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To pay or not to pay?

A lot of people ask me this question, why do I need to pay to volunteer?

Good question, as a firm believer of all types of ‘volunteering’, in that we promote voluntourism as well as long term internships which are free, I will try to explain all.

First of all I think it all depends on what you call volunteering.  For instance many of the ecoteer team in the UK volunteer once a week at a local garden for disadvantaged youths and mentally ill people.  They do this off their own back, and have a great time not just gardening but interacting with the other people who volunteer and also the clients who use the garden.  The garden is funded by UK National Lottery and through selling produce and has 2 full time paid staff, the rest of the work is conducted by volunteers.  Similarly many people volunteer regularly at cats and dogs homes or at old peoples homes. These types of volunteers are first trained and then keep on coming each week and follow a set routine. volunteer

The other end of the spectrum are some voluntourism programmes.  WHY DO I NEED TO PAY GBP £2,000 FOR 3 WEEKS VOLUNTEER PROJECT I HEAR YOU SAY!

Well it costs a lot of money to train people, your accommo
dation, food etc plus a donation to the project and then on top of that are marketing costs WHICH, believe me, can be very high.  Some of the more expensive projects are generally diving or very money hungry projects that don’t receive much outside support. For example volunteering with Orang utans can be pricy, but so too are their monthly food and vet bills, then on top are the staff wages. After being in the field and managing various different types of projects I know how the costs build up, very quickly many hidden charges as well, government and corporation tax, accounting fees all the things people don’t see.  Furthermore as the economy has suffered the first things to be cut are grants and financial support for conservation and community projects, plus now there
are more projects than ever. This means that more projects are seeking money from a shrinking pot, the maths just doesn’t work out. So voluntourism is a good way to sustainably fund projects.

But then you also have projects that you can join for a few weeks that are nearly free ie work away, WWOOF etc  However the majority of these are not really conservation or community projects but profit making companies ie organic farms, ecolodges or hostels looking for cheap labour.

SO how!??! I am a student with no money looking for a long term project looking to do good and gain some experience?!?!

The final type of volunteering is what I personally set up for, these roles are more internships/long-term volunteering.  You would join a project which is funded by other means – grants, tourism, short stay voluntourism – they train you up and you work for them for at least 6 months.  This works great as its wonderful for your CV and the project benefits from a well-trained consistent employee, everyone is a winner.


For me I think the term voluntourism is what causes the problem, I think the short term voluntourism should be changed to Responsible Tourism, then you have long term internships and finally consistent weekly volunteering opportunities near your home.  Then WE would all understand why we need to pay or not!