Why pay to volunteer abroad?

    Article by Zaytoen Domingo

    Zaytoen Domingo

    Posted: July 3, 2019

    One of the main questions you might ask yourself before choosing a volunteering project is “Why do I have to pay to volunteer abroad?” Programs can be expensive and it’s natural to wonder where your money is going

    Your hard work and passion are valuable, but unfortunately, motivation alone doesn’t keep international development projects alive. As a volunteer, your fees can have just as great an impact as your actions. 

    By contributing to a project as a paying volunteer, you are helping to support local people, and ensure that programs are efficient and beneficial in the long run. You are also investing in your own training and development, so you can continue making changes in the world long after you’ve finished your program. 

    Here are the main reasons why it’s ethically responsible to pay to volunteer abroad. 

    1) You won’t be a drain on already scarce resources


    When international participants arrive on a project, they need meals and accommodation. This is perhaps the primary reason why it’s not feasible to volunteer abroad without paying. Program fees cover the cost of these expenses, which avoid putting financial pressure on local organisations with already limited resources. 

    GVI’s program fees cover housing and food as well as training for all volunteers and interns that sign up to our programs. Covering the cost of your own basic expenses means you can make a greater contribution to the community partners you’ll be working with. 

    2) You’ll need comprehensive training


    To be effective in creating a sustainable impact, participants need to be trained in the right skills. If participants aren’t given adequate training, project outcomes could be harmful rather than helpful. 

    Many sustainable development organisations will tell you that the more skills you have, the more valuable you can be on the ground. If you don’t have all the necessary skills when you arrive, you’ll need to go through comprehensive training to prepare you for your project. Essentially, you need to know what you’re doing to make an impact. 

    All GVI participants are trained by staff that are in turn recruited and trained by us. This ensures that you will be sufficiently prepared to make a positive impact. 

    The training we provide also relates to one of our commitments, which is to increase the employability of all participants. To achieve this, we offer courses certified by trusted local organisations such as government educational boards, but also international institutions such as PADI, and ILM. 

    These opportunities mean that when you pay to volunteer with us, you are investing in your future by boosting your employability and skills.  


    3) You’ll help fund specialised staff

    Effective development projects require knowledgeable staff. Part of your volunteer fee goes towards employing a team who make sure we are having the greatest beneficial impact possible. Paying specialised and highly-skilled staff allows us to understand whether or not we are providing a real service to local organisations.

    For example, sustainable development starts with asking local communities what their needs are. Staff who are trained in intercultural competence, coordinating focus groups, and collating data, can help to identify these needs and structure programs around them. 

    Specialised staff are also required to carry out local partner vetting processes. These audits ensure our partners are following ethical practices, such as health and safety, operational best practices, and align with our ethical standards. 



    If the organisation does not meet these standards, we provide recommendations and start working with them on improvements. Building in-country capacity in this way is a complex task, which requires that we train, pay, and retain specialised staff, but it is the only way to ensure long-term, positive social change. 

    Finally, highly specialised staff are needed to track our progress and investigate the impact of our work. In other words, we set finite, realistic objectives within a limited time-frame, then work toward achieving them and measure our progress as we go. This again requires the input of qualified staff, skilled in social science data and analysis.

    4) You’ll contribute to project consistency


    Successful sustainable development projects require consistent effort and local knowledge. To ethically ensure consistency on the ground, we can’t rely on volunteers alone to ensure the success of a project. 

    Volunteer numbers fluctuate throughout the year. When volunteers aren’t available, our local staff make sure all the roles on the project are filled. This ensures our partners have constant support for all of their efforts. 

    Our local staff are also great resources for volunteers and offer valuable insights into your host culture. 


    5) You’ll have access to 360-degree support

    Support is one of the key differences between paid and free volunteer programs. Round the clock support is typically one of the services included in program fees. This level of assistance again requires specialised staff in fields as diverse as software development, client relations, event management, and hospitality services. 

    At GVI, we aim to provide a fully supported journey for anyone joining our programs, from the moment you submit an application and prepare your documents, up until you travel to the program and work on the project. We even provide support when you return home, and beyond. 

    6) You’ll add to local capacity building


    Capacity building, or expanding skills and creating job opportunities for local people, is another essential aspect of sustainable development. Without this, local governments and private organisations will never be able to sustainably continue the positive work started by a development project. Fee-paying program participants can help make capacity building possible. 

    As a participant, your fees help to make GVI’s National Scholars Program possible. This capacity-building initiative allows in-country graduates the opportunity to join a GVI project in their home country, giving them the chance to gain the same academic and employment benefits as international volunteers. 


    7) You’ll help ensure programs develop

    Constantly revisiting and reexamining projects to determine what can be done better is vital for ethical volunteer projects. It’s important to bring in external academics specialising in sustainable development, to audit sustainable projects for best practice. 

    Part of GVIs funds goes toward funding grants for academics from around the world to work in partnership with our project teams. They study our operations to find out what the challenges are and how we have moved forward, or look at what is being done well and what can be done better. This learning process means our programs are constantly being improved and helps to ensure the best outcomes for our local partners and international volunteers. 


    Paying to volunteer: Asking the right questions

    Just because you’re paying to volunteer, doesn’t mean your money is being used in the right way. Instead of asking “why do you have to pay to volunteer”, ask “how is the money from my volunteer fees being used”. 

    When paying fees, it’s always wise to check with the volunteering organisation how exactly that money is being spent. You want to make sure your fees are having a positive, not detrimental, impact on the local environment or community. 

    For example, some orphanage volunteering projects charge fees, but the money is used solely for profit, while the children are exploited for the sake of attracting paying volunteers. 

    Asking where your fees are going is a valid and important question. Any reputable organisation will be able to provide a breakdown of how volunteer funds are used. 

    Once you have selected an ethical volunteer program provider, you can also ask for help with or advice on fundraising, or the possibility of scholarships to help you cover the costs of your trip. 

    Read more about where your money goes when you choose to volunteer with GVI, or dive right in and start browsing our range of international volunteer projects today.

    Article by Zaytoen Domingo

    By Zaytoen Domingo

    Zaytoen Domingo is a content writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled in the Masters program in English at the University of the Western Cape. After graduating with an Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing, Zaytoen completed a skills-development program for writers and became an alum of the GVI Writing Academy.

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