Volunteer abroad trends 2011
As volunteering abroad becomes more popular, it's interesting to examine who are taking these trips, why they go, and what they do. From these trends we can speculate about the future of international volunteerism.
What you need to know:
- Interest in volunteering abroad is still rising every year
- Teaching and building remain to be the most popular volunteer projects
- South America is the most popular destination in which to volunteer abroad
Two recent studies aim to address these issues, one from the perspective of volunteers, and the other from the perspective of organizations. The first study by Planeterra, GAP Adventures, and the International Ecotourism Society focuses on current and former volunteer travelers, and the second study by Lasso Communications addresses the tour groups--organizations that place volunteers worldwide.
From the Volunteer's Perspective
Voluntourism: Give a Little, Gain a Lot by Planeterra, GAP Adventures, and the International Ecotourism Society collected 1,073 responses from current and former volunteer travelers in more than 70 countries. Respondents initially completed an online survey, which later was followed by an in-depth interview conducted by the survey's researchers.
Of those interviewed, 60% were female and 40% were male. Most were between the ages of 20 and 29, and more than two-thirds held an undergraduate or graduate degree. 72% were employed full-time, while 16% were students at the time of the survey. Most volunteers polled were single and did not have children, and as of April 2010, one-third of the respondents took at least five international trips within the past five years.
When asked to rank the areas they wanted to visit, the most popular options were:
The region in which the volunteer travelers lived affected their choices of where to go; for example, U.S. based volunteers were more likely to choose multiple locations such as South and Central America, while those from Africa and Asia expressed interest only in their own regions.
The most popular types of work included:
- Environmental conservation (69%)
- Community tourism (63%)
- Community development (61%)
- Wildlife (55%)
Volunteer to build houses
95% of those polled expressed interest in traveling for at least one week or longer. Of current volunteers, 46% wished to be on the road for a month or longer, while only 29% of prospective volunteers wanted the same. Those aged 20 to 29 and 60+ were more willing to travel longer.
As for what to expect on a volunteer trip, 56% had no preference for a particular number of additional volunteers to work with, and 43% expressed no preference in type of accommodation. Most respondents wanted to devote roughly 60% of their time to volunteering, and nearly two-thirds wished to spend less than $1,500 on the trip.
In choosing a volunteer program, the most important factors were the organization's experience, reputation, price, and where and how the volunteer's money was spent. More than three quarters of current volunteers would recommend a similar trip to a friend, and 87% expressed interest in returning to the same project site, or even embarking on another volunteer trip.
From the Organization's Perspective
In the State of the Volunteer Travel Industry, 2009 (PDF), Lasso Communications surveyed 28 volunteer travel organizations that sent American volunteers to other countries, that were secular, that charged a fee to volunteer, and that placed participants on at least four days' volunteering-only projects.
At the time of the survey, these organizations had sent 20,089 volunteers abroad, and found the most popular countries their participants wanted to visit were:
Furthermore, the most often requested projects by volunteer travelers were:
- Teaching (22%)
- Building (22%)
- Community development, including childcare (18%)
- Conservation (17%)
While the survey didn't quite touch on what drove individuals to volunteer, it did find that most organizations thought volunteer travel was experiencing an upswing in popularity, and would continue to grow in the future.
Check out the 2012 Volunteer Abroad Search Report
for the latest updates on voluntourism trends!
To read more about volunteering research and these two studies, visit:
Planeterra.org - Voluntourism
Voluntourism Gal - Research