Welcome to VoluntourismGal.com. We are a group of like-minded women dedicated to international volunteering. We have volunteered abroad, worked in the field and are committed to voluntourism and its role in making the world a better place.

As we look to relaunch this blog we wanted to first understand better the current state of affairs in the industry.  We have reached out to a handful of larger international volunteer providers to hear their take on the state of the industry.

Here is a brief summary of what we heard:

Volunteer Placement Organizations Struggling

Without exception our conversations focused mostly on the downturn in volunteer numbers.  One organization cited a decline of over 50% in placements.  This was attributed to the economy, changes in travel type (increase in internships and working abroad), and also the ability of in country smaller NGOs to effectively recruit volunteers.

Trend Towards Partnering With Local Organizations

The traditional goal for many voluntourism organizations was to create their own local infrastructure, hire their own local staff and create and control their own local projects. This model is expensive and as one director told us “Local organizations can do a better job with greater community buy in and it’s more affordable.”  The cost savings seems to be the biggest motivating factor for those organizations who have moved from homegrown projects to local partners.

Cost is a Factor

The one organization who told us they had marginal growth in 2012 and this year provides a low-cost program.  Organizations have been more focused on partnering with fundraising resources and offering discounts based on financial needs. While the economy has been stalled for several years some providers feel that the past two years in particular have demonstrated a latent impact from years of a challenging economy.

Word of Mouth

Real world marketing still trumps online marketing for the majority of the providers.  Word of mouth referrals are still the most reliable and highest efficiency leads.  The online referral websites provide traffic and leads but continue to represent a minority of actual participants.

Diversification

Two providers are focused on diversifying quickly. Nervous about the state of volunteering abroad and the possible timeline for recovery has led at least two of our interviewees to create new programs including study and volunteer abroad.

Proliferation of Organizations

Several organizations discussed the effects of the number of new providers and competition as a negative factor. The barrier to entry is very low and almost any motivated volunteer alum can create a new organization quickly.  The concern was the quality of the new providers and the spreading of a shrinking market across more providers.

We are going to look more deeply into these issues in the coming posts. What are you experiencing?  If your numbers are down, what are the causes?  Are their any influences we didn’t mention?

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3 thoughts on “

  1. Thanks for posting this. I was wondering if you planned to release a research report that systematically and quantitatively assessed the current state of volunteering abroad. Your post seems to indicate that the old model of large CANUU-based providers is being supplanted by smaller, in-country providers, but I’d love to see the data supporting this (I am engineer at heart). Are there any CANUU-based providers that are bucking the trend? Who will benefit by the increasing diversification of volunteer providers?

    Thanks!
    Steve

    • Thanks for the comments Steve. Unfortunately we don’t have the resources to conduct a large scale survey, while our conversations with a small handful of players are in no way scientific there are some pretty consistent messages. We have also reached out to some in-country voluntourism providers and smaller placement organizations and will share their feedback soon. Since posting this we heard back from one large voluntourism placement organization who says they are having a great year, they are offering a low-cost placement service.

      You pose a great question, “Who will benefit by the increasing diversification of volunteer providers?” I would love to hear others’ opinions on this.

      • Thanks! I’m super curious to hear the feedback from the in-country providers and smaller placement orgs. Would you say that the volunteer abroad space as a whole is struggling or that there is increasing fragmentation among providers (with the larger placement orgs losing out)? One hypothesis I have is that the volunteer abroad space is continuing to grow, but that there is a burgeoning number of smaller organizations (including in-country providers) that can more effectively compete against the larger, traditional providers. Can’t wait to read your next post :)

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