Looking for new sources of volunteers? Eager to add diversity to your volunteer corps? Consider recruiting the generally overlooked numbers of foreign nationals living temporarily in many communities. In the United States and elsewhere, these are people who are in the country legally but do not have work permits. So they cannot accept a paying job - but they can volunteer and often do, when asked. They may be:
- Full-time students not permitted to hold full-time jobs while studying.
- Spouses of people employed by a multi-national company and on a foreign assignment for six months or longer. The employed spouse is on a work visa, but most often the unemployed spouse is not permitted to work for pay. Older children may also be living abroad with their working parent.
- Au pairs - generally young women who provide live-in child care for room, board, and a small stipend and must be enrolled in at least part-time higher education courses. American regulations require them to have time off each week, but they are restricted from other paid employment. Some sponsoring organizations encourage them to do volunteer work as an added cultural exchange opportunity.
In general, these foreign nationals are quite well-educated, with a wide range of skills. The spouses of corporate employees may or may not be fluent in English or your country's language, though more often than not they are. Such long-term visitors are often lonely and bored, but do not know enough about the culture in which they are temporarily living to seek volunteer work on their own.
These potential volunteers are especially helpful if you serve a client population with the same native language as the visitor. This can include not only your primary clients, but their extended families. For example, could a school or youth program include grandparents in more activities if interpreters were available? Do you work with Alzheimer's patients who have reverted back to other mother tongues (a very common situation that leaves nursing care facilities with serious communication problems)? There are undoubtedly many such opportunities to help your community.
Other ways to utilize foreign nationals include inviting them to speak about their country (show slides, play music, etc.) to groups of students, seniors, or whatever clients you have. Or how about becoming one-to-one friends with peers and later continuing with a pen-pal relationship (or, these days, an e-mail relationship) after they return to their home country?
Finally, such volunteers can educate your organization about the tradition (or not) of voluntary service, philanthropy, charity, and civic engagement in their home country. This will provide a very useful perspective on your efforts to recruit permanent citizens with the same cultural background.
At a volunteerism conference in Paris a few years ago, I met an American woman who was concerned with this exact issue in reverse. She was trying to get American spouses of employees working overseas to do volunteering in their host country, since they also could not work for pay abroad. So this type of service holds potential for some fascinating global exchange.
Recruiting International Visitors
There are a number of ways to find this talent pool. Some ideas are:
- Assess which corporations in your community have foreign branches or offices and therefore may rotate in foreign workers and their families. Contact their personnel/human resources departments and enlist their help in spreading the word about the possibilities and benefits of volunteering.
- Talk with the admissions office of local colleges and universities and find out which staff or faculty offer counseling or other guidance to foreign students. Also ask which organizations on campus sponsor international exchange or reach out to foreign visitors to the school.
- Identify any local community programs for immigrants, which often sponsor recreational programs for visitors of their cultural heritage.
- Contact any local foreign language newspapers or newsletters and see if they would be interested in running a story about your volunteer opportunities.
- Collaborate with any foreign exchange programs, either for students or for diplomatic visitors.
- Post your volunteer opportunities for foreign nationals on Web registries that have an international focus or even on a site specifically for residents of the country you're most interested in recruiting from. (We offer a great list to start your search.) You never know who is planning to visit, work or study near you.
Of course, before spreading your recruitment message, take the time to develop volunteer assignments most likely to use these foreign nationals' skills and to pique their interest.Remember that these may be very educated and experienced workers, happy to discover a new way to learn about where they are living for a while.