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Volunteering for digital nomads: Together we can change the world!

Joanna Horanin

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Being a digital nomad is all about fun and work, right? You get to travel to some great places, meet people, be your own boss. Yes, you work hard, but it pays off. Sometimes all that is not enough. You might crave some meaning in life. That’s where you can start thinking of helping others. There are quite a few volunteering options for digital nomads. You just need to be aware how to choose the best opportunity and use it wisely.

At first digital nomads seemed to me like a hedonistic crowd. I saw a lot of people, who wanted to make a quick buck just to be able to live in Thailand or Indonesia. I started to avoid them. To me, they didn’t represent much. However, I quickly learned that there are some digital nomads that want to do something good for the world, they want to change it and they see it as a mission. During my last stay in Chiang Mai, I spent a day with Venture with Impact and I met a few digital nomads that actually volunteer and combine that with their work. I started to read more about how to do just that – travel, earn money and volunteer at the same time. I can tell you that it is possible!

Good news is that you don’t need to be a digital nomad just yet to be able to live abroad, freelance and help others. You can be an aspiring one. If you only dream about becoming a remote worker, then I’m sure that you will find below tips helpful.

Are you a digital nomad?

Before we dive into the volunteering bit, let’s answer the question – who is a digital nomad?

A few years ago, when this name only popped up, a digital nomad was someone, who worked remotely and travelled. They didn’t have a permanent base and moved from country to country, very often chasing the sun.

Nowadays it has changed a little. People, who live in their home country and only every now and again travel call themselves nomads, too. I also heard a name ‘digital expat’, which means that you move abroad and work online there.

I think a digital nomad is anyone, who works online and doesn’t live in their home country. That’s it!

Why volunteer as a digital nomad?

Digital nomads have good lifestyles. They get to live in some exotic destinations, party quite a bit, eat some nice food and hang out with those that are as cool as them. It’s nice. It’s exciting.

We have to also face a very uncomfortable fact – working remotely abroad is not really legal. If you earn your money in a foreign country, you have to pay taxes there…. In theory… In practice, no one gives a damn. Digital nomads use their visa, stay as long as they can and then they move on.

Moving around so often produces a lot of carbon dioxide. Taking one flight means that you have helped to release 53 pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. That’s quite a bit.

Why not give something back then and make up for all of the negative impact you’re making in the world? By volunteering as a digital nomad you can make the world a bit better and a more bearable place to live.

Volunteering for digital nomads – What can you do?

There are plenty of opportunities that digital nomads can take part in. You don’t necessarily have to focus on those standard placements. Try to think more about your skills and what you can offer.

Office based volunteering

For those that design, programme, or are good with writing and words, there are quite a lot of opportunities that require those specific skills. You can help organisations like BEAM in Chiang Mai, which often looks for volunteers to help them with project management. You can go for Baan Dek Foundation, which constantly works on its websites and social media to help them get more exposure online.

Field based volunteering

For scientists and people who work in research, there are placements that offer field based opportunities. You get to see the work done live, you learn from more experienced people and you can offer your knowledge in exchange.

Before you decide to volunteer

There are a couple of things to think about if you want to volunteer as a digital nomad. Here are the most important ones.

What excites you?

Think of what really excites you. Who, or what, would you like to help? Is there a cause that is especially close to your heart? Write down all of your ideas and evaluate them.

What skills can you offer?

Focus on your skills. Are you a copywriter, translator, photographer, designer? Can you contribute your skills to the organisation? You can also think of those skills that you would like to develop. For example, you would like to be a developer and you’re just learning. You might need some extra experience. Volunteering is a great way of developing that.

Consider your SMART goals

SMART is a system used in project management and it works very well when choosing your volunteering opportunity as a digital nomad. So, here’s what you should think about:

S – Specific – Be specific about what you want to achieve, but also who you want to help, where you want to go and when you want to start and finish volunteering.

M – Measurable – How are you going to measure the success of the project?

A – Achievable – The project should be something that you will enjoy to do and that you will see the results of.

R – Relevant – Are your goals relevant to the organisation you want to volunteer for? Make sure that the placement you choose is something that will help you to achieve your goals and that you can also offer your skills to the organisation.

T – Time bound – What are your time limits? When would you like to start and finish the project?

What about your job?

Before you even start looking for that perfect organisation, make a firm decision of what you’re going to do with your job. As a digital nomad you might have an opportunity to work on your projects during the placement. You can read here about how to do that. However, you can also take some time off and focus mainly on volunteering.

You’ve decided to volunteer – Now what?

Now you can move on to the next stage – choosing your ideal volunteering opportunity. This is a very important part. Please read all the below points very carefully.

Avoid ‘volonturism’

Volonturism is associated with projects and companies that sell volunteering opportunities that don’t do any good to the local communities. Quite often these are placement in orphanages or schools in countries like Cambodia. Volunteers are not aware that the children they look after are taken from their families and forced to live in an orphanage. It’s also proven that a constant flow of strangers teaches the kids to detach themselves from other people and not trust them.

Volunturism also includes projects, which don’t make any difference. They don’t teach the local people how to look after themselves and instead shows them that everything can be done for them.

Read about the organisation

Choose your organisation wisely. Find out what they do and how they contribute to the community. Choose one that educates more rather than helps without teaching people the skills. Think about who will benefit from your work and how you will impact the organisation and its beneficiaries.

Check the project carefully

Read the project description and find out its current status. What challenges and opportunities does it face? What will be the end result of the project? It’s important that you know all these things before you actually apply for your placement.

Contact the organisation

First double check if they are actually looking for someone like you. Serious organisations often look for people, who can help with back office duties, like project management, PR, copywriting etc.

If you can’t see a vacancy on the website, contact them directly and ask if they’d be willing to take you on.

Treat the process like a job application

To apply for a serious volunteering opportunity, you will need to send your CV, or your portfolio. Then there will be an interview over Skype, where you will have to support your application by appearing professional. Treat the whole process seriously, like a job application.

Can’t find your dream opportunity? Use a middle man

If you really can’t find a placement you like, then try to apply through an agency, or a company that helps volunteers. It’s a quicker and safer way.

I can recommend Venture with Impact, which works with organisations in Portugal, Colombia and Thailand. They help digital nomads with finding perfect volunteering opportunities in these countries. What’s great about them is that they really care about the projects they get involved with. They work only with those that make a difference. The projects and organisations are carefully selected, so you can be sure that you’re taking part in something genuine.

On top of that, they match your skills to the organisations. You don’t waste time and money by taking part in something that doesn’t benefit you. Their programmes are created to help digital nomads in their future careers.

If you would like to know more, check out their site. And if you are interested an ready to take part, use the coupon code The Blond Travels to get $100 off on your booking.

Prepare for your volunteering

I know that you’re a digital nomad and you’re used to travelling, but volunteering might be a bit different. You might go to a country you have never been to before. You might need a travel insurance, vaccinations and a special visa. Read on the culture before going. It will reduce your initial shock of being in a far-away country. Your organisation should help you with most of these things.

I would say that volunteering as a digital nomad is one of the most wonderful experiences you can have. You contribute to the society and the country you’re staying at, and you develop your skills. It’s a great combination!

Do you have any questions? Would you like to share your experiences or your point of view? Don’t be shy! Leave a comment!