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Communication with a host organization: the questions you shall ask before you start.

June 7, 2018 / Volunteering

So, here it is - that long-awaited moment when the agony of doubt is over and you have firmly decided to go for an internship or a volunteer program. Today we would like to tell you about the main questions that you shall ask the organizers in order to prepare as much as possible for all surprises on your way.

It might look like the most difficult part is behind: you found an interesting program, went through a selection process, online interview (these levels differ based on the organization’s needs and the volunteer’s functions), and now you are finally invited to come and join the project.

Clearly, the first thought is “Wow! Time to get ready!”. But, please, do not rush to celebrate or pack your bags at this moment: the invitation means only the fact that the organizers liked you, but there is no guarantee that these people have good intentions or you would like to work with them.

To avoid conflicts and misunderstandings like “Why is the restroom located outside of the house, in the street?”, it is vital to establish good communication with the host organization and find out all necessary information before the final decision is made.

The main thing to remember is that the organizers are people just like you (maybe a bit busier), and they are in no way less interested in making your stay comfortable and productive. So, take a paper and a pen and boldly prepare a list of clarifying questions!

The first thing to mention is a legal component - an incredibly important issue for any sphere as much as for volunteering. The Russian Federation was successful in adopting Federal Law “On voluntary work (volunteering)”.

The Law that entered into legal force on May 1 specifies several provisions which should be taken into account. Therefore, the first thing to check is the existence of an Agreement between a volunteer (you) and an organizer of a volunteer activity (host organization).

Please, note that one of the conditions of the majority of organizers is the reimbursement of your expenses, most often it is a fare payment in both directions. In this case, the existence of a written agreement is mandatory - in this way you protect yourself from deception, and the organizers are responsible.

Secondly, questions relating to your job responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to ask them – the more you ask, the more accurate will be your idea of the future work. Sometimes it happens that you have selected one function at the application process, for example, to conduct excursions for the visitors of the natural reserve, and upon arrival the organizers assign you to another – to rebuild the tourist trail. Obviously, the situation is indeed unpleasant, but possible: it happens that a lot of people apply for one task, and the organizers redistribute the functions when selecting volunteers.

There is also a positive moment in this, because if you are urging to go to the project, but at the selection process, it’s clear that all places for a particular function are occupied, then you still have the opportunity to join the team, but with a different mission. On the other hand, a conflict is inevitable if you purposefully traveled for a specific experience, but were eventually redirected to an area that is not interesting and unclear to you. In order to avoid such situations, ask questions. Any of them, even the most ridiculous, as you may think, will help you to better imagine the future picture.

You may ask the following:

- What will be my functions on the project?

- Who will be my teammates?

- Will the training or a mentor be provided?

- Is there equipment available for this work? What kind of?

- Is there a record of working hours? If so, which way is it organized?

- Is there a remuneration for the work? (not necessarily material)

- How many hours does the shift last?

- How will I get to the place of work?

- What is the aim of the project/function?

- Do volunteers undertake any liabilities?

- Is there a dress code?

- Is the food provided during the working hours?

- Can I combine several functions?

- What advice can you (the head) give me on this function?

Thirdly, what you need to pay attention to are issues concerning the organization itself. Personally you need to understand whether you are ready to participate in a project the goals and methods of which do resonate with your heart. Do you need experience only or is the moral, emotional component is responsible as well? If you are looking for an organization that is close to your "spirit", then ask the following questions:

- What is the main aim of the project?

- Which tasks does your organization solve?

- Whom do you help, and how?

- What are the principles of your project?

- What is your experience in this area?

- Who do you cooperate with?

After that – even more! If the volunteer program provides for a trip to remote corners of Russia or even the world, be sure to ask about the package of documents and medical certificates. It is important, since in our country alone there are more than eight climatic zones with their own characteristics, their endemic species of plants, animals and insects, and when moving from one such zone to another, we can get quite unpleasant adventures on our own. In order for you to enjoy the new interesting places on your journey, we advise you to go through a basic medical examination and tests for allergens, and also do not hesitate to ask the organizers questions such as:

- Are there any dangerous animals or insects in that area?

- What vaccinations are needed?

- Do I need to pass a medical examination?

- What medical certificates of the health status should I present?

- What documents shall I take with me?

- What documents need to be provided? – if you pass the border

- Are there any forbidden medicines on the territory of the project?

- Which medicines can I buy on site, which shall I take with me?

- Is there a doctor available?

- Is there any benefits package or health care provided?

One more advice about the documents: make several copies (better three or four), because, believe us, there are never too many of them.

Finally, in order to get a full idea of the project, it would be a good practice to ask some clarifying questions about the place of stay and the environment. Most often these moments are described by the organizers in the project’s overview, but just in case - ask, it’s always useful:

- What is the organization’s corporate culture?

- Where will I stay?

- Who will be other tenants and the conditions of stay?

- What clothes shall I take?

- What expenses will be borne by the organizers, what shall I cover?

- Shall I take cash with me?

- Who will meet me upon arrival?

- What is the result at the end of the project?

And now, when all the questions are addressed to the host party, you can safely collect the necessary documents and pack your bags. Friends and relatives will not worry about you - you are fully prepared for the trip. We wish you bright thoughts and a good road, and let on your way be only great organizers and interesting projects!


Author of the text  – Regina Lukyanova

Edited by - Kseniya Gushchina

Translated by - Olga Gachkova


Published on - 07.06.2018

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