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UK volunteers for South African NPOs

The 21st century has seen an unprecedented boom in the popularity of school leavers travelling before starting university or working – AKA the gap year. A large percentage of British youngsters, generally aged about 18, delay starting careers or tertiary study to travel.
Many do so for up to a year. Most seek to include volunteering at foreign non-profits in their gap years. Some choose to volunteer in an organisation working in their choice of future work: in a clinic or hospital if planning a medical career; in an orphanage, a facility for the disabled or frail elderly if intending to work in a caring, serving environment; or in anything from agriculture to zoology. 
Young people either save for years to be able to undertake the gap year travel, or those whose families can afford to do so pay the related costs. The UK has several companies and not-for-profit volunteer placement agencies to which gap year adventurers can apply. They then assist in matching people's interests and country or region of choice with pre-approved charitable organisations globally. Some such initiatives are based in countries popular with students – South Africa remains sought after. 
Only those working in and running non-profit organisations know that it is not a simple process to accommodate volunteers. They can often be more hassle than they are worth. They are not simply welcomed with open arms as 'free labour'. Volunteers require someone or a few people to spend time writing up job descriptions, drafting agreements, assessing applications and carrying out interviews. Their recruiting is time-consuming.
Newly arrived volunteers require orientation and training. They are, in fact, employees in every sense of the word other than being paid. Volunteer contracts are not enforceable, but it is a good idea to have an agreement signed by both parties.
There are long-term benefits (in addition to their short-term, payment-free time) to accommodating volunteers. Those who have good experiences and who bond and retain a heart connection with 'their' NPO will be lifelong supporters and donors. Some even go on to leave bequests.
Social media makes it quick and simple for volunteers to share posts about their volunteer placement organisations and request funding for these. Thousands of organisations worldwide report beneficial relationships (including funding) from the efforts of their former volunteers too.

Some NPOs arrange reunions for volunteers who have given their time over the years. It's fascinating to see the age ranges of those who journey back to the organisations where they spent time – up to six decades earlier – testimony to the long established culture of volunteerism. 

Organisations should offer volunteer opportunities on their websites (in the same way that they would advertise paid positions). They should also provide assurances as to the safety of volunteers. They are not responsible for difficulties their volunteers may get into in their own time. They should, however, provide as much 'peace of mind' information as possible (mainly for their families), such as the availability of safe, affordable accommodation, transport, health and other essential local information. For instance, Brits are spoilt by having entirely free medical services via the National Health Service (NHS). Volunteers must be advised on purchasing travel insurance, including medical insurance, ahead of their trips, as it is not possible to arrange this after departure. Parents and families want assurance that their youngsters will be safe. Although few South African NPOs are able to provide accommodation for volunteers, as much advice as possible, ahead of time, is invaluable. 

Be aware of South African/UK visa requirements and restrictions. British volunteers are only allowed 90-day visas. What options are there? (Most longer term volunteers visit neighbouring countries as part of their southern African experience and then return to South Africa for another three-month volunteering stint. What help can the organisation provide potential British volunteers in securing visas? Some countries are reticent to provide volunteer visas as they (wrongly) believe that the foreigner will be taking away a local job. If possible, create a user-friendly process of using volunteers on an ongoing basis; the long-term benefits certainly make it worthwhile.

Fundraising from UK donors product iconExtract from Fundraising from UK Donors, by Jill Ritchie
Available from Papillon PressPapillon Press: or available as an E-book on Google Play and Amazon

Jill Ritchie

Papillon Press

Jill Ritchie has over three decades of fundraising experience and has written 28 books, 20 on fundraising. She specialises in advising on the raising of money from the UK for organisations outside of Britain. Jill has worked with well over 1 000 non-profits and in particular, universities, in southern and South Africa.

Jill chairs the UK Fund for Charities (UKFfC) that enables UK donations worldwide  She is also the founder and chair of the SA-UK Trust Network (SA-UKTN), supporting UK fundraising for non-profits throughout sub-Saharan Africa. She serves on the boards of the Tutu Foundation, UK and iZinga Assist. Jill is also a former council member of Tshwane University of Technology, the South African National Museum and the New York based Global Sourcing Council.

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