Voluntourism Effective Practice Guidelines Published

A great piece of work by the good folks at PEPY Ride and Karina Kloos, what are your thoughts on the guidelines? How can they be improved?

Read the whole version here: http://lessonsilearned.org/2009/09/voluntourism101/

Volunteer Tourism Effective Practices

Volunteer Tourism Effective Practices is designed for tour operators who are looking to or already incorporating volunteer projects into their trips. Additionally, we hope it will also serve development organizations, volunteer tourism participants and community members in helping to identify and engage in great volunteer projects. We gathered research, input and experience from many people working in the areas of voluntourism, development, and traveler’s philanthropy to create this guideline and are grateful for those who have contributed their input. This is a working, living resource, meaning that we are continually seeking feedback in the form of opinions, experiences, lessons learned and anecdotes relating to the outlined effective practices, and responses to the design and content of this guideline. Through our collective efforts, we hope to minimize potentially damaging consequences of volunteer tourism and maximize the good intentions of everyone involved.


1. Responsibly identify partner organizations

This section is intended to help tour operators identify volunteer project partners (NGO, nonprofit, social venture). For tour operators organizing and offering their own volunteer projects directly to participants, the same indicators and questions apply with regard to the projects and host community relations.

Locally Run Community Programs

  • Are project leaders based locally?
  • Are project leaders working in close collaboration with the local community?
  • Are project leaders familiar with the region: local businesses, organizations, government officials; customs, traditions, and laws?

Community Buy-In

  • Was the volunteer project/ community interaction designed in consultation with the community based on community interests and needs?
  • Does the project have the ongoing support and involvement of the community?

Long-Term Program Sustainability

  • Does the partner organization have a stable relationship with the community?
  • Can the partner organization be relied upon throughout the planning and implementation of the project involved?
  • Is the project geared toward building capacity within the community to manage its own long-term development?
  • Was the volunteer project/ community interaction designed to further progress on a larger goal, which existed before volunteers arrive and will continue after they leave?

Corruption Mitigation

  • Has the partner organization developed relationships with community members?
  • Has the partner organization set up a monitoring and evaluation system, which involves checks and balances as well as outsider input and assessment?
  • Does the partner organization have a deep understanding of local customs and laws?
  • Do project leaders speak the local language?
  • If there are select beneficiaries (certain members or families within a community, or one community rather then another) of the program, is the selection criteria transparent?

Documentation and Reporting Structures

  • Can the partner organization demonstrate reliable documentation, measurement and reporting about their organizational operations?
  • Is the partner organization legally registered in the areas in which they work?
  • Are they actively measuring and reporting the short- and long-term effects of their projects?
  • Are the financial reports of the organization transparent, both annual and project-specific reports?
  • Is the partner organization willing to openly discuss the use of the program budget?

Ethos and Ethical Alignment

  • Do you share the social, environmental, and development values of the partnering organization?
  • Do you have a similar philosophical approach towards community development, and ecological / heritage preservation?
  • Do you share the same project goals?
  • Is there clear discussion and understanding of any cultural or organizational differences?
  • Have you consulted references from your own sources (not only sources provided by the partner), to better understand perceptions and impacts of the partnering organization?

2. Build relationships based on collaborative project management and assessment with the partner organization

The impact volunteer tourism trips have on the volunteers and host communities will depend largely on the partnership between the organization and tour operator. Miscommunication, misunderstandings and any problems that exist could potentially undermine the efforts of everyone involved and so it is important to think of how best to manage the communication and responsibilities of the organizers.

Project Monitoring and Assessment

  • Are there communication channels in place for any project updates or changes?
  • Are there monitoring structures in place to evaluate volunteer impact and the capacity to make any necessary adjustments?

Project Follow Through

  • Are there clear expectations of how long the tour operator will provide volunteer support and how that aligns with the expected duration of the project needs?
  • Are there built-in protections in the volunteer projects design against unpredictable fluctuations in the number of volunteer participants? (how might a decline in tourism affect the outcome of the project?)

Volunteer Planning

  • Is it clear who is responsible for providing to volunteers any necessary pre-trip information regarding the issues the volunteer project addresses, the volunteer project itself the partner organization and the host community?
  • Is the partner organization provided with information about volunteers?
  • Is it clear who is responsible for any follow up information or activities with volunteers?

Memorandum of Understanding

  • Have you developed a clear understanding of responsibilities and expectations for both organizations?
  • Do you have in place structures for continual assessment and re-evaluation of partnership relations, project goals, volunteer experiences and community impact?
  • Do you have documentation of all agreements?

3. Ensure beneficial relationship for partner organization and host community

With increasing interest in volunteer tourism, there are increasing demands on tour companies to incorporate volunteer projects in their tours. Tour operators “and volunteers “ should keep in mind how their efforts are actually contributing to the needs of the recipient organization and community.

Volunteer Contribution

  • Do volunteers provide valuable services to the organization and community? (Some questions to consider: Do volunteers provide locally unavailable skilled labor? Do volunteers provide services that would otherwise be costly for partner organizations? Are volunteers taking the place of local jobs?)
  • Does volunteer participation in the project contribute negatively to the local environment?
  • Is volunteer participation culturally appropriate?
  • Will the volunteer be employed in a position, which will create dependence or create a void when the volunteer leaves? Alternatively, will their position build the capacity of local people and programs to better sustain themselves once the volunteer is gone?  (For example, is the volunteer teaching English directly to children? Or teaching teachers how to improve their English thereby providing capacity building to the teachers?)

Financial Contribution

  • Might the financial contribution be more effective than volunteers?
  • Are the financial costs of hosting volunteers considered?
  • Would a financial contribution help to sustain ongoing project needs?
  • Would a financial contribution potentially create any dependencies?


4. Design projects based on local needs and input as well as volunteer sustainability

Again, the increasing demands on tour companies to incorporate volunteer projects in their tours can potentially lead to poorly designed projects that cater to volunteers’ interests rather than – and sometimes at the expense of – the needs of the host organization and community. This section is intended to help ensure that projects are designed on a needs basis.

Project Planning and Design

  • Is a representative from the partner organization and/or community involved in all steps of the volunteer project planning and implementation?
  • Is the community directly contributing to the project in any way?  Did beneficiaries have to earn these contributions in some way?
  • Does the short-term project contribute to the long-term goals and needs of the organization and community?
  • Are volunteer projects adaptable? ie: if project timelines or community needs change, can the volunteer project be altered to meet the new demands?
  • Are projects adaptable to changing tourism trends? ie: might  the project discontinue if tourism declines in that area?

Volunteer Contributions

  • Are volunteers’ skills appropriately matched to the projects’ needs and activities?
  • Are there valuable tasks accessible for non-technical or “unskilled” volunteers, especially if the trip is being solicited to unskilled volunteers?


  • Does planning allow for flexibility if/when the project needs change?
  • Would the timing of the volunteer project potentially keep the progress of the project or other related project on hold?
  • If the trip is designed to be repeated, is there time allowed for potential changes to the volunteer interaction based on the assessment of previous volunteer projects?

Read the whole version here: http://lessonsilearned.org/2009/09/voluntourism101/


One thought on “Voluntourism Effective Practice Guidelines Published

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