Why Pay to Volunteer

Vancouver, BC | Posted: August 29th, 2017

For many of us, traveling abroad and taking part in an important conservation program or volunteer placement is a life-changing experience. Whether it be saving sea turtles, rehabilitating elephants, assisting in women’s empowerment programs or bringing solar power to impoverished communities, we often feel it’s our privilege to give our time and hands. But wait, there’s a fee? Why do I have to pay to give back? Why do I have to pay to volunteer?

Over the years, we’ve heard those questions many times. It’s not just us, our partners get asked that daily. There are several reasons, which we’ll break down below, but the overall reason is: You pay to volunteer so that the costs of your accommodation and food don’t fall on the local, often distressed communities.

We spoke with a couple of our partners, who were helpful to explain the costs behind volunteer programs and answer a few of our frequently asked questions.

Where does the lion share of your costs go?

Alice Hawkes of Global Vision International said, “GVI spends over 65% of program fees directly in the field. The remaining 35% covers our marketing and administrative costs.”

Nora Livingstone of Animal Experience International replied, “That is an excellent question – and a very important one to us at AEI, whereas a B Corp we have pledged social, economic and environmental responsibility. The majority of your money goes directly to our placement partner to pay your placement fees which cover your accommodation, meals, airport pickup and drop off, training, support while on the project and any membership fees and uniforms that are required.  Your travel insurance and IVC Card benefits cost $65 and carbon balancing your travel with the Carbon Farmer costs $50. The rest of your fees go towards supporting our placement partners (such as the place you are volunteering), developing new placement opportunities and allowing AEI to function as a socially responsible B Corp. “

Why do you require participants to pay to volunteer?

Alice replied, “We require fees from participants to ensure that programs are run sustainably and to cover costs associated. We pride ourselves in making sure that all participants receive 360-degree support throughout the experience with GVI. We want them to know that they are always making a sustainable impact on the ground. Without these fees, we would not be able to provide the excellent level of training and support that we currently do offer. 

Program fees specifically cover pre-departure support and materials, food, accommodation, training and orientation, long-term GVI field staff, 24-hour in-country support, and project equipment and materials. Not to mention the unforgettable, off-the-beaten-track, life changing experiences!”

What do you say to someone that says ‘I shouldn’t have to pay to volunteer my time?’

“I normally ask them ‘why not?’. Why should they not pay for the things they are consuming like electricity, water, food, and materials? We live in a world that we very happily pay hundreds of percents more than the true cost for a cup of coffee. Why do we think that when we travel away from home, our consumption will not have a cost? If we are truly traveling to benefit and serve the community we live in, we have to realize that we must not just invest our time, we must invest financially, too. We don’t want to be a burden to these communities so we must pay for what we consume.  We must pay the true and ethical cost of those things.” Nora replied.

So how do you know you’re making an impact with your chosen program? We often look for companies that are transparent about how the fees are spent. We all know that running a business costs money, the same goes for any non-profit, B-Corp, etc.

GVI’s website states: “GVI supplies funding and manpower to multiple grass roots initiatives in developing countries all over the world. Some of our biggest achievements to date have been awarding over 3,865 education scholarships; providing support to over 380 organizations worldwide; investing over $35,000,000 USD in our projects and running over 900 environmental sustainability initiatives in over 350 locations. This includes over 100 protected areas covering more than 12 million hectares”. That’s a huge impact and every single volunteer helped contribute to that success.

Joining a service trip is an amazing, selfless thing to do. We encourage volunteers to ask questions and go with your gut, if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. We’ve done a lot of the research for you on GoVoluntouring, but it’s important to look thoroughly into the program, think of what you want to get out of it and choose the program that meets your needs, interests, and budget.  Keep an open mind and heart, enjoy the experience and know while you may be one person, you’re contributing to a huge impact.

Find out more about the amazing programs offered by GVI and Animal Experience International. 

Sarah Lafontaine

Sarah is an independent contractor with specialization in content writing and social media management for the travel industry. After many years as a travel agent, she switched gears to focus on promoting responsible travel through Holidays for Humanity. Sarah currently writes content for and manages social media for all Holidays for Humanity brands including SEEtheWILD, Trek Union and GoVoluntouring. When not working, Sarah can be found searching for her next travel destination or exploring Vancouver’s dog-friendly parks and trails with her dog, Otto.