Why pay to volunteer?

This is the first question people ask themselves after they come to realize that volunteering most often is not for free. For some this seems too much as would anyone givn up their time (and in some cases job) to volunteer for free. Then it is of course a good question to ask; why pay to volunteeer abroad and where does the money go?                 

  • The company arranging the volunteer program  for the volunteer usually pays The project (host organization) a weekly fee as The project makes costs by having volunteers. It seems weird at first as why would there be costs for the project if you are already volunteering for free? Costs involved are for example the training given to volunteers by one of the few paid employees of the project. Furthermore there is all sorts of equipments and other material they provide the volunteer.
  • A part of the fee is donated to The project (host organization). Especially environmental and wildlife related projects are depended on the volunteers donations to continue their efforts and to be able to set up long term sustainability.
  • A large part of the fee which is paid to the company organizing the volunteer program exist of costs evolving due to in-country spendings to the volunteers arrangements. This  includes in most cases, room & board (from homestays to hammocks in the jungle), airport pick up, in-country transfers, orientations, etc.


  • Part of the above; in-country coordinators are hired for each country to support the volunteer on location and to assist in case of an emergency.
  • As with any other company there are many costs involved in running a business: Marketing (online), IT, Admin, Office costs, salaries, etc
  • Besides all the above, when arranging your volunteer programs through a for profit company a part of the fee will also be kept as profit to be able to continue the company. Many companies that arrange volunteer programs are non-profit organizations (NPO's), however often the fee charged for similar volunteer programs as for profit companies are the same and in some cases NPO's charge more. So where does the money  go to then if the organization is not for profit? This is a very good question and should always be asked before signing up with any NPO to make sure it goes to the project and not to 6 digit salaries.

Often a complaint of many people is that the organization arranging the volunteer experience charges 2000 US$ where from 1200 US$ is spent on in-country costs (accommodation, airport pick up, etc) plus a donation to the project. Then where does the other 800 US$, do they take that much profit?

Running any business (whether it's for profit or not) brings many costs with it. Not just the costs that are directly involved with the project in-country but there are other costs that have directly to do with the arrangement of a specific volunteer program.

Making the arrangements of a volunteer program can easily take 20 hours per volunteer. Then there are also administrative costs, accounting costs and IT costs (usually there are several employees involved for quite a few hours who need to be paid salaries). Then there are also many indirect costs that also has to be calculated for. These indirect costs are mainly office expenses: internet, computer, office supplies, telephone, utilities, office rent, etc.

Last but not least a very big cost for any organization involved in arranging volunteer abroad projects is online marketing. Marketing in any travel related business is done mostly online these days. Online advertising on other travel related websites and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) costs many thousands of dollars every month. To be at the top of Google's search results is very expensive (let's face it, almost no one ever clicks beyond the second result page). All in al of those 800 US$ usually only 30% is profit while the other 70% is spend to cover costs.

It is good to know that if someone is able to find their own volunteer opportunity it will cost a lot of time and there are still many costs involved. For most people time is money and it usually costs a lot of research and work to find a volunteer abroad project. Furthermore for many projects a donation is required as well as the volunteer would have to pay for room & board, transportation, airport pick up, etc.

What you usually will not be paying for is your in-country coordinator. If you would be arranging your own volunteer experience in most cases you would have to do without an in-country coordinator as well as there might not be other volunteers to socialize with. Often the organization that arranges your volunteer projects has created a community which will make it easier for you to make friends and hit the ground running.

Having a volunteer coordinator who speaks both English well and the native language often comes in very handy. In general just for orientations, travel advice, helping solving minor issues, etc.  Not having a coordinator can really be a big miss in case of an emergency (think emergency assistance/evacuation plans which most local volunteer projects do not have set up).


Whichever path chosen to volunteer abroad, it is good to keep in mind that in almost all cases it is not for free. If you are interested to volunteer abroad feel free to check our volunteer opportunities.

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