Participating in a volunteer program can be one of the most incredible and rewarding experiences of your life, as well as one that can increase your employability.
The good news is that it’s never been easier to get involved in volunteering. Today, volunteering organizations are set up all over the world to provide volunteering opportunities in many destinations and for lots of different causes, such as conservation, community support or education.
With so much choice when it comes to volunteering, knowing what to do or where to start can be a minefield. This article takes you over 20 of the best volunteering opportunities, grouped together by region.
Best volunteer organizations in Africa
1. African Impact
African Impact offers numerous programs in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zanzibar and Zimbabwe.
Each of these destinations has a focus area. For example, in Zambia, there are community development options such as waste reduction or sports development. In Kenya, the focus is on environmental initiatives such as reforestation or big cat and elephant research.
African Impact aims to keep the sheer volume of volunteering opportunities small enough to focus people’s interests while being broad enough to offer choice. The organization makes an effort to ensure its volunteering opportunities are measurable and impactful, and it even has an alumni network to help volunteers stay in touch.
2. Lend a Hand
Lend a Hand operates fulfilling volunteering programs in East Africa, focusing on humanitarian projects such as helping out in schools, hospitals or childcare centers. The organization is small and agile, and volunteers are assigned program directors to support them on their adventure.
Lend a Hand welcomes any kind of volunteer, and not only commits to provide the areas they look after with lasting impacts but also strives to also create a social element to volunteering, encouraging volunteers to network and share experiences. Programs last from 2 to 12 weeks and run all year round.
3. Via Volunteers
South Africa-based Via Volunteers offers a range of amazing volunteering opportunities in the country, such as wildlife conservation projects, supporting children’s homes, working with homeless people in Cape Town, and mentoring school kids.
All their programs offer ease of access, with a volunteering fee covering most expenses such as airport transfers, overland transport, accommodation and, on some projects, meals.
Volunteer opportunities can last from two to eight weeks and are priced accordingly. You can focus on one project or combine several different ones into one exciting adventure. Via Volunteers is recommended on many volunteering opportunity aggregators, and all trips are comprehensively insured.
Best volunteer organizations in Asia
4. A Broader View
A Broader View is a US-based non-profit offering volunteering opportunities in 32 countries around the world that last between one week to three months.
ABV offers volunteering opportunities in 9 Asian countries, with a wide selection of programs in each destination (for example, in Nepal, there are 13 different programs to choose from). These programs are grouped into four main areas: children and community development, medical and health, social programs, and animal care and welfare.
The organization caters primarily to young adults but also welcomes families, over-50s and school groups.
GVI is a UK-based volunteering organization that operates on a large scale in over 40 different countries. Its volunteering opportunities are grouped into “planet” and “people”, with numerous opportunities in Asia.
GVI offers “planet” conservation opportunities in Thailand that directly contribute to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, while they offer “people” volunteering opportunities in Nepal and Cambodia, supporting women and children’s development.
There is also the opportunity for qualified healthcare practitioners to volunteer in public health, as well. GVI was founded in 1998 and prides itself on comprehensive customer service and support, as well as ensuring volunteers can relate their experience to their future careers.
6. Plan My Gap Year
Plan My Gap Year, or PMGY, offers volunteering opportunities to 17- to 22-year-olds at the more affordable end of the market, while still offering plenty of choice and flexibility, with gap year opportunities ranging from 1 to 40 weeks in 14 different countries, 7 of these being in Asia.
Asian volunteering opportunities through PMGY focus on community outreach, with English teaching opportunities, childcare support and medical volunteering. In some countries, such as Thailand and Sri Lanka, there are some wildlife conservation opportunities too.
A one-week trip can start from as little as $180.
Best volunteer organizations in the Middle East
7. International Volunteer HQ
International Volunteer HQ is the largest volunteering organization out there, offering over 350 projects in over 50 destinations.
At a time when volunteering in the Middle East is becoming a little riskier due to political circumstances, IVHQ is able to use its expertise and resources to offer comprehensive volunteering opportunities in Jordan on a weekly basis, up to 12 weeks. These projects include special needs support, youth mentoring, women’s education, and cultural immersion experiences such as supporting Ramadan events.
All IVHQ opportunities are fully hosted (in many cases, you will be living with a host family). Volunteers benefit from 24/7 support, with much of the hassle and stress of travel handled by dedicated on-site reps.
8. Love Volunteers
Love Volunteers is another cost-effective volunteering option with a global reach, offering opportunities in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas.
Love Volunteers currently offers volunteering programs in Turkey, where you can get involved in the local community or educational support, as well as caring for the many refugees that the country receives from neighboring regions.
A program is also offered in the West Bank, supporting Palestinians with refugee camps, and in construction and garden projects. The application process is simple, and a dedicated Love Volunteer advisor will guide you through the steps.
9. United Nations Volunteers
If you’re looking for truly exciting volunteering opportunities with a global organization that is committed to not only making the world a better place but working with governments and regions on doing so, then the UN Volunteers network might be for you.
Opportunities are limited and specialized, and competition for them is heavy, but what is offered is unique.
In the Middle East, current roles include a Human Rights Monitoring volunteer in Iraq, an Executive Assistant role in Saudi Arabia, a Monitoring and Research position in Jordan, or proofreading in Lebanon. Ensure you meet the UN’s rigid entry requirements and sign up on their website to look at what’s on offer.
Best volunteer organizations in Europe
Connect-123 is an internship provider that also focuses on volunteering opportunities. It is unique in that it offers bespoke volunteering programs based on what you want to experience. It’s flexible around you and enables you to get the best out of your time abroad.
In Europe, Connect-123 offers volunteering opportunities in Barcelona and Dublin. These opportunities are diverse; volunteers work in areas such as youth development, human rights, community service, the environment and animal science. And as mentioned, you can work with an advisor to tailor a program just right for you, or pick an experience off the shelf.
Fronteering aims to get volunteers off the beaten path and discover exciting new things. In addition to rewarding volunteering opportunities, there are chances to get involved with fun activities in your free time like dog sledding, kayaking and climbing.
Fronteering offers options in 19 countries worldwide, but in Europe, they offer 4: landscape conservation in Iceland, wolf conservation in Portugal, Highland conservation in Scotland, and land maintenance (and looking after Huskies!) in Wales.
Fronteering’s focus on remoteness means that you will truly become immersed with local people and nature, ensuring that your volunteering opportunity is focused and meaningful.
Best volunteer organizations in North America
12. Discover Corps
The organization offers these experiences in Africa, Asia, Central America and South America, but also offers conservation opportunities in Cuba, wildlife studies in Alaska, and community outreach and supporting education in the beautiful Dominican Republic.
Discover Corps offers a high-end experience for smaller groups, meaning you will get a more immersive volunteering experience while staying in upscale hotels. Families and solo travelers are also welcomed and catered for.
13. Jamaica Volunteer Programs
As the name might suggest, this smaller volunteer organization focuses on delivering experiences on the stunning Caribbean island of Jamaica.
Founded in 2001 by one woman who had a difficult upbringing and wanted to give back to the island that was her home, Jamaica Volunteer Programs offers kindergarten volunteering in Kingston, as well as teaching and childcare support in Negril.
The organization offers a focused application process where you can discuss goals and objectives, and the close-knit team will take good care of you while you are on your volunteering experience.
Best volunteer organizations in Central America
14. Global Leadership Adventures
Global Leadership Adventures offers incredible volunteering opportunities for young people who want to hone their leadership skills in the real world and out of their comfort zone.
It offers global volunteering opportunities but has a large presence in Central America, offering childcare and health volunteering projects in Guatemala and a wide variety of opportunities in Costa Rica, including conservation, sustainability, children’s outreach and animal rescue opportunities.
The aim of the program is to inspire future leaders and combine leadership learning with social responsibility within the host community.
15. Peace Corps
The Peace Corps offers volunteering opportunities to US citizens over the age of 18, providing two main programs, one for new volunteers and one for seasoned returners or recent graduates.
The Corps operates in over 50 different countries but has a large presence in Central America. Like the UN’s volunteering programs, the Peace Corps offers openings that you can apply for, like job vacancies.
Current opportunities include being an Economic Development Promoter in Costa Rica, a Development Facilitator in Guatemala, or an English or Climate Change Teacher in Mexico. Space is limited, and competition is heavy, so ensure you meet the requirements for these volunteering opportunities before you apply.
Best volunteer organizations in South America
IPBio is a Brazilian organization devoted to the conservation of the Amazônia National Park. The organization offers two main volunteering programs: the Atlantic Forest volunteer program and the Amazon Volunteer program.
Volunteers from all walks of life are welcomed; they will be tasked with various forms of conservation, such as cataloging mushrooms, monitoring animal characteristics, and maintaining inventories of wildlife.
The organization heavily invests in research and expects its volunteers to perform critical work to support the conservation of protected rainforests, making this a very responsible volunteering experience.
17. Maximo Nivel
Maximo Nivel focuses on overseas study volunteering opportunities in Latin America, specifically Peru, Guatemala and Costa Rica. The organization is locally based in these countries and has cultivated meaningful and long-lasting relationships that create rewarding and structured volunteering experiences.
The organization offers a wealth of different volunteering opportunities, including conservation work, animal care, working with indigenous communities, and teaching English to children and adults.
The programs are academically focused, and you can study online as well. The program fees are quite comprehensive, covering most expenditures, including meals and office WiFi where needed.
18. Volunteering Solutions
Founded in 2006, Volunteering Solutions is another large volunteering organization present in close to 30 countries and offers hundreds of short-term volunteer options. Though they are present on every continent, they have a large network in South America that offers one or two-week programs.
These programs are hugely varied; for example, in Peru, you can be supporting street children or working in an animal rescue center. Alternatively, you could be supporting conservation workers in Ecuador.
Volunteering Solutions works with school leavers, couples and corporate groups, as well as partners with qualified professionals on more specialized projects.
Best volunteer organizations in Oceania
Oceans2Earth is an Australian volunteering organization and charity that offers experiences around the world but with a special focus on their own backyard. The organization aims to bring animal cruelty and habitat destruction to the forefront of people’s minds, and their volunteering initiatives focus on these areas.
In Australia, you can get involved in helping with conservation of the Great Barrier Reef, the preservation of the Outback, or simply take on a more relaxed eco-expedition where you can learn about the threats to these wonderful environments.
Oceans2Earth also offers study volunteering opportunities and is popular with high school students as well as more seasoned travelers.
20. Think Pacific
Think Pacific focuses on volunteering in Fiji. The organization puts the local communities at the heart of what it does and ensures that volunteers leave a long-lasting, positive impact.
Opportunities are diverse but focus on several core pillars: sports coaching, youth empowerment, community building, mental health, and longer projects developed with the Fijian government on certain practical outcomes based on national priorities.
The firm offers remote internships and scholarship programs, as well as recently branching out to offering options in Bali, Indonesia.
When it comes to finding volunteering experiences that benefit you as well as the locale you visit, a good place to start is to be clear about your goals and what you want to get from your experience, as well as where you want to be based.
These top 20 organizations all have certain focuses, and some are based in specific areas of the world. Some are challenging to get into, so it’s recommended that you approach each opportunity like a job application. Once you are in place and volunteering, make sure you enjoy yourself as well as getting stuck into the rewarding tasks at hand.
Got any other suggestions? Let us know in the comments section below.
Originally published on January 15, 2017.