and willing to make changes in the way you do things, even if it’s just for the length of the placement. There’s always a reason behind the way things are done, which may not be immediately visible to you. So just take a back seat and be an active participant, rather than trying to take charge.
This will be easier for some people than others and in a large group, there is bound to be at least one individual who wants to impose their way of doing things. In the emails leading up to the placement, it may be a good idea to address this issue head-on and encourage each participant to be aware of this throughout the placement. Highlight that this is a learning experience for everyone and a way of giving back to those that are less fortunate, rather than a mission to transform the way they live.
The more you give, the more you will get back, not only in terms of what you achieve, but the connections you make and the cultural insights you gain along the way. Volunteering abroad is an immersive way to see the world, working and living alongside local communities, so the experience will be completely different from a traditional vacation or sightseeing trip. But as a result, the rewards for the group (and the individual) are also far greater, with a sense of satisfaction in what you can achieve when you put your collective minds together for the greater good.