According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in four Americans volunteered for an organization at least once during the course of a year. However, there are a few things that would-be disaster volunteers should stop and consider before getting on a plane. According to the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, people should not underestimate the complexity of working in a disaster area. Until a need has been identified and the impacted community or country has requested support, volunteers should refrain from self-deploying to a disaster site.

What’s Required

The provision of humanitarian assistance, especially overseas, requires trained and experienced individuals who can work effectively in exceptionally difficult conditions for long periods of time. Resources are strained during a disaster, and a person without technical skills and experience can slow down relief efforts. Offers to do less specialized work (such as driving trucks, setting up tents) are not always accepted, as relief organizations typically hire local people, including disaster survivors, who know the area and could benefit from participating in relief activities.

Experience Needed

When there is a call for volunteers, candidates with the greatest prospect of being selected typically have the following:

  • Language skills. In other words, do they know how to speak the language and are they familiar with the culture of the disaster-affected area?
  • Prior disaster experience. Some aid organizations will require several years of overseas work experience.
  • Technical expertise. Some aid groups seek volunteers with specialized experience such as medicine, logistics, or water/sanitation/hygiene.
  • Time. Some hiring agencies will request volunteers to commit a certain amount of time (i.e. three months) to work on a disaster response.

Gaining Expertise

There are several resources available for people interested in becoming volunteers. The American Red Cross offers several ways to volunteer by starting locally. Volunteering in your own community will help you start building experience to be qualified for additional volunteer positions. The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster also offers tips on the best ways to volunteer.

Help that’s Needed

Those who lack necessary training can help by raising funds and fostering public awareness of aid groups operating around the world. No donation is too small, and every dollar contributes to saving lives and reducing human suffering in the most cost-effective, efficient, and appropriate way. We put together this toolkit of best practices, videos, PSAs, and more to give you what’s needed to be an ambassador of effective giving.