Bringing International Volunteers to U.S. Orienteering Clubs

A great way to expand our clubs’ education mission is to host volunteer coaches from another country. This can be a valuable experience for the visitors, too. They can practice their English, experience our great orienteering maps and terrain, make American friends, and contribute to the growth of orienteering in the USA.

Volunteers made new programs possible at Navigation Games

Navigation Games (NG) in the greater Boston area is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to teaching children how to orienteer. NG hosted Juanma and Violeta for three months in the fall of 2017. We paid their travel expenses and invited them to live with our family. Violeta is on the Spanish WOC team, and brought her passion for training and racing. Juanma was previously on the Spanish JWOC team, and since then has studied physical education and sports training, and put on orienteering programs for hundreds of schoolchildren in Madrid each spring and fall. In Cambridge, we started three middle school teams and one high school team this fall. While the city paid school staff as official coaches, they had no orienteering experience, and so it was important for us to provide assistance to design the trainings and work with the children. We could not have done this without Juanma and Violeta. For younger children, the Spaniards co-taught three after-school classes for grades K-2 and 3-5. They helped us with our in-school programs, such as teaching 100 8th grade students orienteering skills and bringing them to the woods for a day of score-orienteering. They helped a high school outdoor wellness teacher develop and deliver a two-week orienteering curriculum. Finally, they helped us deliver an hour of instruction to wellness and physical educators at the annual Massachusetts conference (, bringing awareness of our sport and the upcoming Junior Nationals, to many teachers. Both Juanma and Violeta went through background checks administered by our organization as well as by the school system.

Finding volunteers

We are grateful to Greg Ahlswede for directly connecting us to these amazing young people. Greg and other American orienteers living abroad may be a good source of potential volunteers. In addition, the International Orienteering Federation provides a matching service for clubs and volunteers.

Regulations governing foreign volunteers

U.S. regulations do allow a charity to pay volunteers’ expenses incidental to their volunteering. The volunteer must not replace a paid position, and the volunteer must not sell goods or solicit donations.

Visitors planning to volunteer in the USA can come on a B-1 business visa, or through the Visa Waiver Program. The latter allows visa-free travel for up to 90 days for people from 38 countries. There is a useful article at about getting a U.S. visa to do volunteer work.
The USA Foreign Affairs Manual, section 9 FAM 402.2-5(C)(2), outlines the above information, and states that the sponsoring organization should provide a written statement including information identifying the volunteer, their address in the USA, and the anticipated duration of their assignment. This statement should be attached to the passport containing the visa and presented to the Department of Homeland Security officer at the port of entry.

The U.S. Department of Labor determines when it is allowable for an organization to accept the services of a volunteer instead of a paid employee, based on the Fair Labor Standards Act, and defines “volunteer” (Code of Federal Regulations, Title 29, Section 553.101).

—Navigation Games staff

posted 29 Nov 2017