volunteers and youth sharing a meal

Knowing how to pick a good non-profit to volunteer with can be tough. There are so many non-profit organizations in developing countries doing (seemingly) a lot of good. But, how do you know if they are truly making a strong impact on the community? Once you know some of the key things to spot, the good non-profits will start sticking out to you.

In traveling abroad, I always advocate for looking for ways to volunteer with the communities in which you are enjoying. But, you also need to make sure you are doing more good than harm. Many organizations cater to bringing as many volunteers through their doors versus focusing on making changes in the communities they are supposed to be serving.

They have a holistic approach

When working in a developing country, there are so many needs to be met. There is a delicate balance between over stretching the organization and knowing how to meet the secondary needs to support the main goal. Good non-profits are able to straddle this line. In looking at how to pick a good non-profit, making sure they have a holistic approach is one of the top requirements for me. For example, an organization works in education reinforcement for kids. But, we know that if kids are hungry, they don’t do well in school. A good organization will know how to provide nutritional snacks or meals to the kids in order to support their primary goal of education. They won’t turn away from that need claiming it isn’t in their “purview”.

in knowing how to pick a good non-profit, there must be investment from the local community.

They work with the local community

In knowing how to pick a good non-profit to volunteer with, make sure that the organization is in harmony with the community they are serving. If there is conflict between the community and the organization, something isn’t going right and it’s likely the organization is doing more harm than good.

There is local investment

Similarly, a good non-profit must have investment from the locals. Red flags are if no locals are on staff or are not willing to work alongside the organization. While less important, if no donations come from in-country, this could signal a problem. If an organization does not have investment from the local community, the organization is likely not making the impact they are promising.


volunteers need to fit into the programs geared towards the population being served and not be the focus

The work is about the people

One of the things to look for with organizations is if they cater to the volunteer and not those they serve. Oftentimes, organizations start with the best of intentions. However, when they begin to work, their focus turns to bringing in volunteers. While working with the organization, the focus is more on you instead of the needs of the organization or community. Be cautious if organizations are promoting a vacation within your service. You serve while on vacation, but the service is not the vacation. Many organizations are able to master that delicate balance between providing a fun experience to volunteers and preserving the authenticity of their work.

The people are not exploited

In exploitation we often think about the selling of people or abuse. Exploitation has many forms. Obviously, make sure that the organization does not participate in selling or abusing people. Also, be sure that the dignity or safety of those served is not put at risk to gain volunteers or donors. For example, this victims home faces accusations that they put safety at risk for the gain of the organization.  If an organization takes volunteers or donors on a “look how poor they are” tour of the communities, they are not making the most good. Organizations must be sensitive to the safety and dignity of those they serve above anything else.

Volunteer and Youth

How to find out if a non-profit is doing good

The best way to find out if a non-profit is doing good in the community is to research the organization. Read through their website and Facebook page. Look for comments or reviews that show how they interact with the community. Look at their photos. Are locals involved in the programs? Does it look as if the kids are being showcased to raise funds? Also, look for news articles on the organization.

Email the organization to ask any questions you may have. Ask for clarification on any concerns. A good non-profit will not mind clarifying or answering any questions you may have.

If you are already in country, call the organization to see if you can go on a tour or shadow a day at their programs. Follow your gut. If your intuition says something is off about the organization, trust in that.

Most organizations do a lot of good. In Guatemala, I have come across so many wonderful organizations doing a lot of good in a variety of areas. However, with all the good, there are occasionally organizations that miss the mark. In doing your own research, you will know how to pick a non-profit that does a lot of good.

Have you volunteered abroad before? What do you look for in volunteering with an organization? Let me know in the comments!