Why Do I Have To Pay To Volunteer?

So you’re interested in volunteering overseas, but all the volunteering programmes you’ve researched charge fees to join up. Why are you being charged to donate your time and energy helping people, when you’ve already paid for visas and air fares and travelled halfway across the world? Let us enlighten you!

Volunteering fees – what are they for?

Programmes charge various fees based on a number of factors, such as travel and accommodation, and administration required for volunteers’ support and orientation. Some organisations also go the extra mile and offer their volunteers perks like outings and soirees, and so on. The fees are also often used to offset the cost that communities might incur by hosting you – this is a very important consideration in areas (such as the townships in South Africa) that are already economically disadvantaged. The whole idea of volunteering is to have only a POSITIVE impact on the community or environment you find yourself in!

Reputable volunteer organisations are upfront and transparent about their costs, so make sure you do your homework and know exactly where your hard-earned cash is going. If they are a little vague about the fee split – be prepared for unexpected extra costs! This can be a really negative experience, especially for those travelling on a tight budget, and it can put you off volunteering for good. It also gives the organisation a bad name in this era of information sharing and online reviews – which is a real shame, as it can affect the programmes they feed volunteers to, and ultimately impact communities negatively. Your best bet is to read as many reviews as you can of the specific programme you have an interest in, and take note of what other volunteers have said. Transparency is key to a positive volunteering experience.

One of the advantages of choosing Africa as your volunteering destination is that the exchange rate is very favourable to travellers from the UK and Europe. You’ll get plenty of bang for your buck in countries like Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa. You might be able to afford extra travel luxuries (like safaris or local tours) in between your volunteering duties that you might have otherwise missed out on, because of this favourable rate.

OK, I get why fees would be charged for volunteering. So where exactly is my money going?

Besides day-to-day expenses like your meals and accommodation, your fees contribute towards sustaining programmes that might not exist otherwise, or would struggle greatly to do the work they do. For example, part of your fees might be used to provide a township school with books and other learning material, or perhaps even food for the children who might often come to school without breakfast or a packed lunch. Local volunteers often do their best to provide for the needs of these programmes, but it certainly doesn’t hurt them to get those extra pounds or euros you inject into the system!

Here are a few other things your fees probably go towards.

1. Airport Transfers

Travelling to a foreign country can be a little nerve-wracking, even for seasoned travellers. A massive unfamiliar airport, foreign languages and currency, over-friendly taxi drivers or car hire reps that you suspect might be “taking you for a ride” in the figurative sense – all these things can make your big adventure a little too stressful. “How nice it would be to have someone familiar and friendly here to pick me up,” you might say to yourself. Well, your volunteering fee can ensure that that’s exactly what happens!

2. Accommodation

Volunteering fees often cover your accommodation and meal needs, and a reputable organisation will make sure you can sleep and wash comfortably, and have enough to eat without spending a fortune in a hotel or guest house, or being confronted with unknown local “mystery meat”! You’ll also get the opportunity to meet other volunteers from different countries, network and make new friends, set up outings together, and generally have a great time on top of your volunteering duties.

3. Planning and administration

You’re in a new country surrounded by strangers. How will you get to your volunteering programme, what happens if you need medical attention, is it safe to walk around in such-and-such area, will you be able to make yourself understood by people? Locals who are part of the volunteer organisation are paid a salary to assist you – using the fees that you provide. Additionally, some organisations have long-standing relationships with schools, hospitals, and orphanages in the country they work, and you might only be able to get a volunteer place through the organisation staff.

4. Trips and Get-Togethers

All work and no play can make you feel a little dull, right? You’ve travelled halfway across the world and you want to see the sights and have some fun! Sure, you can book your own safaris and tours. But you might not know of all the little special secret places that aren’t really advertised in the media, but that locals are familiar with – a pristine waterfall in an African forest, a perfect beach, an awesome pub or restaurant – the little things that make a trip overseas truly memorable. And you’ll probably want to get home at the end of a long day and crack open your favourite beverage with your fellow volunteers, perhaps have a great party together. Needless to say, there are expenses involved that your fees help to cover.

What if I want to volunteer, but don’t want to pay fees?

You can find ways to volunteer without paying fees, of course. If you research volunteering programmes thoroughly in the country of your choice, you’ll be able to find something that suits your requirements and skill set, organise directly with the programme leaders, and sort out your own airport transfers, accommodation, travelling in-country, etc. You can obviously also donate money to the programme if you want. The downside to this option is that – you have to organise your own airport transfers, accommodation and travelling in-country, etc!  

If you’re an experienced traveller, and an independent sort of person who isn’t nervous of going to a strange country and feeling your way around by yourself, this could be a great option for you – it offers a certain sense of freedom and adventure for people who like the unknown. And if you know the particular country well, and perhaps have friends living there - even better. But for most volunteers, it’s comforting to know that you’ll have a reliable lift, a place to sleep, food to eat and friends to make without hassle, once you get off the plane in a strange country.

It can really enhance your volunteering experience when you have the kind of backup and support that a reputable organisation will provide. It’s also comforting for your family and friends back home – if you tell people you’re volunteering in “darkest Africa”, they might assume you’ll become a victim of crime, or be eaten by lions! So now you know that your fees generally go towards improving your trip in a number of ways.


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