GeoVisions Blog

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How Volunteer Abroad Reviews Are Supposed To Work Part I

Posted by Randy LeGrant | Oct 1, 2012 10:05:00 AM

Volunteer Forever LogoThis Blog post (and the one that follows tomorrow) was written by Steve Weddle, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Volunteer Forever.  Steve Co-Founded Volunteer Forever after his volunteer trip to India.  The experience was life-changing.  Upon returning to the U.S. and realizing there are significant information and financial barriers that keep many people from volunteering abroad, Steve hatched the idea for Volunteer Forever.  There you can create a profile and start fundraising for your trip right away.  Find trips and review your experiences.

A few weeks ago, one of our partner organizations on Volunteer Forever received a terrible review (one out of five stars). The volunteer claimed they were given inaccurate information about their placement. As such, their pre-departure preparation and the materials they brought for their placement added little value to their trip. The volunteer made the best of the situation with the new placement, but seriously questioned the need for paying the intermediary organization.

This partner organization of ours is very new to the marketplace, so this negative review was devastating. In what I’m sure was a moment of panic, the director of the organization sent me an email asking me to delete the review. To be honest, I was pretty disturbed when I got this request, but was completely expecting it at some point. Those of you who know my story know that I started Volunteer Forever after my fair and honest review of a volunteer organization was deleted on another volunteer abroad reviews site (disclaimer: the other reviews site was NOT Go Overseas or Rate My Study Abroad).

The email looked something like this:

“I am trying to market my idea and have such good intentions and so I asked them to write a review and they did so and gave me a terrible review and only 1/5. I think this may destroy my opportunity to market. Can I please request from you 1 freebie and tell me how to remove this review off my page or tell me how to do it? I have made appropriate changes to ensure this will not happen again in moving forward! please (sic) do me this 1 favor if you could and I will never ask this sort of thing again.”

Marking online reviewsI have to assume the volunteer organization’s primary intention was not to engage in fraud. They claimed to make changes to their program and to better work with their in country partner organization to provide more reliable information to their volunteers. But, they still had this bad review to deal with. The organization perceived their future was in jeopardy and they probably didn’t clearly think through what the options were. Here’s what I wrote back:

“Thanks for reaching out and sorry to hear about your unsatisfied volunteer. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to delete that review. I actually started Volunteer Forever after I posted a fair and honest review of my volunteer abroad experience on another site and had it deleted the next day. To delete this negative review for you would undermine everything I believe in regarding honesty and transparency in the volunteer abroad industry.

Even though we can't delete the review for you, we have built in some functionality to handle situations like this. First, I encourage you to address the negative review publicly, by replying to it. Acknowledge your volunteer's dissatisfaction and pledge to improve your service. Lay out what you are doing to improve your service for future volunteers.

Second, I encourage you to reach out to this volunteer privately and offer some sort of consideration. I read their review and they indicated that the service you provided was not worth the program fee they paid. Perhaps you can refund their program fee as a way to make amends?

The reviewer has the capability to either edit their review (including the numerical rating component) or delete their review. There is a way for you to remove this negative review, but it will have to involve you directly engaging the volunteer and convincing them to remove or improve it.

In the end, directly addressing this unsatisfied volunteer is the best option for you to pursue. Even if I did delete the review, there's nothing preventing them from coming back and writing more negative reviews (and seriously questioning your integrity). You can recover from one bad review- recovering from a questioning of your business ethics is much, much harder.”

Stay tuned for the next post to see how the situation was resolved.

Written by Randy LeGrant

Randy is the Executive Director of the GeoVisions Foundation. He has spent the last 44 years managing organizations that send people abroad on cultural and educational exchanges.

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