Genuine Change: How to Make Your Volunteer Work Really Count


One of the toughest lessons for many would-be do-gooders came about when aid workers and charity agencies began refusing donations of second-hand clothing and household items in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. As it turns out, clothing and worn-down items largely complicated the aid process.

In other countries, an influx of second hand shoes and clothing actually destabilised the local economy, putting local clothing makers, and the suppliers of their raw materials, out of business.

The unpredicted outcome of many well-intentioned donators should not discourage charity; however, it should serve to teach us that real charity requires more than just give-and-forget. While cash is more valuable to charity organisations than second-hand goods, what is most valuable is our attention, our ears, and our hands.

In this article, we’ll teach you how to have a real charitable impact.

With a little effort and patience, much more effective volunteer work and charitable giving can be had.

Step One: Learn to Listen

Being in a place of need is not easy.

For many cultures, there can be a sense of social shame attached to being dispossessed or in need. Because of this, many individuals avoid speaking up about issues that could come from the help they are receiving. Other people might simply not be in a position to see the greater effect of the aid efforts in action.

When individuals do speak up, whether they are recipients of aid or veteran volunteers, listen closely. If you want to help, you have to be the one with the humility. For some, volunteering might be an act of social standing, but, for most of us, volunteering and charitable giving is meant to make a difference.


In order to make a real difference, you have to learn to observe, to listen, and to keep your mind open to the possibility that there are better ways to do things. For a specific example, if you are new to volunteering, listen to your mentors on both sides of charity; both local leaders and non-profit leaders can have vital experience and insight that you can benefit and learn from.

With learning comes the ability to change the world.

Step Two: Be Present

One of the most helpful things that any volunteer or giver can do is be involved. Don’t just donate and push it to the back of your mind.

By connecting with the organisations you volunteer for or donate to, you’ll know more about what they need, how you can help, where they’ll be working, and what opportunities are available to you.

It is an unfortunate truth that not all non-profits are as effective as others, nor do they all effectively utilise money and volunteer time. If you’re involved beyond one-off volunteering events or occasional donations, you’ll be able to see first hand what’s going on with the organisation you are considering.

Over time, you might even be able to help improve the quality of the help that you and your organisation are giving.

Step 3: Know When It’s Time to Step Back

The harsh truth is that none of us can be completely qualified to help in every situation. In doing foreign aid work, we have to recognise when to defer to experts and when to step back. Even the most skilled and well-equipped teams of volunteers sometimes find themselves out of their element. In the end, as always, its about those in need, not about the feelings of the volunteer team.

Sometimes, an organisation goes into a foreign country with the best of intentions but finds that their presence is not helping the situation.

As mentioned earlier, such a circumstance can occur when an organisation misjudges the need in an area.

Providing shirts to a country that is struggling from unstable politics or disease is unlikely to help. It may be that another country needs what an organisation originally set out to provide, but a decision to change the scope of the work should be taken seriously and shouldn’t be done on the fly.

Foreign aid work requires diplomacy, patience, and cultural awareness.

Sometimes, you might have to step back, learn, and reformulate your plans. The greatest goal is the well-being of the citizens of the world, even if there are times when helping demands reanalysing and reorganising.

Step Four: Keep Positive

Foreign aid volunteering and charity work is some of the most fulfilling and enriching work you can undertake. With that in mind, aid work is not easy. Fatigue, culture shock, and even acclimatisation troubles are all very real challenges.

Keeping your eye on the prize, not like in online casino but in delighting community and kindness, and keeping your mind open will help you overcome anything that stands in your way.

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