guest blog

What To Ask Before You Pay to Volunteer On Your Career Break

Written By: jeff

Posted On: May 12th, 2010

Volunteering advice, pay to volunteer

Paying to Volunteer on Your Career Break? Copyright

When choosing an international volunteer trip, many people cite cost as the most important factor. Some of the concerns voiced are, “Why should I pay if I’m giving my time?” and “If one group is less expensive than the other, does that mean it’s not as good?”

To answer the first question, most service organizations are nonprofits, and only receive funding through donors, grants, and memberships. Your payment helps to cover:

  • Business expenses: This includes facilities rent and maintenance, employee salaries, and marketing and promotion.
  • Host families and support: You’ll contribute to those who are housing and feeding you, and making sure that you have the support you need.
  • Volunteer expenses: This covers orientation and training, airport pickup and drop-off, handbooks and manuals, and project supplies and tools.

But why do some organizations charge only $15 per week, while others cost upwards of $7,000 per week?

Volunteering advice, pay to volunteer,

Copyright T Rolf

1.  Placement group
These are the ones you might be familiar with—they’re the organizations who are mentioned over and over in articles about where to volunteer worldwide. Think of them like travel agencies, but with a focus on volunteerism. Placement organizations partner with local groups that don’t have the resources for global marketing and recruitment. They’ll find volunteers, guide them through the pre-departure process, provide orientation and training, perform regular site visits, or have in-country staff to support the participants. Many of these organizations include further benefits like cultural immersion, shows and presentations, adventure tours, and language classes. As a result, they’re often more expensive than host groups.

2.  Host group
These are the smaller, local organizations that most volunteers are placed with when they participate in an international service project. If you sign up to volunteer directly with a host group, you’ll still receive full staff support while you’re in the country—but you won’t receive some of the added benefits that placement groups give, such as guided excursions or presentations. You’ll also likely be placed with a host family or in a shared volunteer house, rather than the option of staying in a hotel—something many placement groups offer as part of their package. In other words, you’ll live like a local.

Volunteering advice, pay to volunteer,

Copyright Muris Kuloglija Kula

Which one should you go with?

It depends on the experience you want and your comfort level in arranging the volunteer trip.

You might want to work with a placement group if:

  • You need a little extra help planning an international trip.
  • You have the budget for it—most placements with these organizations cost about as much as a regular vacation. There are exceptions to the rule! Some of them (check out the list at the end) offer a great experience at a minimal cost.
  • You’d like extra benefits, like cultural outings and adventure tours.

And you might find a host group more suitable if:

  • You have international travel experience, or you know where to find information on passports and visas, immunizations, and other pre-departure needs.
  • You have a very small budget, or you’re trying to save as much as you can.
  • You’re comfortable with a more unstructured environment, or arranging your own entertainment on your down time.

10 questions you should ask the agency

So now you’ve decided you want to work on an international volunteer project! Below are ten questions you should ask any volunteer organization before signing up—regardless of whether it’s a host group or a placement group.

  1. Where does your funding come from, and where does my payment go?
  2. How involved are the locals?
  3. Do you have volunteer alumni I can speak with? Or, do you know how I might get in touch with former volunteers?
  4. Are there any special requirements for this project?
  5. How should I set up my travel itinerary?
  6. What should and shouldn’t I bring with me?
  7. What type of work will be expected of me?
  8. How much of my time will be spent working each day?
  9. How can I communicate with others at home?
  10. What kind of in-country support will I have if something goes wrong, or the project isn’t what I thought it would be?

Some recommended placement groups

Global Volunteer Network

International Volunteer HQ

Experiential Learning International

United Planet


Some recommended host groups

Volunteer Uganda School

Las Mercedes Reforestation Project

Lisa Lopes Foundation

Katelios Group

Shanti Bhavan


Volunteering advice, pay to volunteer,

Sarah Van Aucken

Sarah Van Auken is the creator of Volunteer Global, which teaches you about international service projects and general travel—where you can go, what you can do, and more. If you’d like to contribute or send a story or pictures to VG, send an email along to Sarah can alos be found on Twitter @VolunteerGlobal









If you like this post, sign up for our newsletter or subscribe to our RSS feed to keep up with Career Break Secrets’ career break and travel advice.


9 Responses to “What To Ask Before You Pay to Volunteer On Your Career Break”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Jung. Jeff Jung said: New Guest Post: What To Ask Before You Pay to Volunteer On Your #CareerBreak #rtw #rtwsoon… […]

  2. Sassy says:

    We visited the Elephant Nature Park outside Chiang Mai, Thailand for the day, but you can volunteer there for the week or longer. Add this place to the list. It was a great experience. Loads of people there volunteering for a week or more. Just the day trip was very rewarding. Great food, too!

  3. Nola Lee Kelsey says:

    Great article Sarah! Thank you for continually using your knowledge to educating others about volunteer travel.

  4. Amy says:

    Great article Sarah! Thank you for continually using your knowledge to educating others about volunteer travel.

  5. Megan says:

    Another GREAT volunteer company is African Impact.

  6. Lily says:

    After searching for international volunteer organizations, CrossContinental is the most flexible and the most affordable one I have ever found. Fully flexible start date and work schedule. Extremely affordable programs fees starting from $180 (including food, accommodation, 24/7 on-site support, work placement, and regular cultural/social activities.) I am glad that I have chosen them to share this experience of a lifetime. :)

  7. Ali says:

    Hi Sarah, this a great post. VolunteerStays offers a rather different way of volunteering, if you don’t want to pay for expensive volunteer programs but want to volunteer. It’s a great way to experience local cultures and ways of life and do something meaningful on your next vacation without spending too much. Not only a monetary contribution can bring you satisfaction of doing something good. :)

  8. Rick says:

    Very informative post about why people have to pay for volunteering. I think a lot of the misunderstanding in paying is that they hear “volunteering” which is for free but one can’t forget the costs you’ve mentioned above.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge