Want to do good for others while doing good for yourself? Volunteering with an NGO can help you build capacity and support long-term goals in the underserved communities of developing countries. It also can enhance your resume as you gain hard and soft skills.
NGOs, or non-governmental organizations, are nonprofit charities or citizen-operated agencies and groups that operate independently of governments, generally on an international level. They provide aid to people, animals, and the environment, and try to improve standards in the areas of humanitarian, educational, health care, public policy, social, human rights, and environmental issues according to their objectives. They rely on donations and funding by citizen groups to achieve their goals.
NGOs seek volunteers who are highly motivated and self-driven, and who would like to gain work experience abroad. Their initiatives can be limited because of a lack of permanent staff and dwindling finances. Because of this, they rely on volunteers to help them in office work, fundraising, public relations, and even manual labor. NGOs often welcome creative and talented people who can help to keep their causes relevant and in the public’s eye. Without support or a shared common interest, an NGO’s work will founder and fail.
For instance, through Projects Abroad, a highly respected international volunteer organization, you could work with an NGO in South Africa that helps disadvantaged communities build an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Or, you could work with local NGOs in Vietnam that tackle tough issues like drug abuse and human rights. Your help as a volunteer is vital to keeping these NGOs running successfully.
NGOs have come a long way in the last 75 years. The term “NGO” came to the public’s attention in 1945 when the United Nations was created, itself an intergovernmental organization. There are now about 10 million NGOs worldwide. Some of the more popular and influential NGOs include Doctors Without Borders, Greenpeace, Heifer International, Food and Water Watch, CERES, The Nature Conservancy, Oxfam, Sierra Club, and the World Wildlife Fund.
In this article, we will highlight some lesser-known charities and organizations that work with NGOs, such as the Plan My Gap Year, an award-winning volunteer organization, and UK-based Agape Volunteers, which runs affordable volunteer programs throughout Africa. We’ll also cover Maximo Nivel, the top-rated volunteer organization in Latin America. They do truly great work with NGOs in countries like Costa Rica and Guatemala.
NGOs are funded by donations normally, but many avoid formal funding and are operated by volunteers. A characteristic of an NGO is that they are not hindered by short-term financial objectives, and instead devote themselves to issues that are far-reaching and enduring. Because of this, they are regarded with public trust.
Want to know more about how you can become involved with the mission of an NGO, working for positive and sustainable outcomes? Keep reading and learn about some of our partner’s initiatives in amazing locations.
NGO Volunteer Opportunities & Internships
Every year, Plan My Gap Year sends more than 4,000 volunteers abroad. Known for their affordable fees and meaningful work, PMGY has been recognized as one of the most reputable volunteer travel organizations. On Volunteer Forever, they have a rating of 4.88 out of 5 stars across more than 630 reviews. That’s a testament to the quality of their programs.
Currently, PMGY oversees services projects in Asia, Africa, and South America. If you want to work with NGOs through Plan My Gap Year, they have a great program in Vietnam. See the details below!
Price: $714 for 2 weeks; $954 for 4 weeks
Tackle key issues and enhance future opportunities for those who need it most in Vietnam! As an NGO volunteer, you’ll help organizations that serve underprivileged communities. Your work will go a long way in expanding access to healthcare and education, improving human rights, and protecting the local environment. Your responsibilities will vary based on your skills, but could include:
- Teaching staff English
- Research and report editing
- Assisting with marketing efforts
- Creating and editing fundraising proposals
PMGY’s Vietnam NGO program is great for building your skills and experience. And you’ll do a lot of good in the process. When you’re not working, Hanoi, with its buzzing streets, tasty eats, and abundance of cultural sites, awaits. Start in the Old Quarter and see what you find! So, are you ready for a volunteer adventure in Vietnam?
Maximo Nivel offers volunteer programs, internships, Spanish language courses, TEFL certification, and adventure trips in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Founded in 2003, Maximo Nivel operates educational institutes and is a leader in international education and study abroad placements in Latin America. The organization places more than 4,000 people each year on high-quality, safe, and affordable programs.
Check out Maximo Nivel’s opportunities to work with NGOs below:
Price for 4 week practicum: Costa Rica ($1,925); Peru ($1,525); Guatemala ($1,495)
Focus on social justice and human empowerment with a human rights internship in Latin America. Work with Maximo Nivel and their partner NGOs in Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru to help to alleviate poverty and discrimination, and to enhance access to resources. Internship placements allow you to help with community outreach, education, research, and fundraising. When you immerse yourself into a community and a project, you’ll gain insight and see firsthand the impacts of culture and social values, as well as the roles of politics, religion, gender, and ethnicity.
To be effective on this placement, you’ll need intermediate Spanish language ability, and if your skills aren’t at this level, you can sign up with Maximo Nivel for online Spanish classes and its Native Spanish Program to improve. When you develop your Spanish language skills you can add “Bilingual Spanish” to your resume!
Some of your responsibilities can include:
- Providing marketing support through website development, social media, and designing promotional materials
- Creating presentations to launch new projects and ideas
- Collaborating and assisting with the development of projects and events
- Attending organizational meetings
- Supporting staff in daily office tasks
In Costa Rica, you’ll work to improve the rights of women and undocumented migrants, advocate for the end of discrimination against refugees, and help with representation of native peoples in politics, as well as the inclusion of the LGBTQ community. Click here to sign up.
In Guatemala, indigenous populations account for 44% of the country’s population, but this group remains largely outside of the political, economic, social, and cultural mainstream. You’ll help an NGO with gender equality, education, and indigenous rights, as well as access to resources by assisting with community outreach, education, research, and fundraising. Read more here!
In Peru, NGOs tackle challenges such as violence and discrimination against women, children, individuals with disabilities, LGBTQ, and indigenous people. The people in rural areas face unequal access to education and healthcare, and child labor is a common problem. Gain experience working with an NGO to perform community outreach, education, research, and fundraising for human rights issues you’re passionate about. Learn more and apply here.
For an overview of all Maximo Nivel’s human rights internships with NGOs, visit this page and get started on your application.
Price: $3,795 for 12 weeks (can vary since you can customize this gap year NGO internship)
This unique volunteer opportunity with Maximo Nivel places you with an NGO helping to conserve the deepest lake in Central America: Lake Atitlan. Often compared to a closed sea, Lake Atitlan is surrounded by three volcanoes and was formed by their eruptions 87,000 years ago. The lake is surrounded by villages with direct descendants of the ancient Mayan culture that once lived here – and the lake also hides a hidden Mayan temple ruin!
Known as Samabaj, the site is the first underwater archaeological ruins excavated in Guatemala and scuba divers are still exploring its depths. The temple was a sacred island site where Mayan pilgrims worshipped, until rising waters caused by a catastrophe, such as another volcanic eruption or landslide, submerged it in 250 CE. Hidden beneath 50 feet of water, the important spiritual site contains six ceremonial monuments and four altars.
The lake once again is threatened by catastrophe, but this time it’s by human encroachment and pollution. You can help preserve Lake Atitlan and its natural resources by raising awareness and educating the surrounding population about sustainable resource management. As a volunteer, you’ll work with an NGO to learn more about conservation practices and to share information about proper waste management, environmental management, and improving the ecological conditions of the lake.
Depending on the project’s needs, field conditions, and your Spanish language skills, you’ll support the NGO in these ways:
- Environmental education – teach residents about recycling, trash disposal, water conservation, and pollution
- Management of natural resources – help restore the surrounding hillsides as part of a reforestation effort
- Environmental cleanup – work in water filtration, recycling, waste management programs, and seasonal clean-up
This is a great opportunity for travelers who are physically fit and interested in working outdoors.
Price for 1 week: $665 for Peru and Guatemala; $719 for Costa Rica
Price for 4 weeks: $1,295 for Peru and Guatemala; $1,544 for Costa Rica
Learn about sustainable farming during this NGO volunteering experience! These eco-agriculture operations utilize modern, energy-efficient farming practices alongside traditional techniques. This reduces environmental damage and threats to human health. As an eco-agriculture volunteer, you’ll work with NGOs and farming cooperatives in one of the following destinations:
- Costa Rica: Journey to Monteverde Cloud Forest and learn all about coffee production, from bean to cup. You’ll get to have fresh Costa Rican coffee every day!
- Peru: Make your way to the Huyro Region in the highlands, about three hours from Cusco. There, you’ll get your hands dirty as you help with coffee, tea, and chocolate production.
- Guatemala: Head just outside Antigua and engage in the responsible farming of macadamia nuts and coffee.
As a volunteer, you’ll not only support farmers, but you’ll also help the environment and local people. Past volunteers give the project great reviews, like Curtis:
“I had a great experience working at the Coffee Farm project. The host mom is a great cook, and the work we did every day with the local farmers felt important and impactful. Overall, I would definitely recommend this program to anyone interested in coffee and community service. I had a lot of opportunities to practice Spanish as well, in addition to exploring the area and playing soccer with a local team.”
So, are you ready to plant and grow coffee, tea, and more?
Founded in 2009, Love Volunteers aims to make volunteering abroad affordable, transparent, and meaningful. To ensure high standards of safety and quality, Love Volunteers carefully inspects each of their projects. Their commitment shows, as past volunteers give the organization an average rating of 96%. Love Volunteers strives to give volunteers life-changing experiences. Their programs are immersive, challenging, fun, and most importantly, impactful.
With projects across 34 countries, Love Volunteers partners with local NGOs to uplift communities in need. Make a difference around the globe, from the Caribbean to Africa.
Check out some NGO volunteering opportunities with Love Volunteers:
Price: $1,439 for 2 weeks; $2,099 for 4 weeks
Love Volunteers partners closely with a local NGO in Jamaica to run various projects, from sports development projects to medical programs. No matter your skills and interests, you can contribute to the future of Jamaica while enjoying this beautiful Caribbean island. You’ll be based in Mandeville, a charming town in the hills. Immerse yourself in the daily life of Jamaica as you volunteer with the NGO on projects such as:
- Community Development: Work within communities on projects designed to build a more sustainable, prosperous future. You’ll help with tasks like project creation, budgeting, community action plans, project monitoring, and more. Your work will go a long way in uplifting marginalized communities in Jamaica.
- Dental Internships: Planning or attending dental school? Working as a dental hygienist or assistant? Boost your resume by providing quality dental care to those who need it most in and around Mandeville. You’ll shadow a local dentist and assist with checkups, fillings, cleanings, tooth extractions, and more. The role can be hands-on if you register with the Dental Council of Jamaica before going (this takes 4+ weeks).
Price: $1,129 for 4 weeks; $1,619 for 6 weeks
Journey to Rabat, Morocco’s capital, and improve the future prospects of disadvantaged women. Though Morocco has progressed tremendously in recent years, gender inequality remains a major issue. As a volunteer, you’ll work with a local NGO to improve the quality of life of women. By teaching them skills and the importance of self-confidence, as well as how to generate income, you can empower girls and women to achieve their full potential. Volunteers play a key support role in the NGO’s initiative. You can make a real difference!
What’s also nice is that you can practice your French or Arabic while volunteering. When you’re not volunteering, visit the sites in Rabat, such as the Hassan Tower and Andalusian Gardens. And drink mint tea! Already dreaming of Morocco?
Agape Volunteers offers meaningful programs in Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, and Tanzania. A registered UK charity, this organization specializes in volunteering, tourism, and development work to benefit communities and travelers alike. Accommodations, airport transfers, food, and orientation are included in the program fee – also included is travel insurance, making Agape Volunteers the most affordable option on this list if you want to volunteer in Africa.
Check out some of Agape Volunteers’ NGO volunteer programs below:
Price: £590 for 1 week; £890 for 4 weeks
Volunteer in Kenya at Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, helping Agape Volunteers and its NGO partner Marifiki to build and improve housing for refugees. As a volunteer, you will assist with food deliveries, construction, and more at an IDP camp in Mahi Mahu. Select a volunteer opportunity in Kenya from the following programs:
Fees begin at £590 for one week, and you can stay up to a year.
Price: £1,530 for 2 weeks; £2,250 for 4 weeks
Work close-up with endangered species across South Africa on a wildlife conservation program that allows you to participate in activities including tracking, monitoring, tick balling, education programs, and animal capture and transport. This experience has you contributing to the protection of lions, rhinos, elephants, leopards, cheetahs, and more in the Marataba Section of the Marakele National Park, renowned for its natural beauty. Other tasks include patrolling fences, conducting invasive plant removal, restoring roads, removing the trash, and clearing brush. Duration and costs start from two weeks for £1,530.
Price: £590 for 1 week; £890 for 4 weeks
HIV affects many Africans, and medical support doesn’t always reach those in the most need. Volunteer with the HIV Prevention program and help to promote the future health of communities in Kenya. Your assistance is needed to perform HIV tests, distribute medicine, and counsel those with HIV. As part of your training, you’ll take part in an internationally-recognized HTC course that teaches you safe practices when dealing with those afflicted with HIV, including for testing. Program fees start at £590 for one week.
Global Vision International began in 1998 with the goal of advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. To date, they’ve placed more than 25,000 volunteers of projects around the world, If you want to contribute to the sustainable development of communities and conservation of the environment, joining one of GVI’s initiatives can enable you to do that.
To realize their mission, GVI partners with some of the largest and most renowned NGOs in the world, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). They also work with WANGO, the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations. If you want to intern with NGOs, GVI has quality opportunities for you!
Check out some NGO internship programs with GVI:
Price: $4,160 for 4 weeks; $6,280 for 8 weeks
Few animals possess the mystique of jaguars. You won’t ever forget seeing one dart across the jungle. And guess what? You can! As an intern in Costa Rica on this jaguar research project, you’ll work in and around Tortuguero National Park. With GVI’s local partner, Coastal Jaguar Conservation, an independent research group, you’ll assist with rainforest and wildlife surveys, monitor the predator-prey interaction between jaguars and sea turtles, and identify and count big cats. You’ll also help develop and implement conservation solutions.
Volunteers are crucial to supporting this project, as Ian Thomas, Co-founder of Coastal Jaguar Conservation, attests:
“Volunteers contribute immensely to our project and form the backbone of certain activities related to our work in Tortuguero National Park.”
How awesome does this project sound? If you seek a career in sustainability, ecology, and/or conservation, or just want to help out the jaguar and their rainforest habitats, this program suits you. Don’t miss out!
Price: $11,445 for 24 weeks
Ready to dive? As a marine conservation intern, you’ll compile vital research data off the coasts of Thailand and Seychelles (12 weeks in each country. Tasks include identifying fish, surveying coral reefs, collecting data, and assisting with operations at the dive center. To achieve the 24-week project’s goals, GVI works with an NGO, Project AWARE (PADI). Through PADI, you’ll earn your PADI Divemaster qualification. That will set you up well for a career in ocean conservation and diving! Or, at the very least, you can enjoy diving as a hobby for a lifetime.
This internship takes you to some of the most beautiful places on earth—both above and beneath the surface. You’ll also have plenty of free time during the 24-week internship for side trips. Explore the culture, sites, and entertainment of the Seychelles and Thailand. They’re both world-class tourist destinations. The Indian Ocean is calling your name. Go!
Rated the 2018 Top Volunteer Abroad Organization, GoEco offers exciting volunteer opportunities across more than 40 countries. Founded in 2006, GoEco has placed more than 17,000 volunteers abroad on more than 150 environment, wildlife, and community initiatives. Their great programs have got them featured in major publications, including the Boston Globe and USA Today.
To fulfill their mission to effect real change in the world, GoEco works with NGOs in local communities. This enables them to address real needs, and gives volunteers the chance to have a positive impact and life-changing experience.
Check out NGO volunteering opportunities with GoEco below:
Price: $850 for 1 week; $1,600 for 4 weeks
Say hello to Tel Aviv, a happening city with nice beaches, world-class nightlife, and lots of history and culture (visit the Tel Aviv Museum of Art!). In Tel Aviv, you can work with an NGO that strives to end animal homelessness. As an animal volunteer, you’ll care for cats and dogs that have been rescued. Duties include feeding, grooming, administering medication, and assisting with behavioral training. You’ll also help match the animals with potential adopters. Seeing a dog or cat go home with a loving family is an amazing moment! And as a volunteer, you’ll help make that happen.
So, Tel Aviv awaits. And more importantly, animals in need await. Are you ready to take the call?
Price: $1,250 for 2 weeks; $2,100 for 4 weeks
Volunteer at a privately owned, fully accredited wildlife ranch in Oudtshoorn, a gorgeous town at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains. As a volunteer, you’ll create enrichment activities for cheetahs and other animals, prepare food for the animals, monitor wildlife behavior, and help with ongoing maintenance. If you want to work in zoology or learn more about ethical wildlife interactions, choose this program.
Past volunteers return home with great things to say about the project, like Rachel:
“The whole experience was humbling, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get up close and personal with all sorts of animals. But more importantly to me, it helped me learn and understand the troubles that animals are faced with and what this particular organization is doing to protect endangered species, such as the cheetah. I have a lot of fond memories of the people who I worked with and the animals I was fortunate enough to get to know. Those memories will never fade.”
Before or after the trip, explore the rest of the Western Cape. The Cango Caves are located nearby and will amaze you. And vibrant Cape Town is within five hours. Already thinking about a South African volunteer vacation?
Across the world. Fronteering works to uplift indigenous communities and preserves unspoiled nature. Active in more than 15 countries, they’re a great organization if you’re looking for a unique, high-quality volunteer opportunity with a local NGO.
By volunteering with an NGO through Fronteering, not only can you gain international work experience, but you’ll also get to immerse yourself in the local culture and make a positive impact. Fronteering prides themselves on taking volunteers and interns off the beaten path, and their NGO volunteer opportunities do just that.
Check out Fronteering’s NGO volunteer programs below:
Price: $1,795 for 4 weeks; $2,295 for 8 weeks
Make the trip to Rupununi with Fronteering, a place known for its endless savannah, expansive wetlands, well-preserved rainforest, and big blue skies. You’ll volunteer at the Karanambu Lodge, which is situated on an untouched land and river system. During this program, you’ll experience life in one of the last real frontiers on earth. As a volunteer, you’ll help with general maintenance of the lodge, fish for food, care for horses, feed resident wildlife, and show tourists and guests around. Each day, you’ll be surrounded by incredible natural beauty and have the chance to view native wildlife roam free. From giant river otters to crab-eating foxes to red brocket deer, you’ll see plenty of amazing creatures. Be sure to check out the Victoria amazonica water lilies too!
Does this sound like an awesome NGO volunteer opportunity? Program fees start at $1,795 for four weeks, with stays up to eight weeks available.
Price: $1,595 for 8 weeks; $1,895 for 20 weeks
Want an NGO internship that will boost your resume? Head to Vancouver with Fronteering for this environmental internship. You’ll gain hands-on experience in environmental research, public relations-related tasks, and/or public outreach campaigns. Your work will go a long way in creating sustainable conservation strategies for the region. Additionally, if you’re currently enrolled in university, you may be able to obtain academic credit (ask your university and Fronteering beforehand about this). How great is that?
What’s also nice about this internship is that there’s plenty to do in Vancouver. Check out scenic Stanley Park. Have a night out in Gastown. And travel around British Columbia if you have time. Gorgeous places like Yoho National Park await. The internship fee begins at $1,595 for eight weeks. You can intern for up to 20 weeks.
Price: $1,995 for 4 weeks
Live on a horse farm with a local Canadian family! Not only will you get the chance to gain farming experience, but you’ll also be able to work at the food bank, a non-profit organization that provides food for those in need in the local community. On the horse farm, your tasks will consist of caring for the horses by brushing, feeding, and walking them. You also can help out with medical treatments for the horses. At the food bank, you’ll help with stocking shelves, supporting clients in accessing services, picking up donations, and other general duties. Please note that both jobs are physically demanding so you must be healthy and ready to work!
When you’re not busy, explore beautiful Ontario, which includes famous natural sites like Algonquin Provincial Park and Niagara Falls, as well as major cities like Toronto. So, are you ready to pack and head there now? Program fees begin at $1,995 for four weeks. You can stay for up to 12 weeks.
With a goal to create global citizens, African Impact places travelers on structured and sustainable programs in 12 countries throughout Africa. Nearly 13,000 people have volunteered for its award-winning humanitarian projects since African Impact’s founding in 2004. Their staff work alongside volunteers and interns, ensuring everyone makes a positive impact, builds friendships, and has fun while contributing to responsible community and conservation projects.
Price: $1,729 for 1 month; $3,645 for 3 months
Discover Africa while you gain practical experience with African Impact’s own foundation and a registered charity. This organization is looking for enthusiastic interns with an interest in working at the grassroots level to effect change. The internship program is a great opportunity to gain valuable experience while immersing yourself in a different culture in a beautiful location.
This internship can be customized to your skills and interests while providing you with the time and space to learn about African cultures as you build your resume. You’ll be responsible for managing the charity’s projects, which vary depending upon location. The foundation’s work takes place in the following locations:
- Cape Town, South Africa
- Zululand, South Africa
- Greater Kruger Area, South Africa
- Livingstone Zambia
- Zanzibar, Tanzania
- Moshi, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Projects in Cape Town and the Greater Kruger Area place you in a rural community where you’ll also experience the beauty, wildlife, and adventures of the natural surroundings and the Big Five wildlife! If you enjoy native and conservation, working in St. Lucia you’ll catch glimpses of the hippo and work in a Zulu village. The business impact program is in the busy city of Livingstone, Zambia, where you’ll tour Victoria Falls while writing and developing grant proposals that benefit children and youth, as well as medical outreach and awareness. On Zanzibar Island, you’ll be living on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, where the unemployment rates are high and people live on subsistence levels. As an intern, you’ll work at the African Impact base, helping the project manager with community partnerships and relations. This internship makes you accountable as you learn how to manage donations and supervise the implementation of all funds.
You’ll stay at fully furnished accommodations, with most meals provided. Your internship places you close to global landmarks like Table Mountain and Victoria Falls, and you can check out the incredible safari options, go hiking, or relax on a beach. Zanzibar offers swimming, boat rides, diving, and sailing.
Ready to Go NGO?
An internship with an NGO allows you to take real action to support rights you’re passionate about while you gain professional experience. When you choose to work with an NGO, you’ll provide a voice to a disadvantaged population. You’ll also work in solidarity with like-minded individuals while creating lasting connections.
Shouldering responsibility at an NGO matters because it forces you to be brave and to challenge yourself. You’ll grow personally when you try new things and make more with less. More importantly, your work will really matter. By following your passion, you choose to be a part of something that affects entire communities, and incrementally, the world.