The secret to being a good volunteer manager is experience as a volunteer yourself; with volunteer experience notched into your belt, you know more than you may think! You’ve figured out what it takes to be a volunteer, collaborated with awesome coordinators (and others that you could do without), and worked alongside those who’ve either amazed you with their efforts, or who’ve only cared about the free t-shirt. Morph all of these past experiences into a new avenue for supporting an organization you care about and keep building on your previous experiences to triple your impact, helping organizations, volunteers, and beneficiaries all at the same time.
Why Volunteer Abroad
Maybe you are a natural-born leader or maybe you are so passionate about a cause that you want to recruit and motivate others to help out. Whatever the case, becoming a volunteer manager abroad is an incredible way to gain career and interpersonal skills while increasing the breadth of your impact.
Working as a volunteer manager abroad not only provides you with on-the-job training, it will provide you with immeasurable life skills. Volunteer managers typically works with international volunteers from a multitude of countries and backgrounds. International volunteers not only require basic management, they need counseling as they experience culture shock and homesickness, need medical advice and support when they fall ill (the local hospital staff will consider you a regular), and seek out social guidance as they try to find their way in a new city or town. Volunteer managers can take on all of these roles and more, and the lessons learned quickly lead to becoming an “internationally mature” individual.
As a volunteer manager, you find out what type of leader you are, your strengths, and your weakness (er, areas for improvement). You really gotta walk your talk to be successful! You will have to figure out the best ways to explain tasks, document results, maintain enthusiasm, and encourage growth and perseverance through setbacks. You’ll also learn so much more about the organization and cause you are working for, the needs of the community, and which programs are most effective and why.
Since volunteers are utilized in almost every field and needed in almost every country, those interested in volunteer management have a wide range of locations to choose from. The important thing is selecting a location where you will most benefit the organization you are working with; volunteer management is an important role!
Returning to a city you’ve been to before (and always dream about going back to) has many benefits for volunteer managers. After spending two months in India as a volunteer working with street children, for example, you’ll be able to return and transition into volunteer management with more ease. Adapting to the local culture will happen more quickly and you will be able to assist the new volunteers with more confidence than if you were brand new to the surroundings. Even more, returning to the same organization you volunteered with previously, no matter if it’s in Zimbabwe or Australia, puts you way ahead of the learning curve. Staff will already know and trust you, and you’ll have your own knowledge of the organization as a foundation to work from.
Of course, choosing a brand new destination and experiencing it for the first time along the volunteers your manage can be a uniquely rewarding experience in itself. But, this is when language can help you choose. Speak perfecto Spanish? Latin American countries such as Argentina, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico are bueno options to give back as a volunteer manager. En amour with French? Cameroon, Togo, and Rwanda offer the perfect place to practice your skills while you volunteer. Speaking two or more languages benefits volunteer managers, allowing them to translate between locals and international volunteers who do not speak the local language.
Volunteer Management Abroad
Volunteer managers will have their hands in every project that needs volunteers! The more diversity in the organization’s programming, the more diversity volunteer managers will have with the projects they are supporting. Just remember: you won’t solely be in charge of only one project. You’ll be in charge of preparing and placing volunteers in the many different projects within the organization, so you’ll feel connected to everything!
Smaller, grassroot NGOs, with little or a growing number of staff, have the highest demand for volunteer managers. A lot of behind-the-scenes and administrative work is done to accomplish the goals of NGOs, and oftentimes, it’s a challenge to dedicate staff time to managing volunteers. The catch is that volunteers are also vital to the success of NGOs, so coordination is needed! As a volunteer manager abroad, you take on the important tasks of volunteer orientations, documentation, placements, emergencies, and feedback; you can answer loads of questions, help with transportation, and enable staff to stay focused on their main roles. Throughout your volunteer work, you’ll also be engaging with local partners, maintaining relationships, and building a positive “face” of the organization that the community sees.
Larger NGOs and corporations may also have a position dedicated to volunteer management, but that doesn’t mean volunteer support isn’t also needed. Oftentimes, larger organizations have a high number of volunteers to manage and a high volume of volunteer applications, so additional management assistance is necessary. Each day can be different as you fill in various roles and tasks: application reviews, interviews, reference calls, orientations, placement support, brainstorm sessions, etc.
In either setting, volunteering in volunteer management will place you in a position where you are impacting orphanages, schools, old-age homes, health clinics, animal shelters, and more. There’s always a few hours here and there, too, where you can take off your volunteer manager hat and step back into the role of volunteer (which we all love to do).
Benefits & Challenges
Job Training. Holding a leadership position as volunteer manager prepares you for a career in NGOs and management in any field. A management position (even as a volunteer!) looks mighty good on a resume as well.
Re-Experiencing. Seeing things again through the eyes of new volunteers can be pretty magical. They can also point out things to you you’ve been missing all along or get you to tag along on excursions they want to take. Volunteer managing isn’t all work, there’s a lot of time for fun and play, too!
Workload. Volunteer management can be a demanding position, especially in an organization with multiple projects and high number of volunteers. Without a doubt, though, volunteer managers have a huge impact on the organization and their available to benefit local communities.
Home Away From Home. Typically, volunteer managers are required to stay between six to 12 months (or at times three months). In this amount of time, you can really get comfortable in the community, make friends, and feel at home. Plus, in filling such an important role, a housing and/or living stipend will sometimes be provided to offset your costs.
As much as you give as a volunteer manager, to the organization and volunteers you work with, you get just as much back. Between volunteers’ smiling faces, learning moments galore, and successful projects, each day will leave you feeling rewarded.