Short-term vs Long-term Volunteering

short-term vs long-term volunteering

If you have been doing some research on volunteering opportunities already, you’ll probably have noticed the great variety there is in terms of duration requirements. Some volunteer jobs only require a helping hand for a week or two, while others are only accessible if you invest at least a few months’ time in them. As there is no real definition of what counts as short-term or long-term volunteering, we will refer to projects from a week until one month as short-term volunteering, and everything exceeding this duration will be referred to as long-term volunteering.

As always, both ends of the scale have their pros and cons, and finding the right duration for yourself is a very personal thing. It depends on your life circumstances as well as what you are looking for in a volunteer journey. In this article, you will find a comparison of short-term and long-term volunteering that will hopefully help you to find out what is right for you.

Short-term volunteering

If you wonder how effective it can be to volunteer for just a week or two, you might have to take into account that more specific projects like construction or wildlife projects might only need a helping hand for a task that can be done in a short amount of time, e.g. renovation or conservation works.

Also, for most full-time employed people, the only way to volunteer abroad is to do so during their holidays, which makes a long-term stay impossible for them. You should be aware though that in most cases the length of your volunteer stay will have a direct impact on how much you can achieve. Understanding this is crucial to not set your expectations too high and end up going back home disappointed. However, this does not mean that only long-term volunteering is valuable for both yourself and the project. It only means that you will have to think more carefully about what you expect and in which area of work you can actually achieve something in the time you have to spare. To give you a better overview of the pros on cons of short-term volunteering, here they are in short form:

Pros

  • Accessible for full-time employed people and students
  • Allows several trips to different places
  • Projects like construction show the immediate impact your work can have
  • Moderate costs that don’t need much time for saving

Cons

  • Limited interaction and immersion
  • Limited impact in some projects
  • No buffer period or time for further traveling
  • Sometimes stressful (jetlag is calling!)

Our top tips for making short-term volunteering beneficial for both sides

  • Choose a type of work that doesn’t require a lot of initial training, e.g. construction, conservation, or wildlife projects.
  • Don’t travel too far! You don’t need to cross oceans to find a place where your help is needed.
  • Learn as much as you can about the country and the culture in advance, it will make up for the lack of immersion.
  • Try to arrive a few days prior to the start of your work, it will help you to dive inside your new surroundings.
  • Be proactive and always look for ways to be helpful, open, and friendly instead of waiting for instructions.
  • Take your time to reflect on your surroundings, even if it’s only a few minutes before bedtime. It will help you not feel totally overwhelmed and keep a positive mindset!

Long-term volunteering

Talking about long-term volunteering, it has to be said that there is still a huge difference between spending four months at a job and agreeing to stay for a year or even longer. Some projects, especially those that are highly skill-based and are looking for people in leading positions, require a stay of at least a year to make sure that the work they set up has enough time to develop and ends up being sustainable. The same goes for intensive research projects or working with children and communities. In general, when going abroad it takes a certain time to get used to the circumstances, new cultures, and integrate into a new community. We listed some pros and cons to help you decide if long-term volunteering is right for you:

Pros

  • You have plenty of time to get a full and immersive insight into new cultures and to really get to know people
  • The longer you stay on-site, the bigger the impact you have on the success of the project
  • You will be able to see the change your project makes over time
  • You have enough time to travel and explore other parts of the country

Cons

  • Long stays abroad are often linked to a lot of complex tasks pre-hand, e.g. sorting out your job situation, subletting or giving up your flat, and so on
  • You will find higher expectations for your work and also have greater responsibilities
  • You are more likely to get into the trot of things

Our top tips for making long-term volunteering beneficial for both sides

  • If you have the chance, take a sabbatical! This will give you peace of mind in regards to your job situation back home.
  • Your commitment doesn’t need to end with your stay. There are endless examples of volunteers still supporting the project from home after years.
  • Safe up! Although living costs might be cheaper than at home, keep in mind that you are not earning a fortune (if any) either.
  • Take some breaks from volunteering. Although this may sound counter-intuitive, nothing beats a fresh mind after a few days of relaxing on the beach.

The best thing for you

As you noticed by now, deciding on a volunteer job is a very personal thing. Think about how much time you have to spare and what kind of work you would like to do, to find out which is the perfect thing for you. This might also mean having to realize that it wouldn’t be reasonable to spend your two weeks holiday working with children or at a long-term research job. However, the broad opportunities worldwide are incredibly diverse, so with a bit of research, you will be sure to find exactly what works – both for you and the project. Find the volunteer program that suits you perfectly on Volunteer World and get in touch with the social project easily.

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32 Comments

  1. Hi Hannah,

    Great blog post! I have been considering a short term volunteering program recently. I work best with people, especially young children. I’m considering helping in psychotherapy and English teaching, but I am so concerned that such short programs (a few weeks to months) don’t bring about any significant changes. From my personal experience, it takes a lot more time to actually change someone. Also, is it healthy for a child to have a new English teacher every two/three months?

    Please share with me some of your insights. What do you think is the right amount of time to work in human development programs?

  2. says: drift boss

    I think volunteering is a very meaningful thing that comes from the heart you want. However, you need to do all your responsibilities when taking on that position. Above all, it is considered as a short vacation for us to discover more interesting things

  3. says: tunnel rush

    I just passed my bachelor’s degree and also want to volunteer, before that I had a lot of questions but now they are all gone. The article has clearly told about the things to keep in mind of volunteers.

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