A Response to Criticism | by Genevieve Brown, IVPA Executive Director

There has been a lot of criticism lately about the growth of voluntourism and the lack of standards on volunteering bodies. Although some criticism may be valid, it is unfair (and inaccurate) to broadly generalize all volunteering bodies as unregulated. Here is our very own IVPA Executive Director’s response to the criticism – I highly encourage giving it a read. Thank you for your dedication and passion to the world of volunteering abroad, Ms. Genevieve!


What About Regulation?

International volunteerism has come under fire. Articles and blog posts seem to pop up every week criticizing volunteer travelers’ motives and methods. Criticism tends to lump all types of service abroad into one group and cast a whole spectrum of organizations   in a negative light. And yet, not all criticism can be dismissed. The voluntourism industry continues to grow and there are organizations that cut corners.

A recent Reuters article quotes Simon Hare, development director of British charity Globalteer as saying “One of the challenges facing people wishing to volunteer responsibly is that there is no independent quality standard, no recognized regulatory body,”

While there is no international regulatory body there are groups raising the bar of international volunteering. The International Volunteer Programs Association (IVPA) is a US standards group for international volunteering. Organizations become members of IVPA via a thorough application process and adhering to 35 established Principles and Practices.

The IVPA standards cover the spectrum of volunteer programing including safety, volunteer training, management and community partnership. Some of the standards that set IVPA members apart from other operators include the following:


  1. The organization has at least one in-country staff member per program

Standard 9 helps ensure the organization is in fact running the program and not a third party provider. The staffing requirement is important in communicating with volunteers, headquarters and the community, and ensuring quality of the program.  

Volunteer Reflection

  1. Engages volunteers in written and oral critical reflection on their experiences.  

Standard 14 gives the volunteer the time and tools to process an experience that for many becomes a life-changing experience. When IVPA members’ staff engage volunteers they are able to challenge preconceived ideas, answer questions and enrich the volunteers’ experience.


  1. Collects feedback from global partners and communities at least once annually to assess the impact and quality of the volunteers‘ contributions and level of ‘buy-in’ from community members.

Partnership is a key component to international volunteering. IVPA wants to ensure that member organizations are actively seeking feedback from partners and communities and that volunteer sending organizations are thoughtfully evaluating the impact of volunteer projects.


  1. Holds current and adequate domestic and foreign liability insurance.

Liability insurance is just one standard of many that addresses safety. Safety is a huge factor in evaluating a volunteer sending organization.

While a list of standards can’t completely cover the diversity and complexities of international volunteer programs, IVPA standards are the best way to ensure quality in volunteer abroad organizations.

While reflection and critique is welcome and needed in the field of international volunteering, it is also important to recognize that there are quality volunteer sending organizations who are interested in sustainability, partnership, and meeting actual community needs, as well as providing a meaningful and safe experience to the volunteer. IVPA member organizations are committed to those principles and practices and represent excellence in volunteering.

Leave a Reply