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Petrina Darrah is a travel writer from New Zealand with a passion for responsible travel and gender equality. She has worked in France, Colombia, the Philippines, and Tanzania, and has travelled to about 50 countries in between.
Is it better to give to a charity or volunteer

Many things in life come down to whether you have the time or the money. Making a contribution to initiatives is no different, and anyone with an altruistic streak will eventually find themselves questioning whether it is better to give to a charity or volunteer.

The simple answer is, if you have the money and not the time, give to a charity.  If you have time and not as much money, choose to volunteer. There are many other factors to consider though, as both have benefits on a personal and global level.

So, let’s take a closer look at each option.


It’s better to give to a charity when

You don’t have time to travel

For people who don’t have the time or freedom to travel to another country, it might be better to give to a charity.

This could include anyone working full-time, parents with young children, or even someone with a cat they just can’t leave. Whatever the situation, sometimes your commitments at home are just too important to leave.

However, if the desire to make a contribution is still there, giving to a charity is a wonderful way of making an impact in the world. Many charities rely on monetary donations to keep functioning, so never underestimate the importance of giving what you can.


Participants carefully scrub the tank, and shell of a turtle | donate or volunteer


Giving to a charity is ideal for people short on time, as it’s easier and faster than ever. Often it’s something as simple as a donation online, which takes seconds. Plus, you can do a lot of research online to make sure you’re giving to a reputable charity, and keep up to date on their various projects and accomplishments.

Watching everything from afar might not be as meaningful as experiencing sustainable development in action, which is why volunteering might be an even better option.

It’s better to volunteer when

You have the time to spare

You’ve probably heard people say time is money, and it’s true – they both have value.

Contributing your time can be massively beneficial to charitable causes, and by joining a volunteer project you can make a sustainable impact. 

Whether it is doing wildlife research in South Africa, contributing to women’s empowerment initiatives in India, or championing preventative healthcare in local communities in Thailand, there are important projects around the world that rely on volunteers to ensure consistency and sustainability.


teen volunteers working abroad in Costa Rica | donate or volunteer


You don’t need oodles of time, either. Volunteer projects range from short to long term, and can even be combined with holidays, so you can commit for the amount of time that suits you.

You’re seeking to expand your skillset

One of the best things about volunteering is that it works both ways. As well as contributing where it counts, volunteering abroad can help you to reach your own career or personal goals through the benefit of experience.

Plus, the skills you get from volunteering, and the life-changing effect of making a real impact could inspire you to pursue a career in international development or conservation, allowing you to make an even greater contribution.

Further reading: 17 excellent reasons to volunteer abroad

You want to understand the world better

GVI interns learn about Laos culture while teaching abroad | donate or volunteer


Volunteering enables you to become a global citizen. Acting as ambassadors for their countries, volunteers working in cultures different from their own play a role in establishing intercultural understanding and tolerance. 

By contributing time and volunteering abroad, you will help to cross the cultural bridges thrown up by distance. 

Further reading: How to not feel like a tourist when volunteering

You don’t want your contribution to be a one-off

Local women lead a session on menstrual health education in Laos | donate or volunteer


Volunteering abroad has ripple-on effects. Part of the reason for this is that as a volunteer on a reputable program, you will contribute to local capacity development, to ensure communities are not reliant on volunteer resources in the long term. 

When you go home, you’ll want to tell everyone about your experience. By doing so, you’ll help to dismantle stereotypes about other cultures, raise awareness of critical global issues, and open people’s eyes to realities different to their own. 

Who knows, you may even inspire others to volunteer, and make an even greater impact!

You want to know exactly where your money is going

A teaching intern in Thailand teaches students about shapes | donate or volunteer


Knowing exactly what happens to your donation is one of the issues of giving to charities. You can do your research to find reputable organisations, but there is always an element of trust when you and over your money.

On the other hand, when you’re volunteering and you make a contribution to help the project reach success, it’s a lot clearer. When you’re on the ground you can see exactly how that money is used and the direct benefit it has. 

You’ll see your money going straight into maintaining programs and contributing to sustainable development in local communities, which is both eye-opening and rewarding.

Feel ready to start making an impact difference? Find out more about GVI’s international, award-winning volunteering programs and internships, and choose from community development, teaching, women’s empowerment, and conservation projects worldwide.

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