From our state of the volunteer travel survey responses, to LinkedIn discussion groups, to forums and beyond, I’ve noticed volunteer travel providers worldwide becoming frustrated with their recruitment rates, which appear to be dropping from recent years. A few alternatives some have been developing—particularly smaller, niche ones that can’t quite compete monetarily with the behemoth ones we all know:
- Internships abroad with a volunteer component
- Longer-term volunteering
- Service-learning (or learning service, as the case may be)
- Career- or degree-based placements (e.g., veterinary training abroad for degree fulfillment)
Before I left my own volunteer travel company last year, I had the chance to start recruiting volunteers and interns for some new partnership programs in Central America; every single person who signed on during my time there wanted a semester-long placement or a career- or degree-related one (e.g., medical placement abroad for professionals in the field). In my interviews with potential volunteers and interns, all of them noted they very much wanted to travel, but as they had tiny, tiny budgets, they had to make sure it was absolutely worth their while: a longer-term placement abroad that satisfied degree requirements or helped build their careers was a two-for one deal in their book.
In speaking with other providers lately, many have noticed the same thing—short-term “volunteer vacation”-type projects just aren’t cutting it lately.
So friends: what have you noticed? Have you felt the need to change your volunteer placements to accommodate this new(ish) wave of travelers? How do your short-term programs stack up against your long-term ones, if you offer both? And if you have skills-based or unskilled programs, is one doing better than the other?