Tell us a little about Conservation Volunteers and your role at the company.
Madeline: Conservation Volunteers Australia was founded in 1982 to connect people with the environment. In 2006, we expanded operations to start Conservation Volunteers New Zealand.
As an organisation, we’re all about practical results: educating the community and involving them in practical projects which really make a difference to the environment. We get our hands dirty and get things done! My role within the organisation involves working to gain more volunteers and supporters for what we do.
How did you get involved in the volunteer industry?
Madeline: How else – I volunteered! I was a backpacker from England when I found Conservation Volunteers Australia – I volunteered and I was hooked. I was lucky enough to get a job, and to be a part of the organisation’s growth and development.
It’s not always easy working for a not-for-profit organisation and there are plenty of challenges, but we have a great record of achievement in conservation, and many people – like me – who have made caring for the environment their life’s work after their experiences with Conservation Volunteers.
What makes Conservation Volunteers unique?
Madeline: It’s a combination of things: we’re an organisation that can’t exist without people, so there’s a good starting point for great interaction and exchange. Our volunteers come from around the world and around the corner – it’s a great cultural mix of domestic and international volunteers.
Secondly, we operate for the benefit of the environment – both Australia and New Zealand are countries of outstanding natural beauty, with fantastic wildlife, landscapes and habitats. It’s a pleasure and an honour to be able to protect and restore the environment here.
Third, we’re a not-for-profit organisation – it’s all about people and supporters giving their time and effort (and donations of course!) to achieve results for the environment that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
In your experience, what characteristics make a good international volunteer? How does Conservation Volunteers choose volunteers?
Madeline: A good international volunteer is the same as a good local volunteer – anyone who is prepared to put their hand up and give their time is welcome! It doesn’t matter if you can only contribute a short time – your efforts will be combined with those of our thousands of other volunteers, and you’ll be playing your part in helping care for the environment.
In terms of how we choose volunteers, the answer is that we don’t go through a lengthy selection process. We do have some base level criteria - you need to be aged at least 18 to join a residential project for instance, and you need to be fit and healthy because it’s an active outdoor program – but if you’re prepared to volunteer, we’ll try to find a way to get you onto our programs.
How do you ensure your programs are sustainable and mutually beneficial for you, the community, and the volunteers?
Madeline: Every one of the projects we operate is part of a larger conservation management plan – this ensures that it is environmentally sustainable. We raise funds for our programs from a variety of sources (individual donors, business partners, grants etc), to make our programs as financially self-sustaining as possible.
For the community and volunteers, we include education as part of every program – our Team Leaders explain the conservation reasons for each project that we do to make sure the volunteers understand and enjoy the programs they help to deliver.