Giving Back - Cuenca Expat Volunteer Opportunities

Giving Back – Cuenca Expat Volunteer Opportunities

Many of us with time on our hands feel the itch to lend a hand to Cuenca’s less fortunate but don’t know how to get started. This article will tell you how to scratch that itch.

After nearly 5 years in Cuenca, I have met compassionate expats who donate lots of time, energy and money to charities that improve the city and the lives of the thousands of fellow residents in desperate need. Some expats follow their instincts to volunteer at nonprofits (referred to as fundaciones) and are rewarded by the thanks of those they help and a big bump in self-esteem. 

Cuenca volunteers say there is nothing better in the world than the positive feelings they get by contributing to the well-being of others. 

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But what do volunteers do?

I personally started with a poor guess in answer to that question: fundraising. Fundraising is an activity that most people compare to having a root canal without anesthesia…

But seriously, as we emerge from two years of pandemic isolation, the community’s staggering, unmet needs have become blazingly obvious. And nonprofits feel more need to address them than ever. This situation translates into an attractive variety of volunteer opportunities like teaching English and music, knitting, packaging food kits, social media marketing, writing, event management, assisting veterinarians, dog walking, grant writing, managing other volunteers, community theater and, of course, fundraising.

Where Do I Start?

To get a feel for the topic, do a little internet research. Some excellent websites provide lots of specific opportunities throughout Ecuador. These are sometimes combined with room and board, excursions and other leisure activities – Voluntourism. Example activities include farmwork, interning at hostels and restaurants and teaching English.  

Visitors sometimes use their paid job’s vacation time for these “workaway” vacations. They can be a great, inexpensive way to experience Ecuador but can also end up costing as much as a traditional vacation if not well planned. And many are designed for visitors from other countries more than for expat residents.  Here are a few places to start your search: Workaway.info, ecuadorvolunteers.org & volunteerworld.com

What about volunteering in Cuenca?

As nicely as those sites package workaway gigs, they do not offer much in Cuenca where most of us live and there does not seem to be a website focusing on volunteering in Cuenca.  

The good news for Cuenca expats is we don’t have to travel 5000 miles to enjoy the rewards of volunteering because there are plenty of rewarding opportunities in walking distance (if you know where to look). Hint: Keep reading!

Types of Volunteer Organizations in Cuenca

Volunteering anywhere is taking a job with an organization without financial reward – which one hopes comes with other rewards. Treating your volunteer job search somewhat like a paid job search can help both you and the organization you’re looking to volunteer with.

Classifying Volunteer Organizations

My observation is that all the Cuenca nonprofits need both financial and volunteer help to realize their missions. And each falls in one of the quadrants of the graph below: 

Some are Ready: clear about and prepared for volunteers… others pretty fuzzy. Some are Eager to engage volunteers… others not so much… It may help you guide your thinking about where and how to volunteer if you can put your prospective organizations into one of the quadrants above.

Naturally, all volunteer organizations are much more focused on serving their beneficiaries than on how to make use of expat volunteers. That is reflected in the general lack of specifics you see in the articles about the volunteer positions available. There are understandable reasons for this:

  1. The pandemic made it very difficult to maintain both their beneficiary and their volunteer programs. Some had to reorganize their people requirements or are just now regrouping.  
  2. Don’t take this personally, but your lack of Spanish can make you a challenging volunteer choice. The good news is many of the volunteer organizations we’ve reviewed here are ok with your lack of Spanish. But, you’ll find the type of assignments can open up a lot more if you’re able to overcome the language barrier with a bit of study or some Spanish language classes.
  3. Whether an organization would be improved by harnessing volunteers. Some have their own reasons for limiting expat volunteers, but there are still plenty that are asking for help.

Finding a good fit

One suggestion for finding a good fit, regardless of the nonprofit’s quadrant, is to look for critical needs of the organization (sometimes unstated) and suggest ways you can help fill them. 

Most local nonprofits fall pretty short in how they present themselves in English to the expat community so they fall short in attracting donations and volunteers, too. So, if you have special experience, e.g., as a Board Member or in writing, web design, marketing, social media or PR, offer help in those areas.

Or if you or somebody you know teaches Spanish and/or English, help bridge the language barrier between volunteers, staff and beneficiaries by offering language classes or tutoring, focused on the organization’s specific activities.

Another specific example is that many do not have a dedicated Volunteer Coordinator. So, if you are an organizer, you may bring the most value by creating and taking on the job of recruiting and organizing expat volunteers.

Be clear in your mind about how you can help

Ideally, you should know the kinds of skills and the amount of time you want to contribute and ask specific questions about how the organization will put them to use, the activities involved, how and where guidance and supervision will come from, the time commitment, the degree of independence required (or allowed) and the Spanish language requirements.  

Meet with the Executive Director. Ask for the financial statements whether you are speaking with a registered or unregistered charity and check the percentage of proceeds going to administrative expenses.  If it is more than 10%, it may help to dig a little deeper into where that money is going.

Why Was My Organization Not Included?

Our list of organizations is not comprehensive and if you think yours should be added, please contact us and we will gladly speak with you about your group and how to get your volunteer needs communicated.

If you want to be considered for publication of your nonprofit’s volunteer needs, please start by sending your group’s own profile in Spanish or English, using the outline of the profiles in the article, to [email protected]. Include as much detail as you can about the volunteer positions you want to fill.

We are working on an article featuring Cuenca’s animal-related charities such as rescue, spay-neuter, etc. If you lead one and we have not communicated, the last sentence is especially for you.

Let’s Get To It

Now that we have the preliminaries covered, let’s get to the meat in the sandwich and look at some ways and places you can volunteer.

Cuenca Nonprofits and Volunteer Opportunities

Azuay Community Theater

Volunteer Opportunities Cuenca - Azuay Community Theatre (ACT)
April 2022 Rehearsal for How The Other Half Loves
  • Name: Azuay Community Theater
  • Type of Non-profit: All Volunteer Non-Profit (unregistered)
  • Volunteering opportunities:  Marketing and Publicity including Social Media Marketing, Email, etc.; Bi-Lingual liaison between the Center for the Arts and the local community, Acting, Stage management, Reservations system, Box Office, Graphics, Publicity, Run sound system, Costumes, Drink Service, Greeters, Props, Set Painting, House management (Greeters, ushers, etc.)
  • Contact Name: Jackie Sario, Volunteer Coordinator
  • Contact Email: [email protected] with cc: [email protected]
  • Contact Phone (Voice): 593 98 372 1236
  • Contact WhatsApp: +593 98 508 1473

Overview 

Azuay Community Theater is a live theater by and for expats with its own performance space and reputation for strong production quality.

This is an all-volunteer organization for participants to have fun and express their creativity. This is distinct from most non-profits we’ve included in this article where the focus is mainly centered on the needs of the less fortunate.  But theater and the other arts are important contributors to Cuenca’s quality of life so we feel ACT deserved space here. 

As of this writing, the theater is presenting an Alan Ayckbourn comedy, How The Other Half Loves.  And auditions were just held for a reader’s theater production of Custer’s Last Stand with performances scheduled for June 10, 11, 12 and 17, 18 and 19. Other shows selected for the coming season include: 2 comedies by Christopher Durang, The Actor’s Nightmare and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike 

ACT has been on the Cuenca scene for 7 years. Between 2015 and the start of the pandemic, it mounted a radio play of A Christmas Carol, Greater Tuna, Over The River and Through The Woods, Mornings at Seven, Sylvia, Clever Little Lies and a variety of other shows.

The theater took advantage of the 2 year pandemic to rebuild and restructure, forming a proper Board of Directors headed by Board President, Paula Bailey, and including Treasurer, Ray Lewis. They also installed 3 resident directors, including Bob Fry who has directed 5 ACT shows and many others. Paula, Ray and Bob each bring lifetimes of US theater experience. Many other members also have impressive resumes of both onstage and backstage experience.

Recent upgrades

The influx of people with seasoned theater experience and recent improvements listed below pave the way for ACT’s continued success and longevity:

  • An expanded 4+ show season for 2022-23 with season tickets available soon
  • Has its own attractive performance space that was recently remodeled with an expanded stage and upgrades including a bar
  • 3 experienced directors
  • Play selection committee
  • Upgraded lighting, sound and stage management
  • Theater education is starting with an introductory Theater fundamentals class in August 2022
  • Expansion into a Center for the Arts with performing and non-performing artists such as music, dance, art gallery, artisan exhibitions and specialty acts like a September 21, 2021 performance by Northern Roots musical group.

The theater funds its operations through ticket sales, fundraisers and ACT Center for the Arts events.  During the pandemic when no ticket sales resulted in no income, enough “ACT Angels” stepped up with regular contributions to allow ACT to cover its rent.

Upcoming events

Upcoming events at the ACT Center for the Arts include Hearts of Gold Foundation hosting its own fundraiser with a return performance by magician, Juan Estrella.

How you can help this non-profit

There are many volunteering opportunities generally available across a range of positions shown in the list above. Theater is a collaborative art form so lots of talented people are always needed but no experience is needed.

Where to donate? 

Contact Treasurer: Ray Lewis +593 99 514 8449 or [email protected].


Cuenca Soup Kitchen

Volunteer Opportunities Cuenca -Cuenca Soup Kitchen
  • Name: Cuenca Soup Kitchen
  • Type of Non-profit: All volunteer nonprofit  (unregistered)
  • Type of volunteering opportunities: Food packaging and delivery, Knitting, Baking, Sort Clothing Donations, Teach English to Adults (pending)
  • Contact Name: Desmion Disney
  • Contact Email: [email protected]
  • Contact Phone: Please inquire by email or the website

Overview 

The Cuenca Soup Kitchen provides food, clothing, and other items to both Ecuadorians and refugees in need. 

Many of their beneficiaries have multiple vulnerabilities including disabilities and health concerns. Some are children without familial support. The assistance provided by CSK is a bridge that connects families to a more stable future.

Food kit focus

The pandemic forced the closure of the actual kitchen and dining room which fed hundreds of hungry people at its location. Then CSK maintained a roster of dozens of volunteers. Since the kitchen closed, CSK switched to providing families with two 15-pound food kits per month. Kits stretch the food supplies of 175 families with an average of 5 people each. The shift to food kits has allowed CSK to serve a far greater number of people. However, there are 150-200 families wait-listed. Each family is screened and followed by a social worker. As they reach stability they are transitioned out of the program, making room for others in need.

Since March 20, volunteers package and distribute kits from the Hearts of Gold offices. CSK has a good team of 20 regulars which is enough to package the kits but spots occasionally open up. 

Birthday program

CSK volunteers in the Birthday program ensure that every child served by the program gets a cake and a small gift for their birthday. Some cakes are baked and some are bought. But all of them bring a lot of joy!  Cakes are given every other week and delivered to CSK offices by 4:00pm on the Thursday of the week they are to be given.

Clothing program

Volunteers in the clothing program make sure that donated items are categorized and distributed as quickly as possible.​ Volunteers come in on weekly or biweekly or monthly schedules.

Other programs

Other charitable activities underway include the “Heartstrings” knitting circle which makes caps and sweaters gifted to single mothers. There is also a Christmas wish-granting program benefiting kids. And English classes for adults led by volunteers are being considered.

How you can help this non-profit

The following volunteer opportunities are generally available:  Food packaging and delivery, Knitting, Baking, Sort Clothing Donations, Teaching English to Adults (pending).

Where to donate

You can donate at Cuenca Soup Kitchen Donations. As a guide, monthly donations of $25 help provide food to a family for a month. 


Fundación NÚR

Volunteer Opportunities Cuenca - Fundacion Nur
  • Name: Fundación NÚR
  • Type of Non-profit: Registered Ecuadorian Foundation
  • Type of volunteering opportunities: English Tutors, English Teachers, Music Teacher, Adult supervision for kids’ activities
  • Contact Name: Nela Navarrine, Volunteer Coordinator (English/Spanish): 
  • Contact Email: [email protected] 
  • Contact Phone: Whatsapp +13146517422

Overview 

Fundación NÚR supports the integral human development needs of those at risk: children, adolescents and their families, young single mothers, youth and adults.

It provides them with the necessary tools to develop the individual and social skills that will enable them to take responsibility for their lives and their environment.

Through comprehensive training activities, they contribute to improving their beneficiaries’ living conditions so that they are able to develop their full potential and take an active part in their community.

English narrated, April 23 virtual tour of Fundación NÚR 

Programs offered at Fundación NÚR

Gemas Brillantes

Educational and recreational program for children and adolescents at risk through art, education in human rights and moral leadership, self-care, handicrafts, psychological support, provision of clothing, medical and food assistance.

Solidarity Family Support

This program was created to support families during the emergency caused by covid-19. It includes food aid, clothing, medicines, psychological support, training and support to adapt to the new circumstances, and to start a business that allows families to be self-sustainable.

Effective Parenting

The Effective Parenting Program serves mothers and their children, from pregnancy through the child’s third year of life. They learn about the importance of attachment, proper nutrition and emotional health of the children. provision of clothing, diapers, medical and food assistance.

Continuous Training

This program consists of workshops, courses and lectures for young people and adults. They provide educational and formative workshops on topics such as socio-labor training, personal development, leadership, family orientation and human values. It focuses on forming people who are useful to society and to themselves. The participants are young people and adults.

Mental Health

The Mental Health Program for all beneficiaries exposed to social and economic crises, which affects mental health throughout life like the destabilizing effects of the pandemic. Includes workshops, talks and talks on prevention and intervention and psychological therapies.

Safe Beds Project

This program aids in the physical and psychological protection of kids in abusive settings. A Safe Bed makes child abuse difficult with a small, raised and visible bed, preventing an adult from lying with a child further aided by the child-only access ladder. Also gives the child an area of his own, where he can sleep, study, and store school items, clothes and toys while taking a minimal amount of precious floor space available in small homes. A $250 donation purchases the protection of a Safe Bed for a child at risk.

Fundación NÚR by the numbers

Through the efforts of 10 tutors and 17 volunteers who work pro bono, they assist 35 families (75 adults, 60 children) with a range of assistance.

Delivering the following each month:

  • 6 workshops for parents
  • 44 children’s classes
  • 16 classes for teenagers
  • 2 workshops for pregnant women

Food provided each month:

  • 22 nutritious children’s snacks
  • 4 community lunches for adolescents and guardians
  • 70 food kits for families in two biweekly deliveries totaling more than 1700 pounds per month. 

Maternal assistance:

Includes diapers, milk, baby clothes and other necessities for the group of 18 pregnant or recently delivered women.

Medical:

Medicines and medical support in emergencies.

Clothing:

Solidarity closet serving our families and the community of Cuenca. 

How you can help this non-profit

Volunteer opportunities generally available:  

  • Tutors and teachers for music and English language
  • Accompany children’s activities
  • Volunteers who want to share their time and other talents 

Where to donate

Recurring donors can donate at the website Fundacion NÚR Donations with one-off donations directly via Paypal (paypal.me/fundacionnur) or direct bank transfer:

  • Cooperativa JEP Cuenta Ahorro: 406119384202 BENEFICIARIO: Fundación NÚR Desarrollo Humano, Inclusión y Solidaridad RUC 0190480984001
  • Banco Pichincha Cuenta Ahorro: 2207068385 BENEFICIARIO: Fundación NÚR Desarrollo Humano, Inclusión y Solidaridad RUC 0190480984001 

International transfer Bank details:

  • Bank Name: Banco Pichincha C.A.
  • SWIFT CODE: PICHECEQ
  • Bank Address: Av. Amazonas y Pereira, Quito, Ecuador
  • Name on Account: Fundación NÚM, desarrollo humano, inclusión y solidaridad
  • Account number: 2207068385
  • Foundation Address: General Antonio Farfan 2-17, Cuenca, Ecuador

Give Refugees A Chance (GRACE)

Volunteer Opportunities Cuenca - Fundacion GRACE
  • Name: Give Refugees a Chance GRACE
  • Type of Non-profit: Ecuadorian Foundation registered;  501(C) (3) U.S. registered charity.
  • Type of volunteering opportunities: Education, Health, Social Programs, Marketing/Publicity, Fundraising
  • Contact Name: Karla Sanchez 
  • Contact Email: [email protected]
  • Contact Phone: +593959204786 

Overview

GRACE Helps refugees get back on their feet with medical and other humanitarian services by working with other organizations, businesses, churches and refugee leaders.

It empowers refugee community leaders to lift the thousands of refugees that have poured into Cuenca out of dire straits and to inspire hope and change. Critical resources offered include medical, employment, clothing, food outreach services, and other help provided by partnership organizations.

Golden Ticket Program

Services are offered to those in need through the Golden Ticket Program. GRACE Golden Tickets are distributed by churches, nonprofit organizations, donors, and volunteers. Additionally, GRACE allows refugees in need to apply for Golden Tickets through the following link: Golden Ticket Application

Upon receiving a Golden Ticket, the recipient can sign up for any GRACE services and receive a free bag of food for their families on the day of their appointment. The survey facilitates a better understanding of the recipient’s needs. And completing the survey form is a requirement to receive a Golden. With this approach GRACE hosts a more robust and comprehensive database on the refugee population of Cuenca than the Ecuadorian government or the UN. That allows GRACE to stay relevant and expand its services in response to the community’s actual needs. 

GRACE stepped up its efforts during the pandemic to address the desperation amongst the mostly Venezuelan refugees of Cuenca. Further reading: Local charity struggles to feed Cuenca’s refugees: ‘We are just trying to keep them alive’

How you can help this non-profit

You can help by volunteering with one of the many opportunities generally available:

  • Education: English or Spanish lessons
  • Health: for doctors or nurses.
  • Social Programs: sorting, bagging, and distributing food.
  • Marketing and Publicity: Social media & content.
  • Fundraising: helping with fundraising campaigns.

Where to donate

You can donate to GRACE via their website.


Hearts of Gold

Volunteer Opportunities Cuenca - Hearts of Gold
  • Name: Hearts of Gold Foundation
  • Type of Non-profit: Ecuadorian Foundation (registered)
  • Type of volunteering opportunities: Finding a Volunteer Coordinator is a top priority. Distribute food and clothing, drive people to hospitals, public relations, writing, graphic design, IT, workshop leaders, legal, and social media
  • Contact Name: Maria Jose Orellana 
  • Contact Email: [email protected] and/or Volunteer application
  • Contact Phone: +593 98 334 0951

Overview

Since 2013 Hearts of Gold Foundation  has assisted the more vulnerable members of the community by boosting the capabilities of other local nonprofits

It invests in the skill development of nonprofit leaders so they can do more for their organizations’ marginalized beneficiaries. Watch a video on how Hearts of Gold helps nonprofit organizations.

The foundation also offers its client nonprofits services like providing:

  • Operating space
  • Marketing
  • Leadership training
  • Accounting, and
  • Fundraising.

These services make the clients more cost-efficient and effective by allowing them to focus instead on the food, heath and educational needs of their underprivileged beneficiaries. In addition, Hearts of Gold offers marketing, fundraising and other education through its Community Assistance Program including capacity building workshops, community dialogues, and mentorship sessions.

Hearts of Gold’s has joined with the 501(C)(3) U.S. charity, Global Giving, which provides marketing and donation processing services. This relationship opens up an enormous additional source of donations for Hearts of Gold and for each of its individual client foundations 

Client nonprofits include CETAP-Lucy, NOVA Educational Center, OSSO orphanage, Fundación El Arenal, Azulado Fundación, Friends of Ikiam and Cuenca Soup Kitchen.

How you can help this non-profit

You can find a list of current Open Volunteer Positions on the HOG website. As of writing, the following positions are available:

  • Written and Oral Translators
  • Writers & Editors
  • Graphic Designer
  • Event Help
  • IT Help
  • Workshop Hosts
  • Social Media Ambassadors

Where to donate

You can donate at the Hearts of Gold Website.


Keep Cuenca Beautiful

Volunteer Opportunities Cuenca -Keep Cuenca Beautiful
Some before and after examples of work done by Keep Cuenca Beautiful
  • Name: Keep Cuenca Beautiful
  • Type of Nonprofit: All Volunteer Group (unregistered)
  • Type of volunteering opportunities: Large work “mingas” of expat and city workers painting in teams to recover areas from graffiti via individual effort or in loosely organized groups. Black and White project to cover graffiti on white walls with white or black on black. General fundraising.
  • Contact Name: Mike Hardy
  • To Contact: Please inquire by joining the Facebook Group and contact it through FB Messenger or Mike Hardy directly (listed as an Admin) through FB Messenger.

Overview

Expats, Cuencanos and Cuenca’s Municipal Government collaborate to cover graffiti and restore the look of exteriors in el centro. 

KCB cooperates with the City Municipio, Department of Areas Historicas, and the Department of Public Works to maintain Cuenca’s unique beauty which has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Watch this video of the group in action.  

One activity is to restore monuments and places of historical importance. Another is education, training, motivation of youth and potential artists to channel their skills into transforming Cuenca’s exterior into a great “Art Gallery. For example KCB works with the Directorate of Culture to promote “graffiti competitions.” In addition, KCB organizes campaigns to contribute financially to these initiatives.

Adopt Your Block Program

The group is developing an “adopt your block” program to motivate individuals to take responsibility to recover and maintain a specific block, often the block where they live. Because colors vary across any large area, leaders use color fans to help individual volunteers match colors to get a custom paint code to use in purchasing paint for their block.

How you can help this nonprofit

Your’re welcome to join in the work “mingas” of expat and city workers to help recover areas from graffiti or to help with general fundraising. Inquire via the group organizer.

How to donate

Money and paint/paint supply donations are gratefully accepted. GofundMe Campaign or Contact KCB through their Facebook Page for details.


Mujeres con Éxito

Volunteer Opportunities Cuenca - Mujeres con Exito
  • Name: Mujeres con Éxito
  • Type of Nonprofit: Mujeres con Éxito is a nonprofit association and a service of Casa María Amor, a registered Ecuadorian foundation
  • Type of volunteering opportunities: Manage Facebook account, Website updates, Send email announcements, Update mailing list and Assist in occasional events. Some activities require Spanish.
  • Contact Name:  Diana Vasquez 
  • Contact Email: [email protected]
  • Contact Phone:  +593984747919

Overview 

Mujeres con Éxito is a training center and small business maintained by the Maria Amor Foundation which consists of three small businesses where women escaping domestic violence learn to be self-supporting.

While the women earn money at the laundry service, a small café and a catering service, they acquire marketable job skills and expertise in running their own business.  

Maria Amor Foundation also operates the House of Light shelter outside of Cuenca for women who are victims of domestic violence.

The shelter saves lives, helps to heal traumas and injuries and offers training and empowerment to find a job and to restart one’s life with independence and without violence. Women and their children receive their own room, healthy food, psychological help, legal advice and help in administrative tasks through the support of a social worker. The children have their own center with enough space to play and where they get help to improve in school but also learn about non-violent ways of communication. 

The foundation also maintains a Hotline with information about legal and psychological assistance and 5 small apartments in the center of Cuenca with very low rent for use by women who leave the shelter.

Over time, the foundation has served over 1200 women.

How you can help this non-profit

Inquire about helping with the following volunteer opportunities generally available:

  • Manage Facebook account
  • Website updates
  • Send email announcements
  • Update mailing list
  • Assist in occasional events.

Some activities require Spanish.

Your patronage of their small businesses is also appreciated.

Where to donate

Donate to Mujeres con Éxito via their website. Online donations are tax-deductible in the U.S. During the last two years public funding for the Foundation has been cut by more than 50%. So emergency funds are needed now.


University of Cuenca – Hospitality Sciences

Volunteer Opportunities Cuenca - University of Cuenca Hospitality Sciences
Students of the University of Cuenca’s Hospitality Sciences Department prepare for careers in the industry.

Overview 

The university’s Hospitality Sciences department teaches gastronomy and tourism. English is essential to these careers and most students do not have many opportunities to practice real conversations with native English speakersBuilding English language skills is an important goal to increase students’ confidence as they transition into professional work responsibilities.

How you can help this nonprofit

Volunteering at the University of Cuenca is a low-stress and fun way to meet and help Cuenca’s next wave of hospitality stars! Conversations for advanced level students with native English speakers from September 2022 through January 2023. Classes generally consist of 6 small groups of 5-7 students in monthly one-hour sessions. No formal teaching responsibility or experience is required.  The main requirement is that you can speak clearly and slowly without a strong regional accent.


Volunteering Considerations – The Fine Print

Below you will find some additional context for volunteering in Cuenca. 

These are NOT recommendations

We’ve featured some well-known and some lesser-known organizations and how you can contribute (in addition to money). But we are not recommending any of them in particular. And you will find other places to volunteer if you look. We published our list of nonprofits to help you start down the road to finding one that is right for you and to give you some basis for comparison along with some guidelines to evaluate your volunteering alternatives. 

Registered vs unregistered nonprofits

Registered

Some Ecuadorian charities/foundations are overseen by El Ministerio de Inclusión Económica y Social (MIES) and can be researched at El Directorio de Organizaciones Sociales where they are registered. 

Some are registered as US charities with IRS 501(C)(3) status, meaning they comply with tax laws so that donations may be deducted from your US income taxes. Research US charities at these websites Charity Navigator and Guidestar.

Some registered Ecuadorian foundations align with US nonprofits that process donations so donors may take advantage of US income tax deductions and so the local foundations can easily tap into a huge pool of US donors.  

All registered nonprofits (both countries) are required to operate by certain rules of governance and to produce financial statements to members of the public upon request. One big reason is to protect the public, volunteers and donors from supporting organizations that pose as nonprofits but funnel proceeds to the wrong people like founders, directors or excessive amounts to an employee(s). In both Ecuador and the US, abuses occur despite regulations, and looking at a nonprofit’s financial statements is a good first step in identifying potential problems. 

It makes no sense to donate your time or money to an organization that is benefiting its leaders more than its beneficiary clients. So, start by identifying the amount and percentage of expenses that are going to cover administrative costs vs. the same figures that go to the organization’s programs and their intended recipients. 

Unregistered

There are many Ecuadorian nonprofits that are not registered and are not required to comply with regulations or provide financials. They may not even have financials. This does not mean they are less worthy of your time or donations because there are lots of valid reasons to hold that status.

For example, it can cost $8,000 to officially form and register a nonprofit, and that money may be better spent on the beneficiaries. Some nonprofits are too new or informally organized, etc. 

So, we recommend that before you contribute in any way to an unregistered nonprofit, dig around extra hard for the information that matters to you. Ask its volunteers and leaders the questions that will satisfy your curiosity about the organization’s value to the community and the integrity of the organization and its people.

Pros and Cons of volunteering in Cuenca

Essentially, volunteering is working for an organization without pay that could provide rewards that make you feel good. Nonprofits differ with respect to organizational effectiveness and management expertise just like for-profit companies.

If you plan to commit a large chunk of time, try treating your volunteering search a bit like the search for a paid job. You are more likely to be happy with your volunteering choice. Even casual volunteering experiences will benefit from good research.

The list below synthesizes a number of other lists with the author’s experience. We strongly recommend that you draft and ask your own list of questions based on past work experience and incorporate the pros and cons that are important to you. 

Pros

  • Feelings of joy, relevance and self-esteem from helping others
  • A new sense of purpose
  • The experience of getting to know new people and forming friendships with both Cuencanos and expats
  • Gets you out of the house and your comfort zone
  • Encounter people, places and things you would never encounter in any other way.
  • Being part of a team – sense of community
  • Personal growth and learning new things
  • Fun

Cons

  • Without some conversational Spanish, you may not be a good fit for some volunteer work 
  • You will be asked to donate and probably also help raise money
  • Bothersome realities like disorganization, organizational politics, personality conflicts, lack of job definition or disagreeable co-workers or supervisors
  • A lack of “meaningful” assignments. Not all organizations are geared to give volunteers a meaningful experience. Nor do all of them have a well-organized volunteer “program”. But they DO need your help.
  • You may find yourself criticized by other expats or by Ecuadorians for trying to impose your home culture’s values on Ecuador and Ecuadorians.
  • It can be a lot more work than you thought it would be and it might not all be fun.
  • It can be uncomfortable to do something new while stretching and growing to perform a new set of tasks in a foreign culture.

Further reading

Websites that discuss the Pros and Cons of volunteering.  

And check out these Pros and Cons for Voluntourism:

Final words

There are many rewarding ways to contribute your time and talent to Cuenca’s organizations and they really need help. But it will certainly help you to do your homework before donating either your time or finances.

Look for opportunities based on how much you value the cause, who you’ll be helping, the thoroughness of the job definition, independence provided, the skills you enjoy sharing, the amount of time you have to contribute and the qualities you seek in an organization. 

We suggest meeting the leaders and asking hard questions. Find out everything you can from published and unpublished sources like government websites and friends who are already volunteering. 

And don’t be afraid to suggest new or additional ways to help out an organization that may benefit from your ideas and skills. Most of the leaders are stretched pretty thinly and if you listen to them, you will often find ways to backfill areas that are not being covered.

We’d love to hear about your experience if you’ve volunteered for any of the organizations included in this guide. Either leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Cuenca Yapas & Friends Facebook Group.

If you do volunteer for an organization in Cuenca we haven’t included, please feel free to reach out to us to start the process of potentially including them in this article too.

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