How big is the active demand for orphanage volunteering?
Using our SEO expertise to increase knowledge for an important cause
Do really many people proactively demand to volunteer in orphanages abroad? Or are they more or less talked into doing voluntary work in these institutions that are harmful for the children? Do people think that orphanages in the Global North are still a thing? Our study on the search volume of terms that indicate the intend to do orphanage volunteering provides sometimes surprising answers.
Adieu-Ark-B Marketing is a multilingual digital agency specialising in international search engine marketing, that also manages its own online portals for responsible volunteering abroad that exclude orphanage projects: guidisto-volontariat.fr (French speaking portal) and wegweiser-freiwilligenarbeit.com (German-speaking portal).
This is why we are also active member of ReThink Orphanages, an international coalition working to prevent the placement of children in orphanages or other types of residential care institutions.
Table of contents
- Main Findings
- Full study download
- The pro-active demand for orphanage volunteering in a foreign country is very low
- It is likely that orphanage volunteering is primarily driven by the offer of placements in orphanages rather than by the volunteers themselves
- The study found a significant pro-active demand for orphanage volunteering in a user’s home country
- There is a clear lack of information about the fact that orphanages no longer exist (and why) in the Global North
* Too long, didn’t read
Decades of research have shown that residential care institutions such as orphanages are detrimental to children’s development and well-being regardless of how well they are-run. This has led to a global movement to encourage family-based care and shift away from all forms of support to residential care institutions, including – but not limited to – orphanage volunteering.
In blog posts, media, and even scientific research, volunteering in orphanages is often referred to as the most popular form of volunteering abroad, despite there being very little data to provide proof for this statement. In effect, we don’t know to what extent volunteers pro-actively demand to be placed in orphanages.
ReThink Orphanages decided to commission a study to assess the scale of the pro-active demand for orphanage volunteering. Since internet search engines play a key role in helping potential volunteers find their placement, the study would have to focus on the volume of search queries that indicate an intention to do orphanage volunteering in a foreign country.
The goal was to use our double expertise in search engine marketing and international volunteering to provide reliable and unbiased data to answer the question: How big is the active demand for orphanage volunteering?
Initial research indicated that significant discrepancies might exist from one country to another. The research gathered data in 5 different countries: the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia, France and Germany.
To establish the absolute and relative demand for orphanage volunteering, we compared:
- the number of active Internet users in each country with
- the search volume on Google of search queries that express a search intent of volunteering in an orphanage in a foreign country
Pro-active demand for orphanage volunteering is very different from country to country
The study found that the pro-active demand for volunteering in orphanages abroad is very different from country to country. As shown in the graph below, there is a significant gap between Australia and France, the two countries with the highest demand, and the UK and the USA, while the demand in Germany seems almost insignificant.
(We want to emphasise that this graph refers to searches per million (!) Internet users.)
Demand is on a low level, even in countries with relatively high demand
Even in the countries with the highest demand for orphanage volunteering abroad, this demand is quite modest, and much lower than we expected.
In order to put these numbers in perspective, we compared the search query “volunteer orphanage abroad” (and its translations into French and German) with some other searches relating to volunteering in a foreign country, such as “volunteer abroad”, “animal volunteering abroad” or “volunteer with children abroad”.
The estimated data confirmed that orphanage volunteering abroad is not a form of volunteering that is frequently searched for compared with other types of volunteering.
Only very few searches for mission trips and school / student trips
The data showed that mission trips to orphanages are largely a phenomenon limited to the USA and, to a much lesser extent, the United Kingdom and Australia. Some search volume exists but only on a very small scale compared to more general searches for mission trips.
No search volume was found for mission trip related queries in France or Germany.
School / student trips
No search volume was found for queries that indicate the search intent to send a school or university group to an orphanage abroad.
Demand for orphanage volunteering at home
When we cleansed the data provided by the participating websites (see below for our methodology and the list of participating websites), we quickly discovered the high number of search queries (and the corresponding search volume) with the clear search intent to volunteer at an orphanage in the user’s home country. This was the case in Australia, France, the UK, and the US, but not in Germany.
➤ Orphanage volunteering is driven by the volunteering offer
Both measured and estimated search volume data shows that there is only little pro-active demand for orphanage volunteering abroad in Australia, France, the UK, and the USA. In Germany, there is almost no demand.
We have no knowledge of research providing data on the number of volunteers in orphanages in the Global South, but there is enough anecdotical evidence to assume that a significant number of volunteers from these countries do volunteer in orphanages abroad, including volunteers from Germany.
This leads us to conclude that orphanage volunteering is primarily driven by the offer of placements in orphanages.
Volunteers rarely seem to have the clear intention to do voluntary work in an orphanage from the beginning. We believe that it is the availability of orphanage projects and the encouraging arguments developed by orphanages and volunteer organisations that influence volunteers to opt for orphanage volunteering.
A typical itinerary could be
- The prospective volunteer starts the search for a project without the intention to volunteer in an orphanage using quite broad web searches such as “volunteer abroad”.
- While discovering different volunteering opportunities, the person comes across an orphanage placement.
- The arguments developed by the volunteer organisation or the orphanage itself (if it recruits volunteers without intermediaries) convince the prospective volunteer that it is a good idea to help orphans as a volunteer.
- The person signs up to do voluntary work in an orphanage without having intended do so in the beginning.
“This study shows that if there was no offer, very few volunteers would spontaneously develop the idea to volunteer in an orphanage.”
Therefore, convincing volunteer organisations to divest from offering placements in orphanages seems to be even more important than educating the public on the negative impact of orphanage volunteering. This study shows that if there was no offer, very few volunteers would spontaneously develop the idea to volunteer in an orphanage.
➤ Orphanage volunteering is favoured by the general presence of orphanages in the collective mind
“Orphanages are no longer a thing in the Global North for good reasons” is an argument that is often used by the movement against orphanage volunteering.
It has been a surprise that a higher demand for orphanage volunteering abroad seems to correlate with an equally high demand for orphanage volunteering at home.
This research wasn’t designed to investigate this phenomenon in detail, so further research is necessary to confirm it.
But we suppose that the openness to volunteer in an orphanage is positively influenced if orphanages in general are perceived as
- an existing thing in the home country.
- something positive.
“ (…) educating the public on the absence of orphanages at home and the reasons for this absence appears to be an important aspect of making orphanage volunteering less desirable.”
However, this study found that there seems to be a significant number of people in the US, UK, Australia and France that believes that local orphanages still exist. The pro-active demand for orphanage volunteering at home shows that orphanages still have a powerful aura in the collective mind.
For this reason, educating the public on the absence of orphanages at home and the reasons for this absence appears to be an important aspect of making orphanage volunteering less desirable.
For more in-depth information on our methodology, refer to the full study.
Data on internet users
We used the figures provided by Our World in Data, that combines data of the World Bank and the UN. They found that the number of Internet users in 2017 (most recent available data, 2016 for the UK and USA) was:
Data on search volume
We decided to rely on data from January 1st to April 30th 2019 available in the Google Search Console (GSC) of relevant websites that consistently appear on the first search results page for queries related to orphanage volunteering.
Websites that provided data
Since GSC data is not publicly available and only accessible to the website’s owner, we asked data from websites that appeared for all or many of the search terms (or their translation in French and German) with an average position of 10 or better in the search results:
- Australia: projects-abroad.com.au
- France: guidisto-volontariat.fr
- Germany: wegweiser-freiwilligenarbeit.com
- United Kingdom: projects-abroad.co.uk and savethechildren.org.uk
- United States of America: projects-abroad.org
All website owners are members of the ReThink Orphanages coalition.
We would like to explicitly thank the website owners for their kind collaboration. This research wouldn’t have been possible without their contributions.
Relevant search queries
The participating websites were asked to provide impressions data for all search queries that included
- For the English-speaking countries Australia, UK, USA: “orphan”, which picked up all search queries including the word “orphan”, but also “orphans” or “orphanage”
- For France: “orphelin”, which picked up all search queries including the word “orphelin” (orphan), but also “orphelins” (plural of orphelin) and “orphelinat” (orphanage)
- For Germany: “waise”, which picked up all search queries including the word “waise” (orphan), but also “waisen” (plural of waise) and “waisenhaus” (orphanage)
Included search queries
Determining the user’s search intent was not always easy or unambiguous.
The easiest call was for search queries that clearly express the intention to volunteer in an orphanage in a foreign country such as
- volunteer in africa orphanage
- volunteer orphanage abroad
- volunteering in romanian orphanages
- mission trips to africa orphanages
Additionally, we considered that the following search queries expressed the desired search intent:
We discovered during the research that, in all countries except Germany, there is a significant pro-active demand to volunteer in orphanages at home. This led to the insight that search queries missing a clear indication on where a user wants to volunteer cannot automatically be considered as queries with the search intent to volunteer abroad.
Using data from the UK where we had two participating websites, we established the following search volumes:
Subsequently, search queries lacking a geographical indication were therefore only considered for 61% as expressing the intent to volunteer abroad. These queries included:
Excluded search queries
From the raw data provided by the participating websites, we excluded the search queries that contained “orphan” (or its translation) but in our opinion did not express the search intent of volunteering in an orphanage abroad.
Missed search queries and search volume
Google uses hundreds of ranking factors to determine its search results and no single website can appear on the first search results page for all relevant search queries.
As we have worked with only one or two websites per country, we need to consider the established search volume as a good approximation and not the total search volume in a country.
The homogenous way to obtain the raw data ensures nonetheless a satisfying comparability.