Almost Fearless

Should You Pay to Volunteer Abroad?

I was reading an article this week from the Guardian UK called Before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do which details the negative effects of paid voluntourism, namely it creates a demand for a sort of “misery porn” and to fill that demand, unscrupulous people will trot out orphans, pocket the cash and perhaps even make the situation worse than if you had done nothing at all.


I have this guest post from Shannon Whitehead, which goes into her experience with the entire “pay to volunteer” market.  It’s an interesting topic, because while I think the Guardian did a great job talking about it, from reading the comments, it seems like there is a lot of vitriol against the backpacker who wants to give back.  I’m not convinced that it’s entirely that black and white, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

volunteering, pay, ethics, guest post,

This guest post is by Shannon Whitehead from All of Us Revolution.

When I set off to travel for the better part of two years I knew I wanted to take some time to volunteer. The Peace Corps was appealing but because of the extreme time commitment, I decided to look elsewhere. While living in Australia, I spent a lot of time researching the next phase of my trip and the time I wanted to allot to living in Southeast Asia.

It seemed as though every volunteer program I came across required a substantial (sometimes unbelievable) payment. I couldn’t begin to calculate how it would cost 3,000 dollars to live in Cambodia for two months (even if breakfast was included). I exhausted myself trying to find a volunteer opportunity I could afford and eventually came to the conclusion that I would just fly over there and figure it out when I landed.

A few weeks before I was due to fly to Viet Nam, a man in Siem Reap, Cambodia replied to my email inquiry about teaching English at his orphanage. I would need to find my own housing and pay for my meals and transport, but he invited me to volunteer for “free,” pending I gave a small donation that would go directly to the children. Two hundred dollars for two weeks of volunteering seemed like a bargain at that point, and so I agreed. It ended up being an incredible experience, and I never missed the money, but it didn’t convert me into an advocate of paid volunteering or “voluntourism.”

When I went to live in South Africa for eight months I decided to do things differently. I opted to go back to my original plan by finding a volunteer opportunity once I arrived. Again, I went to exhaustive measures, seeming to send out an email of interest to every nonprofit in Cape Town with a website. It came to a point where I considered knocking door-to-door. Then one day, out of over 15 emails I sent out, I finally received one reply.

It was the only one I needed.

If you work hard enough at something and have faith that it will eventually work out, then something will always fall into your lap. I ended up signing onto a writing and photography project in the townships that couldn’t have been more perfect for me. Had that not worked out, I have no doubts that something else would have come along.

The point is: you really don’t need to pay to volunteer. Even if I had to knock on doors, I’m sure there would have been at least one organization that would welcome my help. It’s one thing if the airfare, housing and meals are included in the total cost (and it works out to be around the same amount you would spend living there on your own), but in most cases, I advise to hold out for the nonprofit that is really a nonprofit.

Most of us decide to volunteer our time because we can’t afford to volunteer our money.

Here are a few organizations that understand the same sentiment.

About the Author

Shannon Whitehead is the co-founder of All of Us Revolution.  About the site, “We created All of Us to share our journey as we take off on a global adventure to start a socially-sustainable business. But it’s not just about the two of us, it’s about ALL of us. We know there are others out there who want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves or the corporation we work for.”

Pic: Terminalnomadphotography

Before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • I struggle with a lot of the pay-to-volunteer programs. While I understand their need to underwrite the expense of my time there I wonder about the good that is being done versus the money that is being made. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are plenty of up front really-making-change organizations (and I plan on checking out the ones Shannon has mentioned) but…like I said, I struggle.

    • Big, western-based volunteer firms spend only 30 per cent or less of the fees they collect on services in the actual host country. High salarries and overheads (incuding profits) account for the balance. We know because our locally based company has been the local operator for some of the biggest in Europe. Suggestion: find an experienced firm based entirely in Thailand to provide only the services you need.

  • I’ve had the experience of working both paid & unpaid volunteering positions, and I’m still not exactly sure which one is the best option.
    When paying for a volunteer position, you often get a lot of perks that you wouldn’t get should you be doing it for free — for example tours, language lessons, etc. The first time I volunteered abroad I paid to work with a program in Nepal. In the end, I had a pretty good experience but I still had questions about where my money was going exactly (for example, the director of the program lived in a huge mansion in Kathmandu while the children in the orphanage where I worked all had one pair of shoes). Plus, as an experienced traveler, I didn’t find the organized tours and other events were all that necessary for me — I just wanted to volunteer, not learn Nepalese!
    These days I don’t have the money, so I’ve been volunteering for free. These programs are a lot less organized and provide a lot less support (so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them for the newby traveler) but they do give you the experience of volunteering without charging you for it. Just as with the paid volunteering, there is a possibility that the work you’re doing isn’t necessarily for “good” but just so that someone can get some free labor for their project. You might end up sanding a sailboat (like I did for 4 weeks in Malaysia), but, hey, you won’t get charged a dime to do it!
    I guess it all depends on your budget and how much support & organization you’re looking for in a program.

    • You’re clearly worried more about your experience than anything else. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with feeling good about yourself for volunteering, but by sanding a boat for free in Malaysia, you’ve just taken a job from a Malaysian.

  • One of the biggest complaints I heard in Africa from volunteer organizers and locals was that the paid volunteers are often more hinderance than help unless they’re willing to put in 3, ideally 6, months to make training worthwhile.

    I have also heard that this sort of volunteering takes away paying jobs from locals who may do simple jobs (like cleaning). Of course, I think volunteering is great, but I feel that a lot of the short term volunteer tourism going on now often serves to help the volunteer more than local society.

  • I just read the Guardian article you referred to and it sounds like the report on voluntourism was pretty damning. From what I read of the issues with voluntourism it also sounds like volunteering for free isn’t the solution either. Although I’m very grateful to you for bringing this issue to my attention I’m afraid you may have missed the point.

    I recommend anyone who’s read this far go ahead and also read both The Guardian article and the actual report summary

    If you don’t have the time or inclination, I’ve copied and pasted what the report authors have said are the important points:

    – Every available resource should be utilised to support families and extended kin to enable them to provide high quality care for their children. Out-of-home residential care should not be an option when support can be given to families to take care of their own children.
    – Children out of parental care have a right to protection, including against experiences that are harmful for them. In particular, they have a right to be protected against repeated broken attachments as a result of rapid staff turnover in orphanages, exacerbated by care provided by short-term volunteers.
    – Welfare authorities must act against voluntourism companies and residential homes that exploit misguided international sympathies to make profits at the extent of children’s well-being.
    – Lastly, well-meaning young people should be made aware of the potential consequences of their own involvement in these care settings, be discouraged from taking part in such tourist expeditions, and be given guidelines on how to manage relationships to minimise negative outcomes for young children.

  • Michael,

    All good points.

    To be fair to Shannon, she wrote her article two months ago, and I only posted it today after reading that Guardian UK article, which I thought was a good tie-in. I wanted to bring people’s attention to the issue, and I thought sharing Shannon’s experiences would be timely.

    Her post is not a direct commentary on the Guardian piece and I apologize if I gave that impression.

  • Hi Christine,

    Thanks for your reply. Conversations in text are tricky aren’t they!? My comment wasn’t directed at Shannon, as I understand she wasn’t responding to the research report or the Guardian article. I was concerned that the way her guest post was introduced set up a false dichotomy between paid voluntourism and free voluntourism – paid having all sorts of negative repercussions which free voluntourism isn’t prone too.

    Only one of their findings applies to only paid and not free voluntourism and I feel it does them an immense diservice to imply that this is the solution. Unfortunately free voluntourism is also prone to many of the pitfalls they mention in the report.

    I understand it simply tied in nicely with the article and you absolutely have brought peoples’ attention to the issue – kudos, seriously! I just wanted to make it crystal clear to anyone who’s interested that it isn’t a free vs paid voluntourism issue (although the Guardian article did spin it this way too) – the problem is much more complex.

  • I got scared out of volunteering due to the high cost associated with some of these experiences, that didn’t even include the flight. I understand some opportunities take away from locals or require much training but I’m sure there are plenty still yet that could be fulfilled and are needed. Then again for all that, if you want to make a difference and volunteer without a large cost associated with it, why not check out your local charities?

  • A wonderful discussion here. Thank you Shannon for sharing your experience and Michael for bringing some great points and linkage to the table. This is very timely for me as I am contemplating volunteer opportunities this winter.

    Cornelius makes perhaps the best point by asking us to consider volunteering at home. I know that Seattle has no shortage of worthy charities and I feel I should address the needs of my community as well as consider volunteering abroad.

    great post!

  • Holy mackerel.
    Sharon’s note was a great, contrarian piece. That Guardian article was heart-wrenching.

    Thank you Christine for providing us with both.


    p.s. I’m writing about voluntourism as an alternative to travel. Boy, am I glad I saw this before finishing.

  • Very important topic here and I’m glad it’s being discussed. I especially agree with the last sentence and that’s why I’m always on the lookout for volunteer programs that don’t have a fee. I always thought it was easier to find those opportunities once I arrived in a country and then you can actually determine how grass roots the organization is and that that you will actually be helping the people you intend to help, rather than just doing something for yourself.

  • As with most things, the ‘good’ behind volunteering is not a black and white issue, which is what I think Michael was trying to get at. It’s impossible to simply say, paid volunteering is bad and unpaid volunteering is good.

    If I had not paid the 200 dollars to volunteer in Cambodia when I did, the 16 kids in the orphanage, as well as the neighborhood kids, would have gone without an English teacher for another couple months until the next volunteer was due to arrive. On the flip side, I watched a group of American college students waltz in at lunch time every day to ‘volunteer’ for an hour when they were clearly more of a distraction than helpful. I later found out they were part of a paid volunteer organization, and were basically paying the orphanage to make themselves feel good.

    People choose to volunteer because they want to help make the world a better place. The point is to do your research. If you’re going with a paid program then try to talk to the people you’ll be volunteering with directly. Get testimonials from past volunteers. Know where your money is going. You already have the heart, but you have to have the responsibility too.

  • Like Megan said above, after working (paid employee) for a nonprofit in India that works with the leprosy affected, the paid volunteers were sometimes more of a hindrance. They interrupted the daily flow of activities (at the school for children), and turned the leprosy colonies into a circus or tourist attraction.

    We’ve never paid to volunteer, but we’ve always done it where ever we’ve traveled to. Sometimes we spearhead our own project, other times we just find others to work with. It’s always easier to network when you are on the ground.

  • I think the question we are really asking is “How can I volunteer and make a difference?”, regardless of the pay/don’t pay aspect.

    I think the answer to that is pretty simple: you have to spend at least a couple months doing the same volunteer job to make sure that the overhead cost of you being there is exceeded by the volunteer work you are doing.

    When my wife and I volunteered in Honduras, we only did so because she was in desperate need of technical help and I could provide that for her. While we were there the Executive Director flat out told us that she doesn’t accept mission trips anymore because the cost and effort of hosting a group of foreigners is simply not worth it. For her, it would be better if they just taken the cost of their flights and accommodation and directly donated it to the organization because that would benefit the local people more.

    So, if you’re going to volunteer abroad make a long-term commitment! Not only will you get more out of it, you will be helping the organization a lot more.

  • Thanks for all the great comments. I’m learning a lot. I did tons of volunteering in my 20s but I haven’t done any while traveling and it certainly gives me food for thought.

    I’m sure a lot of people have considered paying to volunteer… I know I have. I don’t think it’s 100% evil… in fact there is one organization in Chiang Mai that is doing fantastic work, and a lot of long term volunteers are working with them, but they also have one person paying for her time there. They honestly use the money to fund the mission.

    Like Kyle said, I think it’s about knowing the organization more than pay or not pay.

    Thanks again everyone!

  • I’ve often, often struggled with this as well.

    It seems that a paid volunteer position (esp if there are comfortable perks) might be better suited to a first-time traveler who is a bit gun-shy about going door-to-door. However, I think once you’ve got some experience traveling internationally, it would be far easier to make it on your own, and volunteer for free on the side.

    Glad you posted this!

  • This is an interesting and important debate. Like you, Christine, I’m not convinced that the solutions are black and white here. As Shannon mentioned above, the most important thing is always to do your research. Not every pay-to-volunteer organization is bad and not every free volunteering opportunity is good. We hear from people all the time who have positive pay-to-volunteer experiences as long as they are matched with a solid, reputable organization. In considering voluntourism as a whole, I think you have to acknowledge that most voluntourists are travelers first and volunteers second. It takes time and effort to become informed.

    Thanks, Shannon for a great post, and everyone else for your comments! An enjoyable discussion.

  • Agreed! Nice writeup of your personal experiences. I hope when people read this they see that it is very possible to show up in a place, ask around and find a great place to volunteer. Sure, you might have to pay you own food and accommodation but if you were volunteering in your hometown, the situation would be the same.

    The pay-to-volunteer market exists to cater to people who are too scared to do things on their own, their worried parents, and also to people with very little time to commit. There’s a market for it and there will always be people willing to pay.

    For the rest of us with more time and a sense of adventure, it’s great to know that it can be done with a bit of initiative.

    I will say that paying to cover accommodation, food and transportation costs is reasonable to me. It’s up to each person to decide what amount is fair. I would never want to be a burden on the people I’m trying to help.

    Not to pimp myself but I’ve written an ebook about volunteering that you can check out here:

  • Some great discussion points here. I think that the thing with paid volunteering is you really need to see where that money is going.I always think that it is better to wait till you are in a place you are considering to volunteer so you can email and then meet with the different organisations. See what your gut instinct is on the people you meet. Try and speak to past volunteers and get their thoughts as well.

  • Interesting stuff. I volunteered in Mexico twice when I was younger through a church mission trip, and I don’t think it cost much. I am very interested in volunteering in Africa, but I too have been shocked upon doing research and finding out that organizations charge hundreds and thousands of dollars for this. I talked to Jeff Jung of Career Break Secrets, and he told me that he has had luck by approaching organizations directly rather than going through these placement companies. Some placement companies require you to pay tons of work at monkey sanctuaries. Jeff approached Monkeyland in South Africa directly and got to skip all that. Glad that strategy worked for Shannon, too. I’m definitely going to try that in the future!

  • Do your research. It’s the best advice I can give. Find out how the program is run, where the money goes, and talk to volunteers who’ve participated to get their honest (informed) perspectives. I’m an alumnae of a pay-to-volunteer-program in South America that was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

    For over four decades, this non-profit has sent more than 20,000 volunteers to thousands of communities in Latin America.

    Although it cost a few thousand dollars to participate in the program, I was required to interview, complete 9 months of training as a health worker (prior to departure), study Spanish for 2 years to achieve conversational language skills, and earn all of the money through a yearlong series of community fund-raising activities and charitable grant donations.

    The program costs included round-trip international airfare, food and lodging with local host families for a summer, international medical insurance, in-country project staff to provide supervision and liaison with local government agencies, and all project related supplies.

    Although they offer various programs in each country, I chose to build flush-latrines for 60 families in remotes villages in the Andes Mountains to improve community sanitation, while also teaching dental hygiene to the children in local schools, and educating villagers on contaminated drinking water and teaching oral rehydration therapy (ORT) during a cholera epidemic that was spreading in Ecuador.

    It was the hardest, toughest job I ever loved. And yes, many of the alumni went on to volunteer in other countries and some joined the Peace Corps, as a result of their positive experience.

    I hope my firsthand account of a pay-to-volunteer-abroad program helps.

    ~cheers, @hiptraveler

  • Oh thank you for this list! I too have had the hardest time finding volunteer programs that aren’t costing me thousands of dollars to do something good for others. This is a great list! Thank you.

  • Great article. I am a strong believer in the fact that you don’t have to pay to volunteer. In fact some of these spots are new to me so I am going to add them to my no cost/low cost volunteer page on my site.

    I think half the time if you pay to volunteer you are probably better off just giving the money directly to the people that need it. But it really depends on the circumstance.

  • Generally speaking, the number one beneficiary of volunteering for free is the volunteer — and it shouldn’t be that way.

    As indicated by some of the comments above, volunteering can be a great experience, but as Kyle points out, unless you’re planning on sticking around for at least a couple of months, your volunteering can actually be a cash and skill drain on the organisation. Also, as Michael says, kids deserve to be protected from all sorts of things — there’s some very good reasons why orphanages in many/most countries don’t let totally unscreened adults interact with the kids.

  • Thanks for the mention on the list (

    Paying to volunteer is an interesting subject. I understnad the arguments on both sides. It is true that short term international volunteers can be a hindrance for organizations. I am currently volunteering in Peru with Right to Play. I am only here for two months, but they have specific work for me so it is working out well.

  • I think Shannon’s approach of finding somewhere to offer your services when you arrive is a sound one – you can then judge how best to help and see whether you can make a denuine difference. In the UK there’s a big market for Gap year experiences which include some volunteer travel. I’ve always been amazed how it could cost £2000-3000 to fund an individual for a relatively short period when they could probably travel independently for a lot less.
    However, I think some of that cost is to cover the security net of travelling through an organisation where you can get help if things go wrong – something that many anxious parents of an 18 year old let loose in the world are willing to pay a premium for.

  • I also read the Guardian article with great interest. As a tiny grassroots organisation in Colombia, working with poor children, we at Mariposas Amarillas find that a lot of our volunteers appreciate the flexibility we offer – they can work full time or part time, for a week, a month or a year. And we only charge them a $50 fee. The reason we do this is a)We depend 100% on volunteers to keep our project going, with no paid staff at all; b) We believe that when someone comes to work with our project, even for a week, they take something away that can reap benefits later on – they might come back for longer at a later date, or come up with a great fundraising idea for us when they go home; and c)it’s the best way for us to attract volunteers without a marketing budget, in what is actually a quite competitive space. We believe that every one of our volunteers has the capacity to make a difference, no matter how much they pay or how long they stay.
    Without our volunteers, we could not exist, and our kids would literally have no other options. I challenge anyone to come and visit our project and still assert that the volunteers get more out of it than the children do.

  • When I left university I thought about volunteering, until I saw that you have to PAY to do it. The whole point of volunteering is you’re doing good for other people and let’s face it, it takes time and effort. So not only are you working hard but you’re paying someone else money to do that work yourself. Doesn’t make any sense to me.

  • This post rings a bell. A big disgusting bell I heard for a long time before I came to Thailand when I was trying to find a place where people needed my help and would not need me to give them money before I could help them. I looked at dosens of programs, and I thought to myself “is it possible that I have nothing that can help someone in need?”. Being 24 and backpacking, giving money was not an option, and even if I had money I would not want to pay to volunteer. I mean it’s right there in the title. VOLUNTEER. I have skills, I have time, I have passion, I have heart, I have love… surely someone out there needs abit of that.
    Then my friend told me about this foundation in Thailand called the Isara foundation that takes on volunteers for free, and give them a bed (not an actual bed mind you, that would not fit in my backpack). So I decided to go, and I am so glad I did. I get to teach english to Thai kids 12 hours a week (although you only need to teach 5hours, but it is so inspiring), and I know I am making a difference in some of those kid’s lives.
    I met this other volunteer at Isara who started volunteering when she was younger with Habitat for Humanity in Africa, and she came back disgusted. She had to fundraise a couple of thousand dollars and later found out that virtually none of this money actually went to the locals. The program also included actuvities such as bungy jumping etc !! I mean, clearly that’s what starving children need… So yea, I’m really not a believer in paying programs and it is worth researching the organisation you want to volunteer for… remember that volunteering is not a resort holiday and that if the organization is acting like a travel agency, they are probably not doing that much good on site.

  • I volunteered in Dharamsala as an assistant art therapist with a wonderful program called Art Refuge — they help Tibetan refugee children adjust to life in India. It was a great experience in every way, and I felt welcomed and appreciated — and I could see the love and care we gave to the children really changed them and helped them heal.

    I echo the comments about doing a lot of research ahead of time. I applied to Art Refuge because it was so highly recommended by ex-volunteers. And I have to say, they put me through an application process that was more rigorous than any job I have applied for!

    I also want to add that doing research includes looking within yourself, asking yourself why you want to volunteer, and also what would be the right fit for you. Be honest with yourself about your tolerance for roughing it, physical labour, culture shock and the inevitable emotional challenges.

    Thanks for starting this discussion, Christine

  • Good article. It’s easy to feel jaded when researching volunteer abroad programs. Volunteerism has gotten to feel like a “privilege” that only white collar & people over 50 can afford. But it also feels like the orgs are centered around vountourism; they’ve just veiled their donation requests. I used to work for a non-profit & the fees many of these orgs charge are equivalent to the grants we’d apply for & donations of our semi-affluent clients…

    When I researched my gap year, much of the result turned up frustration & these types of orgs. In the end, I turned to teaching English abroad for a simple solution.

    You’re right about faith too. My students are ‘very’ privileged in comparison to those I originally wanted to work with, BUT in our city, my school is in the low-income sector. To work w/ these kids feels like a blessing. In a way, I’m still doing what I originally intended; I’m just getting paid a salary & free housing for it!

  • I’ve actually been meaning to write about my experience with paying to volunteer at an animal clinic in Thailand. My experience was mostly good. I did a lot of research beforehand to make sure I was working with a non profit volunteer program (there are so many for profit volunteer placement agencies its insane!) There were times when I wondered if I was helping at all and in that case I found an appropriate job for myself (throwing a fundraiser rather than administering vaccines, which the vet could do herself faster).

    While I wouldn’t do it again, it was perfect for me at the time. I was 19 and terrified of traveling alone and I would never have had the support of my parents, on whom I was dependent for college tuition, had I not gone with some sort of organized program. And now a few years they nor I bat an I when I announce my latest adventures 🙂

  • Some really great comments here. I am an avid traveler and when encountering these organizations offering volunteer opportunities for pay I had some doubts about their role.

    My major disagreement with them is in principle. Volunteering or helping others in need is basic human activity. It defies any modern convention and is in no need of improvement. It is just something we do. In an earthquake or other disaster we rush to the aid of the affected. It is surreal to envision a world where before we can help someone in need we must pay first for that privilege. It is like having to pay a third party to breath. We just don’t need a middle man here.

    I believe it is a privilege to help others, and I think a great many of us feel a desire to make the world a better place. However, it seems like the scenario we are discussing here is exploiting that desire and the situation of those in need to make a fast buck.

    There may be situations where pay to help organizations are doing a good service, but I am doubtful. Perhaps I am too jaded but I just feel there is a fundamental problem with turning our desires to do good in the world to money making opportunities. Additionally, the price they charge is prohibitive. So I can’t even afford to help anyone at these prices.

    Thanks for the suggestions on doing work outside of these parasitic entities. I also plan to teach English in disaffected areas through out the world when I graduate next year and while I am in these other countries I will stay open to volunteering opportunities.

  • Hi this is a great post. I totally agree, you don’t have to be a millionaire to do something good that makes a difference. I personally believe volunteering our time is more worthwhile than our money. I would like to suggest, great site if you want to do something meaningful on your next vacation.

  • Im a little but gobsmacked by this I had a hair brained idea that it might be nice to do some good and volunteer my services somewhere……I never thought for a minute that I would have to pay them to let me help them!!!!! Maybe I’ll rethink and put my time elsewhere who know maybe some one out there will be more grateful of my time than my money 🙂

  • Well, that is one long string of ‘mostly’, positive posts. Christine, you are worthy of an award they have yet to put the proper name to. Here I was, looking to leave home, do some good for mankind and now….I don’t know! I despise the pay to volunteer thing. Volunteer and pay? How diametrically opposed can those words be in this scenario? Like going to the Soup kitchen at Christmas to help feed the hungry and expecting a paycheque or at least a tip when your shift is over? Sheesh. One gives to one in need without expectation of a return of any kind. Okay, maybe a ‘thank you’ is all, like our Parent’s taught us. I’m not about to dis anyone who is in favour of paying to help others; no not ever. If you can afford to do so and wish to do so, God bless you. Just do it. Just help. You have the coin. Make good use of it.
    But isn’t there anyone out there, who will pay for a person’s bed, breakfast, evening meal and is willing to work his/her butt off to make a difference in
    someone’s life who will inevitably return it Ten-Fold? For that someone who can’t put the money out to get there to get there but wants to put his or her everything into what can be done for someone else? I must believe, there is. In the grand scheme of things it comes down to this – If I have the resources, I’m paying for ‘anyone’ to go, live, eat, work and provide for those in need however they are able and willing. If I don’t, I’m volunteering.
    Figure that one out.
    Christine, toss me a touchdown pass. Let me know how I can get to a people in need to help them without having to pay a ‘fee’ or a ‘price’ to do so. I understand there’s a cost to be bed and fed, but hard work on site should satisfy that requirement right? Simple eh? Fish out….

  • Hi Christine 🙂

    I think this would be second post regarding your topic of, “Should you pay to volunteer abroad?”, if it isn’t then just make it the first. Hahaha… Anyhow, as you have mentioned in your articles here, it is indeed a great concern for most volunteers on why should they pay to volunteer whereby the help is needed from them? Even I asked that question to myself when I decided to volunteer. But I got to say, I have a been a bit lucky in landing myself in a great international NGO called SOLS24/7, whom is accepting volunteers from across the globe without asking for any sort of fees at all. We have more than 20 international volunteers here at SOLS24/7 and we are looking for more to join our SOLS family.

    For more info you could always drop by our website;

    Cheers 🙂

  • lol i can’t see myself paying to help someone. i’m cool with the idea of paying my own room & board, but why should i dish out 1k to help you learn english or clean up your lake? the charity/non-profit biz is huge and they pay their presidents in the VERY well. i can’t contribute to that.

  • I can tell you from experience as project director for an NGO, if they don’t take your money for volunteering, they are taking money from somewhere else. It is nearly impossible in this world to sustain a fully staffed project who’s work does not produce capital gains without some kind of income. Different organizations produce different “capital”, be it economic development in underprivileged communities or women’s empowerment or healthcare, nobody is going out to purchase these things on a credit card. So someone needs to pay for it. Many organizations may opt out of volunteer fees but this can ONLY be because the cost of having a volunteer is taking care of with real actual money elsewhere through fundraising, grants and sponsors, which, ultimately, is money that comes at the cost of writing reports, fundraising and possibly being corralled or persuade into doing some project which has been determined by the sponsor’s agenda. There will be no situation where you will not see in a budget plan a cost loss for volunteers. Volunteers cost money. Volunteers are not committed long-term. Volunteers need to be trained by a local. That local, long-term committed staff member needs to receive income to be sustainable. Where does this income come from for programs which are not factories for some commodity? It can only be raised by fundraisers (who also need to be paid to be sustainable parts of a projects), or by sponsors, (who often regulate projects according to their own interests), or participants/volunteers. To me, the best trade is the volunteers. Because they are the providers of income which do benefit most from the experience. Please do not believe that an organization who does not ask you to pay to volunteer is more altruistic and the one who does is greedy. Inquire always to the transparency of books to find how the money an organization receives is distributed. You might be surprised.

  • Think about the cost of having someone come to live in your house just to do your laundry for free…. You would need to feed and host this person, to make sure they are safe, and make sure they understand who’s clothes are who’s etc… It might be a tempting thought for free labor, but what you miss there is the part where this person is coming to live in your home. If in your volunteering it was simply pure volunteering, that you came and worked 9-5 and then disappeared, this would probably be a different story. Just think if you asked your boss to take care of your cost of living and safety/security while transferring you to a new position…. Not very cost effective from his/her perspective…Depending on your income and your cost of living, you could end up having to pay your boss!

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