While I have not personally travelled to volunteer, I have held many local volunteer positions in my life – from watering birds-of-prey to volunteering at various retail-like stores. Some seemed fascinating to do for fun because they were very unique volunteering opportunities, while others were strategic for the purposes of volunteering for an organisation in hopes to eventually get a paid job. Whatever the case may be, simply put, in order to be a great volunteer there are several characteristics a volunteer should have before they consider volunteering at home or abroad.
You have to have a high level of passion and enthusiasm for what you hope to accomplish as a volunteer. A person may take the time to volunteer at a zoo, for example, but may not necessarily engage with the animals or with visitors who want to have an incredible time. If the person shows up consistently, but once there tends to be more interested in looking at their phone, they may make the case they have been a reliable unpaid worker, however their passion is lacking which may not necessarily make them a great volunteer. Volunteers should also be good at communicating and interacting with other people and flexible in terms of shifts or what you are willing to do even if it is not something you may normally feel comfortable doing at the time.
I believe there are a lot of similarities between my volunteering experiences and volunteers who travel to volunteer outside their local community. Although I have not been to an exotic location to volunteer my time, I think all volunteers regardless of location should be able to effectively communicate with others and be flexible in terms of job requirements in-country as noted earlier. Being a flexible team player, for example, will probably encourage other community members and volunteers to do the same. At the end of it all, I think the biggest difference between being an average and great volunteer comes from the level of passion you have towards the organisation and the community cause. Volunteering, regardless of location, most likely will not only benefit the community and the organisation but yourself because of the efforts you took to gain knowledge through the volunteering experience and the satisfaction you’ll receive by taking the time out of your day (or weeks of vacation!) to help an organisation make a difference in the community.
Editor’s note: Nathanael has given back to the community through his volunteering efforts with: Samaritan’s Purse-Operation Christmas Child, Wild At Heart (Raptors Rescue), Musical Instrument Museum, Mayo Clinic Hospital, and numerous other non-profits in the Phoenix area. We thank him for his time and his selfless contributions to our society.