What’s in a Name? Why You Shouldn’t Automatically Trust the Biggest Volunteer Organizations

Posted by on July 7, 2015 · Leave a Comment  

People naturally seek comfort in recognition. They buy brands they’ve seen in commercials, eat in restaurants their friends have talked about, and smile at people whose faces they know. But when it comes to selecting a volunteer organization, the more recognizable names are not necessarily the best options.

Big organizations of any kind are complicated; the more money and people required to keep something running smoothly, the more potential you have for things to go wrong. Large charities and volunteer organizations are no exception.

[bctt tweet=”Is it better to #volabroad with a big or small organization? “]

Large organizations may seem trustworthy because you know their name and logo, and have met people who’ve worked with them in the past. But, before giving your time and money to them, consider the following:

They’re not closely tied to the location

Simply put, a school in Thailand knows what they need better than someone working from an office in San Francisco. Because larger organizations reach out to locations all over the world, their staff often lives and works far from the places they’re trying to help.

These organizations may send people to research and work temporarily in the locations to which they’re sending volunteers — but to really understand a location’s culture and issues, you must be based there.

Smaller, community-based organizations are run by people who know the location inside and out. They’ve seen these places change over the years, allowing them to understand the effect that volunteers and money will have. Another benefit of local organizations?  They can respond more quickly to problems, as well as incorporate intimate local knowledge into their solutions.

They create big change and then leave

While smaller organizations can’t fund the travel expenses, big organizations have no problem descending on a new location and dumping resources into a short-term project — like building a new school or series of homes.

The ability to show up where needed can be critical in disaster situations — but in other cases, there’s an inherent risk involved with entering a place and leaving so quickly.

That’s because less consideration is given to potential conflicts, and once the project is complete, follow-up is unlikely. After all, who will manage the project once the large organization departs for a new destination?

The smaller organizations are the ones that ultimately take over these projects and provide the time and care needed to make them successful.

They spend more on advertising and less on helping

The reason you recognize certain volunteer organizations is because they spend money to make themselves known. Though money spent on advertising may generate donations and inspire volunteers, it can also be a slippery slope.

In 2013, the Tampa Bay Times conducted an investigation to determine if charities were handling their money properly. They discovered 6,000 charities hire for-profit corporations to fundraise for them, which means a significant percentage of donations go to administrative costs — rather than the cause.

[bctt tweet=”Why you shouldn’t automatically trust big #volunteer organizations –>”]

Smaller organizations, on the other hand, don’t typically have a big advertising budget, so their donations are more likely to go straight to where it counts.

Because of the reasons outlined above, Discover Corps strives to work directly with small grassroots organizations. This gives our volunteers the opportunity to work with people who have intimate ties to the places and causes we support. These organizations know the best way to incorporate volunteers into the community in a way that results in real change and positive experiences for everyone involved.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about our sustainability practices.

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