Volunteering overseas doesn't always have to involve the usual suspects: teaching English, digging wells, or handing out vaccinations. It can also involve applying a modern professional skill, like marketing, to the service of a charity or other non-profit organization.
Every organization, to a certain extent, needs marketing. It promotes the organization’s activities, drums up interest for fundraising, recruits volunteers, and helps people in need know where to go. This means there are as many marketing volunteer jobs as there are NGOs around the world. In these roles, you will be able to use your copy, design, research, or management skills to help an organization reach its audience and fulfill its mission.
There is practically no limit to where you can go volunteer in marketing. You can work with a charity or NGO in either the developed or developing world, with each presenting its own challenges. However, NGOs in developed countries do tend to have a much wider workforce of available local people with the necessary marketing skills, and digital marketing skills are particularly valuable in rural areas of developing countries where they are rare.
Costa Rica is famous for its lush jungles and incredible biodiversity, so there are a wealth of environmentally-focused NGOs across the country, along with conservation projects and organic farms. There are also community development charities, youth groups, and women’s associations. Most of these NGOs are based outside of cities, in areas with little internet accessibility, meaning the demand for online marketing skills is high.
Approximately 68% of the population of Tanzania lives below the poverty line of $1.25 a day. As a result, it is home to many community development charities aiming to eradicate poverty and hunger from the country. These organizations cannot afford to pay the high prices that a local marketing and web expert would charge, and are often looking for volunteers to set up websites, do social media, and promote their activities online.
Vietnam is a rapidly accelerating country with a huge potential for business expansion. Along with charities focusing on environmental conservation, poverty, healthcare, and education, the country has seen a significant rise in the popularity of social enterprises. Volunteering with a social enterprise would allow you to apply your marketing skills in a more traditional business environment while simultaneously supporting a local community.
With its rich heritage of Inca and Andean culture, Peru is home to many organizations focused on the preservation of traditional crafts. These often need help with marketing, as their purpose is partly to sell the manufactured goods and provide the makers with a steady income. Digital skills such as web design and social media are particularly valuable, as they can hugely expand a craftsperson’s market reach.
As a current or aspiring marketer, you will know that “marketing” is often used as a catch-all term for a variety of activities, from advertising to market research, business development, and communications. Some programs encompass all of these, and some focus on specific areas of marketing. Your marketing volunteering placement will depend on your specific skill set and on what you can bring to the organization.
There can be no doubt that social media has become an essential part of business, one that not even charities can avoid engaging with. A solid social media presence establishes an organization’s brand, and is also a great opportunity to share the incredible work an NGO is doing. People with professional experience of social media management will not have a hard time finding an organization interested in their services. On the other hand, a social media placement is one of the best options for someone with little professional marketing experience, as their personal social media savvy can still be very useful.
Web design is an incredibly valuable skill in the modern world, and one that you will rarely struggle to find paid work for. However, in areas where skills like coding and graphic design are rarer, hiring a paid web designer can be prohibitively expensive for a small local charity. Volunteering your services to a worthy cause is a great way to help, and can even give you some great experience for your design portfolio.
Marketing isn’t all clever copy and attractive design, which is why some programs look for people to conduct essential market research. This can be anything from evaluating the local economy to identifying emerging entrepreneurship trends, and requires someone with experience of researching, compiling, and analyzing data.
“Communications” is a broad term that essentially encompasses all of the above. Depending on your level of ability, you may find yourself building and maintaining a website, keeping social media accounts, creating a newsletter, or starting email campaigns for fundraising. Being a good writer is a must, and graphic design skills also help. These programs are a great opportunity for people who like variety in their work, and who don’t mind a bit of multi-tasking.
How to Choose a Marketing Volunteer Program
Because marketing means many different things to many different people, you should first narrow down your search criteria. Figure out what your existing skills and experience are, as well as any you would like to pick up or develop during your placement. Searching for “Web Design Volunteering” or “Communications Volunteering” will give you more tailored, specific results than simply scrolling through every marketing opportunity.
You also need to figure out what type of NGO interests you most, and where you would like to go. Marketing is a skill that can be applied to any sector in any place in the world, so this is probably the hardest part if you are happy to go anywhere. This is why a good approach is to first narrow your search by skill or specific job, and then look at what opportunities exist within that category.
If, on the other hand, you know exactly where you want to go and what you want to do there, you will be faced with the opposite problem. Instead of having too much choice, you may struggle to find a formal program that fits your needs. In that case, look for an organization that matches independent volunteers with NGOs needing a particular service, as they can guide you and provide a more tailored experience.
Health & Safety
Many of the available marketing volunteer positions overseas will be in more rural areas, as these have the highest demand for marketers. Particularly if you are volunteering independently, make sure you are aware of the healthcare facilities where you are staying. Sometimes, the nearest hospital can be a long way away, so you need to have a plan to get there in case of an accident or emergency.
Also, be sure to get all necessary vaccinations for your destination, and check with your sending organization or NGO whether there are any other health precautions you should take, such as bringing a mosquito net or taking a basic first aid course.
Other Need to Know
A marketing volunteering program is an excellent learning opportunity, allowing you to develop your abilities as a marketer while doing good for the world. However, remember that, particularly in the case of small rural NGOs, they will be counting on you to guide them through their marketing strategy, so you probably won’t get a lot of hand-holding.
Unless a volunteering program is specifically branded as an internship or course, you should be approaching the opportunity as a job. You are the expert, so you need to walk in with a certain level of expertise already under your belt.