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Sustainable volunteering 101 with Ann Davis

August 2, 2019

How to volunteer with the skills and knowledge to create lasting impressions within communities

As a volunteer, you may have good intentions. But, sometimes, you’re not able to stretch your actions to their full potential. What we need is sustainable volunteering to have a long-lasting impression and effect.

The concept of voluntourism

Voluntourism for the uninitiated is “A combination of volunteering and tourism.” Voluntourists invest time and energy in helping others during (usually) international travel.

Sometimes, people misconstrue the idea of voluntourism. They think that you can make a difference by going to a less privileged community. But that is not true! While these trips may have good intentions, we lack the skills and knowledge to create lasting impressions within the communities.

Common pitfalls are:

Volunteering efforts which only have short-term effects within communities.

Going with a preconceived notion of what to fix, rather than finding out what needs fixing

Going to communities without the knowledge of how their culture and economic situation will affect volunteering efforts you might have in mind.

What is skills-based volunteering?

When you avoid the above pitfalls, you can volunteer to truly make a difference. This is skills-based volunteering. A form of targeted aid, skills-based volunteering generates a lasting impact on communities. It’s about offering specific help and long-term planning for communities to be sustainable on their own.

What comprises skills-based volunteering?

Here are some pointers:

Clear understanding and interaction with the local cultures and communities, beyond your “volunteering duties”

Sharing customized skills to increase the impacts and success of local talents or equipping them with enough training to take over your work after you leave.

Ensuring efforts are being focused on important issues within the community to escalate impact and efficiency.

Interacting and engaging with the community

It is important that before you volunteer by yourself or through a program, you need to acclimate yourself to the place, its people and their culture.

Try to look for programs that offer more than volunteering opportunities, and explore the culture and area, such as organizing your mini-tour to explore the surroundings. You could even take up a language class to better connect with the culture and community or spend some time with the locals to get to know their cuisine and customs.

Organize your mini tour to explore an area

Listen to what the locals need

The most important thing is to listen to the community and find out what kind of help they need the most, rather than trying to restructure efforts into what YOU want to put in place.

Start with local programs and efforts initiated by the locals, and contribute your ideas, tools, knowledge and support to improve the process. This way, you provide resources for them to use so that they can be more efficient, and they’ll be able to continue making use of these resources even after you leave.

Understand local customs, practices and traditions before you venture into volunteering there

Expand existing efforts

Again, listen to the locals. They know which efforts are important and will leave the most impact on their community. Keep in mind that you want to create long-lasting efforts that the locals can use, even after you leave, to create their self-sustaining system. Training and consulting is often key.

For example, if you have a background in marketing, you can assist by working with an organization to create a 12-month strategic marketing plan, and train staff on how to implement the plan. Or if your skillset is in the area of public relations, draft a few press releases and research relevant journalists and publications for that organization to reach out to.

Sustainable volunteering has many parts to it, and using your unique skills, you can find something that you’re good at to create a longer-lasting impact.

Keep in mind the core factors:

Be engaged enough to listen, learn and take inspiration from local communities and cultures.

Be generous enough to share your greatest skills to create long-lasting and meaningful impact

Be humble enough to understand that your volunteering is only a small part of the efforts towards creating a self-sustaining community.


About Ann Davis:

After surviving cancer and subsequently traveling to over 40 countries in her 20’s, Ann found her most valuable and fulfilling travel experiences to be the instances when she stayed in one place, and worked with the local population — forming relationships and learning about their culture in the process. In 2016, Ann founded Venture with Impact with the dream that working professionals could share these experiences while still working their jobs.


Ann Davis is a class host at NewCampus. If you are excited to learn about our changing world from classhosts like Ann, sign up for the NewCampus membership here. For any other questions, reach out to us at We love hearing from you!

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