Paying to volunteer abroad: What is my money used for?

You’re willing to contribute to a better cause by volunteering abroad and after browsing through various programs you start asking yourself: Why do organisations charge program fees? Why do I have to pay if I’m working for free? 

To make it short: paying to volunteer abroad enables the project to make the most out as the program fees will cover all costs that will arise with your arrival. What that means in detail is summed up in the following table:

Operational duties

  • Administrative tasks
  • Volunteer recruitment
  • Human resources
  • Local Employment

Resources for volunteers

  • In-county assistance
  • Transport
  • Board & Lodge
  • On-site support

Program related resources

  • Trips & Excursions
  • Work Equipment
  • Training
  • Supervising
To get a more detailed knowledge on how the project is using your money, continue reading for more information:

Why your contribution makes a difference

Contributing to a social project or paying the required program fees doesn’t just support the organisation itself – moreover it indirectly supports the social cause. Through your financial dedication you can ensure that the organisation is able to focus on their actual work to commit to their social cause and doesn’t have to spend their time looking for sponsors or other ways to raise funds.

Support the on-going development of the Project

program fees As in most cases, you will probably work with a small organisation that has to fund the program’s activities with just a few resources. Without donations or the help of volunteers, most projects would be in financial distress quite quickly, as they’re generally non-profit and therefore don’t reinforce capital.

Furthermore, the program fees paid by the volunteer will help to support the program’s social cause. Of course your actual work as a volunteer is important at this point as well. But picture the following scenario: You’ve chosen a wildlife conservation program. As a lion can eat up to 40 kg of meat per day, the project has to provide high amounts of food each day for every rescued animal. To ensure that your encouragement pays off in a good way for the animals, all necessary resources have to be available.

Sustainability of the project

program fees for trainingTo ensure that an organisation maintains sustainable, it’s important to think about the time before and after your stay. To provide a constantly high program quality, it’s indispensable to employ local staff to ensure the proceeding of the tasks in schools or conservation centers that you did during your stay and furthermore, to manage administrative tasks that come along.

Additionally, the organisation has to take care of the on-going recruitment of new volunteers, who are eager to contribute to their social cause. This mainly includes advertising, brochures or customer service.

What you will get for your money

Because the volunteer experience should provide mutual benefit, you’re not just paying to support the maintenance of the project, you’re supporting yourself as well. Besides a bunch of new experience and skills that you will develop, most programs will organise and manage your daily routine so that you don’t have to worry about board and lodge or getting help if you find yourself in a risky situation.

Supervising and training for volunteers

training in exchange for program feesWhether you’ll stay two days or twenty weeks at the project site – you do cost money. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if you’re a first time volunteer or an experienced one already. You’ll definitely need special training and advising, which is especially geared to the prevailing tasks that you’ll be a part of. To guarantee high quality training, the organisation will have to provide experienced staff as well as all the coordination and direction to the project as a daily task. According to which program you chose, trips and excursions are included in the program fees. For instance, there are some programs that travel from town to town with volunteers to rebuild derelict schools or community buildings. If you’re participating in a program where a certain equipment (field glasses, research apparatuses…)is needed, it will be provided by the project.

Meals, Accommodation, Local Transport

accommodation for program feesTo make your arrival and your overall planning less stressful, many organisations supply food, accommodation, local transport as well as Internet access. Usually meals will be provided three times a day. The type of accommodation varies from project to project. In general you’ll be staying with a host family or in an apartment at the project site. Therefore, you can entirely focus on your volunteer experience and don’t need to prepare a meal after an exhausting day at your project site. Check the breakdown of fees in program the description to see what exactly is included and compare it to different programs.

Benefits for the volunteer

Program feesOf course you will contribute to the work of organisations in a financial and physical way, but no worries, you’ll get lots of things in return. Because volunteering should be mutual, your dedication will be paid in experience. A volunteer trip can be seen as an exchange of knowledge and experience to a social cause. As you’ll offer your expertise in certain situations, the local staff will too. Learn how to handle things with limited resources and creative approaches. If you’re still not sure where your future career might lead you, volunteering is a great way to gain experience in a field of your interest. Even if you’re not directly looking for career experience yet, it gives you the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication, project planning or task management.

After all, there is no reason to worry that you can’t afford volunteering abroad as all costs can add up quite quickly. To give you some relief: the longer you stay, the cheaper it gets. As it’s always better to welcome long-term volunteers, the first week is more expensive than the following ones. But even if you just like to stay for one week, there are various opportunities for you to fund the required program fees for your social journey.

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14 Comments

  1. This is a very useful article. Clear and easy to understand. Having been involved in volunteer travel for the last decade these questions do come up but less frequently than before. I think it would be equally useful to think of these things when buying or using services not related to volunteering, it should be known where the money goes and who keeps it.

    Sam – Volontärresa

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  3. says: Heardle Game

    This information is quite helpful. Simple to comprehend and clear. I believe it would also be beneficial to keep these things in mind when purchasing or utilizing services that are unrelated to volunteering; it is important to understand where the money goes and who keeps it.

  4. I have worked for 7 different charities in India. I did not need to go through an organisation like yours. I went straight to the actual charity. I was offered free accommodation and food sometimes and a few times I accepted this but I prefer to cover my own accommodation, food and all expenses. I always contribute financially to the charity I work for too. I feel paying the amounts you are charging denigrates the work the volunteers do. I am an Australian school teacher and this is what I usually do. Otherwise I just see what needs to be done in an organisation and do it. This includes presentation technique training for the staff who have international contacts. I think anyone teaching English should have both English as their first language and teaching qualifications. It is great to be able to add variety to the long and often arduous school days that so many, even younger, children seem to have but it is also important to be able to teach by good example and to develop a relationship with these children. In my opinion there should be a lower limit of around a month for any volunteer. These are barely my thoughts. Regards

    1. says: Linda Anderson

      Thanks so much for your comments, Sandra.

      I agree in most parts! Especially as an experienced volunteer, you might have the contacts and know-how to organize your volunteer trip which is great. Researching those takes time though, and isn’t always easy to distinguish well-laid-out programs. We want to help people actually find and get in touch with local organizations. The same goes for pricing which is set by the local partner organization. In the end, paying for your own food & accommodation might be comparable to paying the organization and letting them organize this for you. Totally depends on your travel style, of course. Autonomy and initiative are two great features for volunteers to have (or develop). This way, the projects, as well as the volunteers, will get the most out of it.
      Especially for working with children and teaching, all our programs already include a minimum stay of 4 weeks as outlined here: https://intercom.help/volunteerworld/en/articles/767945-our-ethical-standards-for-humanitarian-programs
      Thanks again for your thoughts!

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