Making Volunteerism Work for You

By Jan Fischer Bachman

Your partner has a fabulous job possibility at a post with few employment prospects for family members. Or your work permit is almost ready …just as it has been for the past ten months. Or you don’t want the inflexible schedule of a full-time job-or you’ve always dreamed of helping street children. Volunteer work attracts Foreign Service family members for a wide variety of reasons. Easily accessible resources now allow you to find an opportunity that suits you, learn about best practices, become certified as a volunteer administrator, or investigate new sources of funding for your project.

Finding Opportunities

Foreign Service family members have often sought volunteer work by asking for suggestions from the Community Liaison Office (CLO) coordinator, sponsors, or other acquaintances– including domestic employees or the beggar at the door. Unfortunately, if the CLO coordinator recently arrived or if your acquaintances can only remember the local social club, the resulting options could be limited to managing bake sales. The availability of online international volunteer databases now makes it possible to specifically target organizations related to your interests.

Sites with international volunteer opportunity listings include:

http://www.idealist.org
The website of Action without Borders, Inc., with information from 40,000 organizations in 180 countries. Displays thousands of paid and volunteer openings, which can be viewed for free. Also offers listings of non-profits, consultants, and requests for contract services. Contact information for the latter is only provided to listed consultants: listing costs $50 for six months or $95 for a year. Other sections include: a career center, a volunteer center, non-profit tools (including information on starting a non-profit organization), resources for teachers, a children’s area, and more. Available in Spanish, French, and Russian as well as English.

http://www.escapeartist.com
Click on “jobs overseas,” then “volunteer jobs overseas” for a geographic listing of numerous overseas positions.

http://www.interaction.org
Website for the American Council for Voluntary International Action, an alliance of over 160 US-based international development and humanitarian NGOs. Provides job and volunteer opportunity listings via email for a fee (starting at $15 for a month) and sells related publications.

Many more listings exist. Search using the name of the country and “volunteer,” “NGO,” “non-profit,” “nonprofit,” and so on. Online resources are useful (particularly pre-arrival), but don’t forget that the personal touch, while flawed, can be most effective. Continue to ask everyone you meet whether they know of organizations seeking volunteers in your area of interest.

Making the Most of Opportunities

You have researched local organizations, investigated openings, pestered everyone from mail carrier to mechanic, and at last found a good fit. Now, to help the experience enhance your resume, become a professional: learn about your new field, volunteering. If you have aspirations to future mid- or senior-level employment, find or develop a position where you manage other volunteers. Study volunteer management and consider becoming a certified volunteer administrator. Here are a few resources to get you started:

http://www.changemakers.net
How-tos for “social entrepreneurs.”Lots of useful links, including an archive that can be searched by country or topic, volunteer stories (print and multi-media), practical information, and online discussions.

http://www.serviceleader.org
Information on all aspects of volunteerism, including best practices and advice for volunteer managers.

http://www.worldvolunteerweb.org
Coordinated by the UN Volunteers program. Information in English, Spanish, and French about volunteerism worldwide, including events listings and related research.

Creating Your Own Opportunities

Perhaps you haven’t found your dream position, or you see needs going unmet. Some of the resources listed above provide information on starting a non-profit organization. The following websites offer additional material:

http://www.nonprofits.org

http://www.snpo.org
Society for Nonprofit Organizations

Funding Your Opportunities

Whether you have started a new venture or participate in an existing project, finances soon could become an issue. Investigate local resources first: does the ambassador have discretionary funding to use for charitable ventures? Would the American club or mission group want to help? Would the international school be interested in doing a service project or fundraiser? If USAID works in your country, utilize the officers’ professional knowledge to find out if US grants or programs might apply (one listing of some of these appears below). For other possibilities, check the following:

http://www.kirbysimontrust.org
Specifically funds projects carried out by U.S. Foreign Service employees or their family members on non-work time.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/government/fbci/grants-catalog-international.html#008
Faith-Based and Community Initiatives – International U.S. government-funded grants

http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/citizenship/giving/overview/
Information on Microsoft’s monetary grants, software donations, disaster relief, and other efforts.
NOTE: This is just one example. Many large corporations make charitable contributions in countries where they work. Check with the embassy commercial section or the local chamber of commerce to get a list of companies to investigate.

The idea of volunteer work might initially evoke images of endless, unproductive meetings or long hours in activities of marginal importance. However, finding a position that builds on your skills and results in positive change in your new community can be personally satisfying–and even career-enhancing. Approach your volunteer work professionally, making the most of available resources, and that potential gap in your resume could become your future greatest selling point!

Jan Fischer Bachman has done paid and volunteer work in England, China, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and the U.S. She was formerly the Managing Editor of www.aafsw.org and currently works as a writer, editor, consultant, and coach.

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