Volunteering doesn’t automatically make you a good person: THE APPENDIX

Over the last couple months, I’ve been writing a piece commissioned by Contributoria called Volunteering won’t change the world, do this instead.

That’s where I go one with my opinions on volunteering. I would have loved another draft of that before calling it done. Oh, and the “Thea” I mention in the article is an actual person, although there have been so many like her, I can’t keep track of who flounced when.

The bottom line. An incredibly small percentage of volunteers actually follow through. And when volunteers don’t do what they say, they are the worst for an organization. I have no patience for the waste of time and resources.

If a volunteer can’t listen to the community and be helpful, and recognize that local organizations can stretch donations much farther than a visitor, she has no business being there. And if you find yourself feeling self congratulatory when volunteering, it’s a good bet something has gone wrong.

Also, I wish I’d changed the title to Volunteering Doesn’t Automatically Make You A Good Person.


A quick shout out, though, to all those really good volunteers. The ones who totally showed up and figured it out.

The good volunteers, they get cake. The best cake ever.

Volunteers take the cake
Thank you San Jose Library flickr for the photo!


So anyway, this is the appendix to that Contributoria piece.

You still need to do your own research before sending money or visiting, because that’s only logical. Find out if they’re a good fit for you.

It’s a list of groups and organizations where I feel comfortable donating money and volunteering. Some, I’ve worked with directly. I’ve donated money, volunteered, partnered with or otherwise feel confident that the time and money you spend goes exactly where it should go.

Others, I know through friends, family and connections I make online. Each is marked accordingly.

You still need to do your own research before sending money or visiting, because that’s only logical. Find out if they’re a good fit for you.

Finally, I include resources for reading and will update this post with new information. Also check the comments for more suggestions.

Organizations I know in alphabetical order.

Cloudhead ART in Salta, Argentina

This is the art, education and technology NGO I founded and run in Argentina. We form partnerships with local organizations to connect them with resources. We rarely take volunteers these days, only people who clearly demonstrate they are a good fit.

All donations go directly to benefit the programs we run. That can be paying local teachers, providing resources for a class we’re teaching or program we’re running. We only take donations when we have a specific project to support.

We are not 501c3 but have a partnership with another organization that can provide tax deductions for donations.

Girls for Success in Costa Rica, near Limon

This is a Costa Rican girls’ school supported by the Peace Through Yoga Foundation. It is within walking distance from the place Jeannie Mark and I host our Costa Rican Creative Revolution Retreat. We donate a portion of retreat costs to the school. They teach English, sewing and other eductional and vocational skills.

Homeless to Higher Ed based in California

Founded by Jessica Sutherland. You can read more about the organization on the Huffington Post (among other places). Mainly I know her through discussions of her work. She works with a handful of clients at a time, and donations are to make sure her clients finish college.

Let Them Help Themselves Out of Poverty in Ruhanga, Uganda

Founded by Ida Horner whom I met while writing for Birds on the Blog, a magazine by and for women in business. The Birds donate money to fund the education of two girls in Uganda. In 2014, Creative Revolution Retreats donated a year of education to each girl.

Mtoto Africa in Kikuyu, Kenya

Co-founded by Fredrick Gituku, who grew up in and whose family lives in Kikuyu, and my friend Josette Landry whom I know from Atlanta. She’s an experienced educator who has also been Lila’s teacher for years. I’ve had the opportunity to watch Mtoto grow.

Their projects focus on community needs as determined by community members. Right now, they’re saving to build an “educational safe house” for girls, a place where girls receive whatever they need —  from food to uniforms to a place to sleep — to make education possible.

The Muskoka Foundation, international volunteering

Also known as Do Good As You Go. I’ve worked with Muskoka for the last three years. Muskoka partners with local organizations to match them with appropriate volunteers. I’ve extensively quoted Elvis Tamkloe, their Africa regional coordinator and Katie Clancy, director of global partnerships all over Contributoria.

La Sende Verde in Coroico, Bolivia

This is the Bolivian monkey refuge where Lila and I volunteer in February 2012. Almost everyone who works at the refuge is from Bolivia, and many have worked with the animals for decades. The work is long, hard and dirty, but it was an incredible experience.

You can also take a tour or stay just a night or two in their eco-lodge.

Some additional reading before you make a decision. 

Shannon O’Donnell, author of The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook gives us the Grassroots Volunteering website where you can read about organizations and local social enterprises to support while you travel.

Trends in international volunteering from Transitions Abroad. Transitions Abroad advocates slower travel that allows you teducational and respectful travel generally leads to both mutual benefit and often fun for both visitors and locals. Includes a list of useful links at the end, including Ethan Gelber’s free e-book Travel and Do Good.

The Good, The Bad and Questions You Should Ask. Published by Uncornered Market’s Audrey Scott, this article discusses volunteering and voluntourism, the pitfalls, benefits and how to choose the right kind of experience for you.

Feel free to add your own thoughts and questions in the comments. If you suggest a place to donate or volunteer, please also provide a website and any personal experience you’ve had with the organization.