Top 10 Characteristics of a Great Volunteer

great volunteer

It takes a special type of person to volunteer abroad; especially in developing countries.  Committing weeks or months at a time to help make the world a better place is a noble deed.  Anyone can volunteer, but being a great volunteer requires much more than the willingness to hop on a plane and work on a project.  These top ten characteristics define the difference between regular and exceptional volunteers.


Volunteering projects often suffer from a lack of efficiency and organization due to lack of leadership or resources.  This can lead to a lot of down time.  A great volunteer accepts this and is patient with the process rather than stressing over the waste time.  They’re also easy-going when working with children, senior citizens, or individuals with special needs.

great volunteer


A good volunteer does the work that is asked of them.  A great volunteer identifies opportunities for improvement and acts on them.  Motivation is one of biggest determinants as to the quality of a volunteer.  Some volunteers will possess little motivation and will simply go about their daily tasks, while great ones will make an extra impact on their project.  This motivation is internal and based in altruism rather than dependent on external rewards or recognition.


Great volunteers step out of their comfort zone.  They take on challenges that others shy away from due to fear or discomfort.  Some volunteer in hospitals in countries rife with deadly, communicable diseases.  Others work with refugees and orphans despite knowing that the potential for emotional attachment and heartbreak is high.  Regardless of the project or location, a great volunteer faces these fears and goes anyways.  They’re also not afraid to stand up for what they believe in.  If something seems inappropriate or unethical, they speak up and don’t let fear keep them from doing what is right and just.


You may be the most highly educated or intelligent individual on a project, but you don’t know everything.  Great volunteers recognize that, while they may have a lot to offer, they also have much to learn.  They accept that valuable insight can be gained from the individuals with whom they work.  They remain humble and respectful of their hosts while refusing to boast of their accomplishments or skills; they’re not the know-it-all type.

great volunteer


Volunteering abroad brings with it a countless array of challenges.  From cultural differences and language barriers to life experiences and living situations; the people and organizations that a volunteer works with present an opportunity to display compassion and understanding.  A great volunteer welcomes these differences and is empathetic.  Caring about others, animals, and the environment is one of the most defining characteristics an individual can possess.

great volunteer


Creativity is a characteristic that great volunteers rely on heavily.  Resources are often limited or unavailable on projects.  This results in a great volunteer formulating creative responses to the lack of resources.  They can produce teaching tools out of items that may not appear to be educational.  Great volunteers develop solutions to problems that sometimes seem insurmountable.  They’re also able to improve situations through creative methodologies that hadn’t been suggested previously.


If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed in volunteering, it’s that things will not always go the way they are supposed to go.  The kind of person who is set in their ways and is only interested in doing what they signed up to do on the volunteering website will face a rude awakening.  Things change regularly on volunteering projects for a myriad of reasons, so being capable of accepting that change and running with it is a characteristic necessary for volunteers.  A great volunteer accepts and embraces this change while maintaining a flexible mind.


A great volunteer doesn’t need to be constantly directed during their tasks.  They can work independently and manage their time to ensure that all the work gets done as needed.  An independent volunteer can complete their responsibilities without assistance from other volunteers or staff unless necessary.

great volunteer

Team Player

On the other hand, great volunteers also work well with others.  A highly-functioning team will almost always be stronger than one person on their own.  A great volunteer recognizes this and has the ability to collaborate with others to accomplish their goals.  The volunteer maintains a positive attitude and encourages the other members of the team.

great volunteer

A Leader

A great volunteer possesses all of the previous nine characteristics.  With these qualities, it’s easy to make a difference and stand out among other volunteers.  However, the greatest of volunteers are also leaders.  They are the ones who motivate and inspire those they work with.  They take on challenges and lead by example rather than simply “talking the talk”.  They’re the individual that the staff and the people being helped rely on to keep everything running smoothly.


As a relatively new volunteer, I strive to be a great volunteer.  Am I one today? I don’t believe I am…yet.  I possess many of the qualities, but some I still need to work on.

Have you volunteered before?  What other qualities do you think a great volunteer should possess?  Leave a comment below!