Four Foolproof Tips photo options

Some scams are easier to spot than others. Sorry, exiled Nigerian prince, I actually can’t help you transfer millions of dollars out of your country using my bank account. It’s not that I don’t want to help; I just can’t remember my account number off the top of my head–so many numbers!

We have become so accustomed to this constant barrage of internet scams and get rich quick schemes that it can be hard to distinguish legitimate organizations and charities (but they do exist!). How can you possibly filter through the overabundance of volunteer groups out there and separate the good from the bad? Never fear, Bookmarks is here to help! Check out the following foolproof tips for finding a trustworthy travel organization…

1. The organization is a registered non-profit or NGO (Non-Governmental Organization)
This one is pretty straightforward. To become a registered non-profit, one has to prove to the federal government that the organization is using all earnings for the common good, not individual wealth. Never volunteer with an unregistered non-profit, as no one is holding them accountable for how their money is spent. Frequent traveler and CoEd tour veteran Matt Dempsey states, “Many places in Latin America require people to pay to volunteer. While this is fine, be sure your payment is just for administrative costs and not a way for the NGO to line their pockets.” This scenario is much less likely to happen with a registered organization, so take the time to look up this information.

2. The organization requires you to fill out an application
Benjamin Krause has been working in international development for the past 15 years. Having traveled to more than 25 countries during that time, he knows a thing or two about responsible travel organizations. Currently the Country Director of J/P Haitian Relief Organization, Benjamin states, “As an organization, we put a lot of focus on being responsible. We require applications, references and background checks of all potential volunteers, as well as credential verification for those volunteering their medical skills.” If an organization is putting in the time to make sure you are legitimate, it’s a good bet that they are also trustworthy.

3. Word of mouth
One of your best resources may be right under your nose–your friends and family! What better way to get the facts about an organization than from a source you already know and trust? Seek out their advice to get the truth about whether or not a group is responsible (and if they provide snacks!). Don’t know anyone who has gone on a volunteer trip? Most organizations will provide the contact information of a former volunteer who will be happy to chat with you about their experience.

SNACKS! Just one of the many delicious reasons to join CoEd in Guatemala.

SNACKS! These scrumptious choco-bananas are just one of the many delicious reasons to join CoEd in Guatemala.

4. Research, research, research
Researching the organization on your own is not only a valuable tool to ensure that you will be volunteering with a legitimate group, but it will also help you get the most out of your experience while you are on the ground. Benjamin notes, “Doing your homework is important. You should know what you will be doing beforehand so you can prepare, whether it be building houses, painting classrooms or delivering supplies. This will allow you to bring more to the table and make the most out of your time.”

Now that you have these handy tips, go forth and research! We just know that you will find a great volunteer group and have the experience of a lifetime (for starters, check out this awesome group).

What is your favorite part about volunteer travel?