Country: United States of America

Business Development

Why Paying To Volunteer Abroad ISN'T A Scam

April 21, 2010

I posted earlier this week about fundraising for your volunteer trip—but let’s take a step back and talk about why you’re asked to pay in the first place.

Placement Groups Versus Host Groups

Let’s note the difference between two types of volunteer organizations:Why paying to volunteer abroad isn't a scam - Volunteer Global

Placement Group: These are the ones you’re probably familiar with. They’re the large, popular organizations that work in many countries worldwide. Think of them like travel agents, but with a focus on volunteerism—they place you with smaller host groups in your desired country.

Host Group: These are the ones you might not have heard of. There are thousands of these worldwide – they’re small, locally run organizations that depend on outside resources for sustainability. Placement groups often partner with host groups to provide volunteer support.

Most volunteer organizations receive no outside funding, and depend entirely on their participants to help pay for project expenses.

Where Your Money Goes

When you pay to volunteer with host groups, you cover:

  • Your housing, food, and pickup and drop-off from the airport, train station, bus station, or port
  • The salaries of locals who are housing you, feeding you, washing your clothes, and making sure you’re taken care of
  • Program supplies, including construction materials, tools, handbooks, extra clothing or items needed by volunteers, and site maintenance materials
  • Business expenses
  • Other community projects you might not be contributing to directly—such as schools, low-income housing, clubs, or support groups

When you pay to volunteer through a placement group, you cover all of the above as well, but you also pay for the agency to find a host group for you to work with, site visits and reports by staff, and otWhy paying to volunteer abroad isn't a scam - Volunteer Globalher business expenses. These can include handbooks based on each location’s needs and basic information, an orientation, and even other tours or luxury accommodations if that’s what you prefer.

A Final Note

Neither of these is a scam—with that said, of course you always want to check with your volunteer organization as to where exactly your money goes. Usually they’ll have a breakdown listed on their website, or at least will be up-front if you call or email. If you’re not comfortable with their explanation (or lack thereof), move on.

Be patient, do your research, and find the best fit for you!

Images courtesy of Milan Jurek and Fabio Pereira.