Volunteer Abroad

2014 Official Volunteer Abroad Trends Report

Anis Salvesen
Anis Salvesen

Anis was the Volunteer Abroad, Gap Year Abroad and High School Abroad Director at Go Overseas.

2012 Annual Volunteer Report

When it comes to volunteering abroad, there is literally a world of possibilities out there. But where in the world do most volunteers want to go? And in what types of volunteer programs are they most interested?

As the leading volunteer program reviews site, we have some insights based on our own site metrics. We’ve combined these insights with data from Google Adwords Keyword Planner and observed some interesting trends related to countries, regions and types of programs in which volunteers are most keen to participate.

Top Countries for Volunteering Abroad 2014

The Most Searched Country

The #1 country when it comes to searches for volunteer programs this year was the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines on November 7, 2013, led to a significant spike in people around the world searching for ways to help survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.

At Go Overseas, we saw a dramatic jump in visits to our volunteer in the Philippines page, with an increase in page views in November 2013 of over 55 times versus November 2012. And while the interest, as reflected in pageviews, has decreased over time, it is worth noting that the interest has continued to trend above the average for the previous year in subsequent months.

We see this ongoing trend of higher than average pageviews as a reflection of the recognition of the continuing if waning need for volunteers’ contributions in the Philippines, as natural disasters of such magnitude can take years from which to recover fully. And it will be interesting to see how long the higher-than-average interest continues when it comes to volunteers looking for programs in the Philippines.

In our previous report we identified disaster volunteering as a notable trend. This year, with the Philippines in the top spot, obviously the trend has continued. In addition to the #1 spot being claimed by a country struck by a natural disaster, however, two more of the top ten countries, Japan and Haiti, were also the settings for a couple of the most significant natural disasters in the past few years.

Japan was hit by an earthquake and tsunami in March of 2011. At the time it was the fourth largest quake on record and was the largest to hit the country of Japan. Nearly 16,000 people were confirmed dead.[5] As of March of 2014, over 250,000 people remained displaced, many from Fukushima prefecture where the radioactivity may prevent them from ever returning home.[1] The magnitude and long-lasting effects of the disasters are likely a contributing factor in the remaining popularity of Japan as a destination of interest for international volunteers.

Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake in 2010. And though it was four years ago, over 145,000 people remain displaced in 2014, living in temporary camps in Port-au-Prince.[17] The relatively high rate of poverty, with nearly 2/3 of the population living on less than $1.25 a day, is both a factor in the magnitude and duration of the quake’s impact and in the continued interest in the country from international volunteers.[16]

Both natural disasters were devastating enough that even a few years later, people most affected by those disasters are still in need of assistance and still in the minds of volunteers. However, as expected, interest from volunteers has waned over time, with Haiti dropping from spot #4 in 2012 to spot #14 and Japan dropping from spot #7 to spot #15 this year.

Top Fifteen Searched Countries

  1. The Philippines
  2. India
  3. Thailand
  4. Nepal
  5. Cambodia
  6. South Africa
  7. Costa Rica
  8. Vietnam/Peru
  9. Australia
  10. Uganda
  11. Kenya
  12. Ireland
  13. Brazil
  14. Haiti
  15. Japan

In 2012, we used the Google Keyword Tool to identify the top countries as far as number of searches for volunteering opportunities. This year we used the Google Adwords Keyword Planner, as the Keyword Tool is no longer available. While the Google Keyword Tool provides different absolute results from the Google Adwords Keyword Planner (which identifies exact matches for keywords), we can still compare the relative rankings of the top 15 countries.


India graphic

India was the #1 country in 2012 and would have once again claimed the top spot had it not been for the increased interest in the Philippines. A number of factors could readily contribute to its continuing popularity. First of all, it is a country of stunning natural landscapes and a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, making it an attractive setting for any type of trip.

Secondly, as we saw in our 2013 surveys of why and how people choose meaningful travel abroad, the need for volunteers and development is a top factor when looking for volunteer programs abroad.

And with a population of over 1.2 billion,[31] nearly 1/3 of which were living on less than $1.25 a day,[16] India certainly has a clear need for aid. In fact, the country, as of 2014, is home to 1/3 of the entire population of the world’s extreme poor.[11]

Furthermore, nearly 30% of its population is between the ages of 0 and 14 years,[31] making it a popular destination for volunteers looking to make an impact by volunteering with children, one of the most popular categories of volunteer programs. It is also third among the world’s countries in terms of the highest number of endangered mammal species and top 10 in terms of the highest number of endangered plant species,[13] making it a popular destination for conservation volunteering, one of the most popular types of volunteering programs abroad.

Add to that a rich culture and history, with inspiring humanitarian figures like Ghandi and Mother Theresa, and it’s easy to understand why India would be a leading destination for volunteering abroad.


Thailand graphic

Thailand retained its spot as the third most popular destination for volunteering abroad. A number of factors could have contributed. First of all, Thailand is a popular travel destination in general, with 26.5 million visitors in 2013, making it one of the top 10 most visited countries on earth.[25]

It is not inconceivable that there is a connection between a country drawing a significant number of visitors in general and a significant number of visitors specifically interested in volunteering.

Secondly, Thailand is an attractive destination for a wide variety of volunteer opportunities. It is, for example, one of Southeast Asia’s most biodiversity-rich countries,[22] ranking in the top 10 for most endangered mammal species,[13] making it a hot destination for conservation volunteering, one of the most popular volunteer program categories.

Thirdly, a low cost of living makes it a popular destination for longer-term volunteers interested in community development and volunteering with children, which happens to be one of the most popular volunteer program categories.

And not only is it an affordable, beautiful destination for volunteers, it is also a country where volunteers such as volunteer English teachers can make a significant positive impact.

As tourism accounts for 20% of the country’s GDP,[27] empowering young people with fluency in English is an effective tool for alleviating poverty and contributing to the long-term economic improvement of local communities.

Furthermore, the Tourism Authority of Thailand launched a global marketing campaign in 2013 to promote voluntourism in the country.[23] And while the campaign, known as “The Little Big Project”[12] has ended, a combination of the awareness generated by the campaign via millions of views on social media and the prior popularity of voluntourism in Thailand which enabled the campaign are likely correlated to the increased relative interest in volunteering in Thailand in 2014.


Cambodia graphic

New to the top 5 most searched countries for volunteer programs are Cambodia and Nepal. Cambodia moved dramatically in the rankings, jumping from spot #15 to spot #5 in this year’s report. One factor could be the human rights issues that grabbed headlines in the second half of 2013 and first half of 2014.

Mass demonstrations occurred in reaction to the “credible allegations” of electoral irregularities in the national assembly elections in July of 2013.[32] And in January of 2014, there was a violent crackdown against garment workers on strike against low wages.[4].

The Google Keyword Planner tool shows the highest number of searches for terms related to volunteering in Cambodia for the second half of 2013 in July. It also shows a spike in volunteering-related searches for Cambodia in January of 2014.

Based on the fact that there were ongoing protests in Cambodia from July 2013 to July 2014, spanning most of the time period of our report, and that the spikes in unrest corresponded with spikes in searches, it is possible that there was some correlation between human rights issues moving into the spotlight and an increase in interest in searching for volunteer programs in the country.

Tourism Cambodia shows international tourist arrivals increasing year-over-year for each month of 2014 versus 2013, which in turn was higher than in 2012.

Specifically, the Tourism Cambodia study shows what we calculated to be an increase in international tourist arrivals of 4.4 times from the time period covered by our 2012 report to the time covered by our 2014 report.

Cambodia’s rise in the rankings may therefore be related to this general increased interest in travel to Cambodia in 2013 and 2014 against the backdrop of ongoing human rights issues.[21]


Nepal graphic

Nepal had a less dramatic but nonetheless significant climb, moving from spot #10 to spot #4. One factor that could have contributed to the increased volume of searches for volunteer opportunities in the country could be a period of political unrest beginning in May 2012 which lasted almost the entirety of 2013.

Political party activists clashed with police on at least four separate occasions and with each other on at least 22 occasions in 2013. Finally on November 19, 2013 the successful elections for the second Constituent Assembly marked the turning point toward a more stable the political environment.[14]

At this point we don’t have access to all of the keyword search volume data for 2012 in Google Adwords, but we are able to see that every month following November of 2013 shows a higher search volume for keywords related to volunteering in Nepal.

There is a possibility, based on the trends in the data, that the return of political stability in the wake of a long period of unrest contributed to making the country a much-searched destination for volunteer opportunities.

Interestingly, unlike other countries which moved up in the rankings as far as searches for volunteer opportunities in those countries since 2012, the overall number of international visitors to Nepal did not increase.

In fact, the change in number of international visitors from 2012 to 2013 was -0.7%.[24] Therefore in the case of Nepal, it may well be the political unrest and accompanying economic instability, including a 9.9% overall inflation rate and even higher food prices due to a poor harvest,[15] that contributed to the increased interest from foreigners in volunteering in the country.

New Additions to the Top 15 Countries

New Additions to the Top 15 Countries


This year, Vietnam, Uganda, Ireland and Brazil were all new to the top 15 countries. And Vietnam and Uganda made the top ten. Specifically, Vietnam claimed the 8th spot in this year’s report.

A quick look at the number of travelers to the country shows an increase of 10.6% from 2012 to 2013.[26] It is not outside the realm of possibility that an increased number of travelers to Vietnam could be related to an increased interest in volunteering in Vietnam.

Additionally, the country does have a significant level of economic need compared to more developed countries, with 16.9% of the population still living on less than $1.25 a day.[16]

Nearly 1/4 of the population is under the age of 14 years,[31] making it a popular destination for volunteering with young children, one of the most popular categories of volunteer programs.

Furthermore, Vietnam is in the top 15 countries in terms of number of endangered mammal species,[13] making it a popular destination for conservation volunteering, another of the most popular categories of volunteer programs.


Uganda rose to spot #10 in terms of searches for volunteer opportunities by country. According to the most recent Tourism Expenditure and Motivation Survey, the number of travelers visiting Uganda rose from 500,000 in 2012 to more than 1,000,000 in 2013.[7]

Although only about 1/5 were classified as “leisure or cultural tourists,” as opposed to travelers visiting for business reasons, meetings, conferences or family visits, the increase in visitors was nonetheless significant enough that it is possible an increase in the number of visitors overall could correspond with an increased number of visitors interested in volunteering.

A further indicator, if not necessarily driver, of the rise in interest in Uganda as a popular destination is the fact that the country was named as one of National Geographic’s top 20 must-see places for 2013.[3]

The combination of increased awareness for a given destination on the world travel stage and increased interest in volunteering given a backdrop of civil unrest and economic need noticed for a number of other top 15 volunteer destinations is certainly present in the case of Uganda.

Civil unrest had plagued the country for years, and while political protests definitely continued in 2013, they did so “on a much lower scale compared to 2011.”[29] However, the legacy of years of fighting means that even with potentially more relative stability, the negative economic impact of civil unrest remains.

About 38% of the population is living on less than $1.25 a day.[16] And nearly half the population is under the age of 14.[31] Consequently the country is a good fit for volunteers interested in volunteering with children, one of the most popular types of volunteer program categories.

In addition, with 60 protected areas, including 10 national parks featuring the big five game animals and endangered primate species, Uganda is an alluring destination for travelers interested in wildlife conservation volunteering, another of the most popular types of volunteer program types.

Lastly, with over 1.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS, ranking as the #6 country in the world,[31] Uganda is also a top destination for volunteers looking for programs in the area of HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment.


Ireland, which appears in spot #12 on the list is an interesting case in that it does not have the typical poverty levels and need for economic development that tend to draw international volunteers.

However, like other countries that appeared in the top volunteer destinations list this year, it did see an increase in terms of the number of travelers to the country, recording both an +8.2% increase in the number of overseas visitors from November 2013 to January 2014 and a +9% increase for the first five months of 2014.[28]

This higher level of visitors was, according to reports from Ireland’s National Tourism Development Authority, attributable to “the legacy of "The Gathering,” in which “Ireland welcomed the world” via 5,00 gatherings held throughout 2013 to draw the Irish diaspora back to Ireland.

It is possible that given the gatherings relied on grassroots initiatives and NGOs,[9] at least some of the increased interest in volunteering in Ireland was associated in part with The Gathering.


Lastly, Brazil was another newcomer to the top 15 volunteer destinations list. As both the host country for the FIFA World Cup 2014 and the Summer Olympics 2016, Brazil is a hot destination for all types of travelers.

And like Ireland and Vietnam, it seems plausible that an increased interest in travel to the country would have some correlation to an increased interest in volunteering in the country.

Furthermore, Brazil has about 9% of its population living below the national poverty line and nearly 12 million people living on less than $1.25 a day.[16]

About 11.4 million Brazilians, which is about 6% of the population, live in slums, known as favelas. Nearly 24% of the population is under the age of 14[31] making Brazil a popular destination for volunteers interested in volunteering with children, one of the most popular categories of volunteer programs.

Additionally, Brazil is the #4 country in terms of endangered mammal species and the #3 country in the world in terms of endangered plant species. It is therefore a dream destination for volunteers looking to make an impact via conservation volunteering, one of the most popular categories of volunteer programs.

Volunteer Abroad by Region

In our analysis of Google searches for volunteering opportunities, we also also looked at searches for volunteering by region. We based this on the regions by which we categorize programs on our site. These regions include: Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe, Middle East, North America, South America and Central America.

The data we looked at includes both volunteering searches directly related the region title (for example, “volunteer Asia”) and to volunteering searches related to each of the countries within the region (for example “volunteer/ing in China”). For full details on our methodology for assessing volunteering by region, see our “Methodology” section below.

Top 3 Regions


Asia was the top region as far a searches for volunteer opportunities. Given that 6 of the top 10 most searched countries for volunteering are in Asia, it makes sense that Asia was the #1 region.

A number of factors could contribute to the popularity of this region, including a great diversity of volunteer programs given the diversity of the countries comprising the region, the general popularity of certain Asian countries as top destinations for travelers, the affordability of many of the countries for longer-term volunteers and a large degree of economic need.

South Asia in particular is an area of significant economic need and therefore provides a number of opportunities for volunteers to make a positive impact.

Nearly 1/3 of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, and the number of inhabitants (1.67 billion people) is about[16] 23% of the world’s population [current world population - 7.26 billion people].[6]

In accordance with the widespread need in Asia overall and South Asia in particular, as well as the data based on searches by potential volunteers in Google, all 10 of the largest multi-country volunteer program providers with programs listed on Go Overseas offer programs in various countries in Asia and all offer programs in at least one country in South Asia.

The ten most popular countries for volunteering opportunity searches in Asia included the following: the Philippines, India, Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, China, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.


Africa is the second most searched region when it comes to searches for volunteer programs by region. Taking a look at the statistics on poverty in Africa, it makes sense that volunteers perceive a great need and are therefore keen to volunteer.

All ten of the world’s top ten countries in terms of lowest GDP per capita are in Africa. And all but 4 of the top 25 lowest GDP per capita countries are African countries.[10]Sub-Saharan Africa in particular is home to widespread poverty.

As of 2010 nearly half (48.5%) of the population was living at levels of extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day.[16] Given the widespread need of countries in Africa in general and the Sub-Saharan region in particular, as well as the significant interest from volunteers as evidenced by Google searches and our own internal data, it is no surprise that all 10 of the largest multi-country volunteer program providers on Go Overseas offer programs in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The ten most popular countries for volunteering opportunity searches in Africa included the following: South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Morocco, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Malawi and Namibia (tied) and Rwanda.


Rounding out the top 3 regions in terms of most-searched for regions for volunteer opportunities is Europe. While many of the countries in Europe, particularly those in Western Europe, are not known for their economic need, a popularity of volunteer programs in Europe is a phenomenon we’ve certainly noticed on Go Overseas.

There are a number of factors involved here. One factor is the prevalence of volunteering in Europe by people already in Europe. Particularly in Western Europe, the relative ease of travel between countries (with both relatively short distances between countries and liberty of movement afforded by the EU to citizens of member countries), makes volunteering within the continent a popular choice for many Europeans and travelers spending more than just a quick holiday in Europe.

Looking at the Google searches, for example, when one examines the searches related to volunteering in Europe that were executed within the top 10 most populous European countries, over half of the searches related to volunteering in Europe were conducted within those European countries.

Note that using the Google Keyword Planner to look up the number of searches related to volunteering in Europe by selecting “Targeting” by country and summing up those individually filtered sets of searches will not match up exactly to the total number of volunteering in Europe searches.

However, given the magnitude of the proportion of searches for volunteering in Europe conducted within the top 10 most populous European countries, it is nonetheless safe to say that a significant number of the searches related to volunteering in Europe are conducted by people in Europe.

Of course Europeans volunteering within Europe is only part of the picture. In addition, travelers from a number of non-European countries have a keen interest in searching for volunteer opportunities within Europe, particularly if they are in Europe for longer than a few weeks.

One factor might be that volunteer programs provide a structured way for visitors to apply existing skills or develop new skills without having to undergo the rigorous and competitive process for obtaining a work visa, which is typically more challenging to obtain. For example, someone interested in spending time in England and coaching school children in various sports, might find their best option, particularly on a shorter term basis, to be volunteering in a children’s sports program.

In addition, many of the volunteer programs provide a cultural immersion aspect, including language study or a home stay, which provides participants with a unique way of experiencing the country they would not find by backpacking through the country or merely visiting all of the most popular tourist sights.

In sum, volunteering programs in Europe draw participants looking for meaningful travel experiences as opposed to volunteers abroad in other regions, where local need might be a greater driving force.

The ten most popular countries for volunteering opportunity searches in Europe were as follows: Ireland, Spain, England, France, Iceland, Italy, Germany, Greece, Romania and Norway.

Rest of the World

Although our more in-depth analysis focused on the top 3 regions as far as searches for volunteering opportunities, we also examined data for the following regions: North America, South America, Central America, Oceania and the Middle East.

  • Brazil, Peru and Ecuador were the top 3 countries in South America, with Argentina and Colombia tied for fourth and Chile coming in fifth.
  • Costa Ricawas the top country when it came to searches for volunteer programs in Central America, with Guatemala and Nicaragua coming in at #2 and #3 respectively. Belize and Panama tied for 4th place and Honduras was came in 5th.
  • Israel was the #1 most searched country for volunteer programs in the Middle East, with Syria and Palestine ranking #2 and #3 respectively. Jordan and Lebanon tied for spot #4 and the United Arab Emirates ranked 5th.
  • In North America, the U.S. ranked #1, with Canada in the #2 spot and Mexico ranking #3. We believe similar factors discussed in our previous report contributed to the popularity of searches in the U.S.
  • In Oceania, the most searched country for volunteer programs was Australia, with Fiji ranking second and New Zealand ranking third. Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea ranked 4th and 5th respectively.
Searches for volunteer programs by country by region

Volunteer Abroad by Program Type

Since our last report, we launched “Type pages” on Go Overseas . This means that in addition to being able to search for volunteer programs by region, country and certain cities, site visitors are also able to search volunteer programs by type, such as medical volunteering abroad, volunteer teaching abroad and wildlife conservation volunteering abroad.

Gleaning insights on interest in volunteering program “types” based on trends seen in the data from Google Keyword Planner becomes even more challenging than searches for volunteering opportunities based on country, as the variations in the way people search are greater.

There are, for example, more variations of the term “volunteer teaching” that match up with a searcher’s intent to volunteer as a teacher than there are variations of “volunteer(ing) + country.” And searches such as “conservation volunteering abroad” could encompass different types of conservation including “environmental conservation abroad” and “marine conservation abroad.” The same search terms could thus encompass more than one type of volunteering. There is less cross-keyword intent with countries, as the search “volunteer in Costa Rica” does not encompass volunteering in another country as well.

Also worth noting is the limitation of the Google Keyword tool in that it currently displays exact match data. As our focus is on programs abroad, we therefore entered searches for keywords related to the volunteering program type + abroad (for example, in the case of medical volunteering, we looked at search volume for terms such as “medical volunteering abroad”).

One can readily imagine there are a number of searches for medical volunteering abroad that would not be captured by this method. For example, someone in the U.S. could type into Google search “medical volunteering Mexico” or someone in the UK could type in “medical volunteering South Africa.” However, we would have to look at every popular combination of “medical volunteering + country” and remove the searches conducted within that country, which is outside the scope of the current report.

Finally, it should be noted that about 70% of search traffic is long tail keywords, and while we included as many variations as we could readily think of related to types of volunteering, there are likely even more long tail keyword related to volunteering program type searches than for country searches.

For example, searches such as “volunteer in Rio with orphans,” “volunteer with pandas in China,” and “volunteer Thailand teaching kids English” are all long tail keyword searches that are related to orphanage volunteering, wildlife conservation volunteering and volunteer teaching abroad respectively that would not appear as exact matches.

So looking at exact match keyword search data is not looking at the entire picture, but it does nonetheless yield interesting insights. Furthermore, what will be even more compelling will be analyzing year over year trends next year.

Top 5 Volunteer Abroad Program Types

Medical Volunteering Abroad

Medical volunteering abroad was the number 1 volunteer program type by number of searches.

There are a number of factors that could be contributing to this. One is that there could be a higher proportion of searchers who type in “abroad” after “medical volunteer/volunteering” than type in “abroad” after, for example, “veterinary volunteering.”

This is related to the trend of medical volunteering programs abroad having a uniqueness and special inherent appeal over domestic programs. More traditionally, medical programs abroad were known for offering participants access to patients and levels of participation in patient care that were not available in domestic health care settings.

These days there has been increased awareness of the pitfalls of this approach and medical programs abroad are encouraged to limit the interactions of untrained undergraduate and even high school students to activities like physician shadowing.

Being able to experience a different health care system and the nuances of practicing medicine in a different cultural and political setting continues to be valued, however, as more and more physicians, hospitals, universities and research institutions take a more global approach to health.

This combination of historical, albeit misaligned interest abroad, plus a very valid current interest in different challenges and approaches to health care, contributes to more searches for this type of volunteering programs to be searched with the additional search term “abroad.”

Volunteer Teaching Abroad

Volunteer teaching is the second-most searched volunteer program type abroad.

One factor is the fact that close variations of “volunteer teaching abroad” such as “volunteer teach abroad” and “volunteer teacher abroad” readily capture a large number of searches. Given the fact that with the Google Keyword Planner tool we only examined data for exact matches, having a significant number of searches correspond to the exact searches we performed must have contributed to a higher ranking for this volunteer program type.

Of course that’s not the whole story. But we did notice a significant level of interest in volunteer teaching abroad on Go Overseas, as far as organic traffic. Our volunteer teaching section was in the top 3 volunteer program types as far as pageviews from organic traffic sources.

And many volunteers abroad are keen to volunteer with youth abroad, as shown by the fact that 3 of the top 10 volunteering program types (volunteer teaching orphanage volunteering, and childcare volunteering) are related to volunteering with young people.

This makes intuitive sense, as children are the future of a country and a powerful way to make a long-term impact on an economically disadvantaged area is to contribute to the empowerment of its young people. Furthermore, of the three types of volunteering with children in our study, education in particular is the one that most clearly aligns with having a long-term and significant impact on the children’s lives.

Wildlife & Conservation Volunteering Abroad

Wildlife and Conservation volunteering are the top 3 and 4 volunteer program types when it comes to searches by program type.

As with medical volunteering, it makes sense that volunteers would be searching for programs specifically abroad, as most of us tend to think of programs such as volunteering with elephants in Thailand and volunteering with lions in Kenya and not say volunteering with groundhogs in Ohio, when thinking about wildlife and conservation volunteering.

Furthermore, in many countries abroad where civil unrest led to widespread poverty and urgent need for aid, the wildlife and natural habitats were also put in jeopardy, as natural resources were stripped with no oversight by local government.

Moreover, long after the end of political unrest, wildlife continue to be endangered, as certain groups prey on them for monetary gain (as in the illegal ivory trade, for example) and as human populations continue to expand into their shrinking habitats. Most us readily see exotic wildlife as part of our global legacy.

For example, the extinction of elephants would not be viewed as simply a loss for the countries where they are indigenous but a loss for mankind. So that connection between volunteers and an issue confined to foreign borders, so key to volunteering abroad, is on some level already in place. Add to that the fact that wildlife and their natural habitats are essentially powerless to help themselves, and it’s clear to see why wildlife and conservation volunteering would make the top 5 volunteer program types searched.

Orphanage Volunteering Abroad

Orphanage volunteering is the fifth most searched volunteering program type by volunteers looking for programs abroad.

Armed conflict in a region often leads to a higher percentage of orphans than is typical in populations living at peace. In countries such as Uganda and Cambodia, for example, which suffered significant political unrest, the legacies of war and persisting poverty left many children orphaned.

And while there do exist orphanages run by responsible organizations making a positive impact on the lives of the orphaned children and the local communities, there are a number of orphanages which either through well-meaning though misguided attempts to help the children or outright corruption, run orphanage volunteering programs which end up doing more harm than good.

Volunteers abroad should therefore be wary of orphanage volunteering and do as much research as possible on both the orphanage itself and the organization running it before volunteering in an orphanage. Volunteers should also keep in mind that in certain countries there is a higher incidence of orphanage scams.

In Cambodia, for example, only about 28% of the children in orphanages inspected by the governments had actually lost both of their parents, raising concerns from organizations such as UNICEF.[30]

Overall Volunteer Program Type Search Trends

Overall the traffic we saw from organic sources on Go Overseas to our volunteer program type pages generally mirrored the relative volume of searches for volunteer program types as reflected in the results shown by the Google Keyword Planner tool. 9 of our top 10 most viewed volunteer program type pages, from organic traffic sources, were also 9 of the top 10 most searched volunteer program types based on Google Keyword Planner data.

And the sections of the Go Overseas site featuring programs for volunteer teaching, medical volunteering and orphanage volunteering were in both Go Overseas’ top 5 most-viewed pages by visitors from an organic traffic source and the Google Keyword Planner data’s top 5 most-searched volunteer program types.

We also noted an alignment between the types of volunteering programs listed by providers on Go Overseas and search traffic trends.

Of the top 10 multi-country volunteer program providers, 8 offer programs for medical volunteering, all 10 offer programs for volunteering with children (including volunteer teaching, orphanage volunteering and child care volunteering) and all 10 offer programs for conservation volunteering (including wildlife volunteering, environmental conservation volunteering and marine conservation volunteering).

Report Conclusions

Overall, this report revealed some very interesting insights. India and Thailand once again ranked in the top 3 destinationsfor volunteering abroad.

Natural disasters proved yet again to be powerful drivers for interest from volunteers, as countries like Japan and Haiti which had experienced significant disasters in recent years remained in the top 15 countries in terms of searches for volunteer opportunities, and the Philippines jumped to take the number one spot in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

According to the data from Google’s Keyword Planner tool, Asia and Africa were the most popular continents for volunteers seeking volunteer programs abroad. We saw this trend on Go Overseas as well, and the ten largest multi-country volunteer program providers all offered programs in both regions, with a specific focus on the regions most in need of aid, Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia, respectively.

As far as types of volunteer programs abroad and the relative volume of searches by program type, we saw searches for medical volunteering programs take the number one spot, with volunteer teaching and wildlife volunteering taking the number two and three spots respectively.

The extent to which the limitations of the Google Keyword Planner tool discussed earlier in our “Types of Volunteering” section affected the rankings is a good question. A further analysis could be done by entering variations of volunteering program type + country for each country on earth and excluding searches within that country, but that was beyond the scope of this report and could be the topic for a future in-depth volunteer program type report.

Regardless of the limitations of the Google Keyword Planner tool, there were very clear trends in terms of volunteer program categories: program types related to volunteering with children (volunteer teaching, orphanage volunteering, and child care) and program types related to conservation (wildlife conservation, marine conservation and environmental conservation) were respectively the #2and #3 categories of volunteer programs, mirroring the rankings of specific types of volunteer programs within those categories, volunteer teaching (the #2 most searched volunteer program type) and wildlife volunteering (the #3 most searched volunteer program type).

Just as with the volunteer opportunity searches by geography, we saw an alignment in terms of searches by volunteer program type between organic traffic on Go Overseas and the Google Keyword Planner tool and between the most popular program types and the program types offered by the ten largest multi-country volunteer program providers on our site.

As the analysis of volunteer program types is new this year, it will be interesting to see if the same general trends hold or if we see new trends or spikes in trends. For example, perhaps a global health crisis will spike an even greater relative interest in medical volunteering abroad or a heightened concern for global warming will lead to conservation volunteering taking the #1 spot. As with our analysis of volunteer program searches by geography, we will no doubt derive some interesting insights in 2015.


For the volunteer program searches by country, we set the search dates for the 12 months prior to June of 2014 and searched for the following six phrases: volunteering/volunteer/volunteer in + country name and country name + volunteer/volunteering. We removed searches conducted domestically be using the Google Keyword Planner Targeting feature to select that country and subtracting the searches conducted in that country from the global searches.

For the volunteer program searches by region, we set the search dates for the 12 months prior to June of 2014 and searched for the following six phrases: volunteering/volunteer/volunteer in + region name and region name + volunteer/volunteering and added the total of these searches by region to the total of volunteer program searches by country for each country in the region to arrive at a grand total for each region of searches by region name and countries within the region.

For the volunteer program searches by program type, we input as many variations of volunteer program type + volunteer/volunteering abroad as we could conjure and also used the Google Keyword Planner Keyword Ideas tool. Not all of the keywords we entered had data for average monthly searches but we recorded all of the keywords with global monthly search results.


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