Among the thousands of different kinds of global volunteer opportunities, there are those where you need show up with little more than time to give and a willingness to help. However, there are also those that require that volunteers have a specific skill set or expertise. And because some skills are in such high demand, many international volunteer-sending organizations that coordinate skilled volunteer opportunities provide financial support for housing and travel costs, and even stipends.
So what do we mean when we say "skilled volunteers"? In some situations, what's needed is volunteers who work in specialized fields like medicine and health care, human rights and the law, financial management, website development and technology, teaching and education, graphic design, and construction crafts. In other cases, it's more about an individual's talents—whether they engage them in a paid employment capacity or not; examples of these types of skills include writing, photography, strategic planning, public speaking, problem solving, and the arts.
Given these definitions, if you think you might be interested in pursuing a skilled international volunteer opportunity, your first step should be a quick assessment of your talents and abilities. Make a list of everything you are good at (don't be humble) and, again, be sure to count those skills and talents that may have little or nothing to do with your paid employment or career ambitions.
Once you've got a pretty good list, go through and put a check mark next to those skills that you'd be interested in using as an international volunteer. For example, if you have a knack for website design, would you be up for helping a foreign NGO launch or overhaul their site? Conversely, do you have experience as a lawyer but would really rather just pick up a hammer? This is the place to be honest with yourself about how you'd like to get involved.
Once you've identified those skills that you'd like to use as a volunteer, you're ready to start looking for great opportunities. One place to start is with the global volunteer organizations that provide financial support for skilled volunteers listed on our site here as well as towards the end of this provocative article by Jayne Cravens (this is also a good source for learning more about what skills are particularly useful for international development organizations). You can also do a traditional search for international volunteer-sending organizations (or foreign NGOs if you plan to volunteer abroad independently), searching with keywords specific to your skill set and interests.
Also, don't forget to consider online or virtual volunteer opportunities. There are tons of things you can do to assist international organizations and communities from your home computer, including blogging, advocacy, graphic design, fundraising, and providing feedback via email on organizational structures and plans ranging from budgets to marketing. To find a great online international volunteer opportunity, start searching our site (be sure to try using keywords like "online" and "virtual").
Finally, when you're ready to start doing research on the volunteer opportunities or volunteer-sending organizations you've identified, there are some additional questions you should ask. For example, how much decision-making latitude will you have in your role as a volunteer? If you disagree with their approach, are changes possible? Similarly, who will be managing your work? Do they have experience with your skill set or expertise area? Knowing more about what responsibilities, management, and potential limitations to decision-making you might experience will provide you with a more complete picture of what to expect abroad.