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The Cost of Volunteering Overseas

By  February 21, 2012

Tips on how to fund your overseas experience—and why it's worth the effort.

You’ve "googled" organizations that offer volunteer placements overseas, narrowed down your fields of interests, filled out your application and somehow convinced your parents that Africa is not that dangerous. Now you’re committed to raising thousands of dollars in order to finance your volunteer experience overseas—but how?

When I travelled to Tanzania to volunteer in 2005, I had to raise $3,500 plus flight costs in order to finance an eight-week placement as an HIV awareness officer. After having already applied and accepted a place on the project, I took one look at the numbers and my jaw dropped.

Something about this didn't seem quite right.

Shouldn’t they be paying me to lend a hand overseas?

The simple answer is no. While it may seem like a lot of money to throw down for the luxury of volunteering abroad, you have to take into consideration the value you bring to the project versus the administrative costs to the organization of sending you there. As an prospective or recent graduate student, this trip is just the beginning of your journey toward a career as a development practitioner, medic, environmental consultant, etc. Unfortunately (for you), you’re not at a point where your contribution to any project is worth an organization’s money to fly you out and provide housing, food and transport free of charge. To be honest, they don’t really need you. The trip is more about exposing a new generation of young people to a world of possibilities as well as the realities of working in the field.

The clarity and reasoning behind the fund-raising became all too obvious when, years following my placement, I went on to complete a masters degree in communication and development. I realized that during my placement as an international volunteer, I had entered a situation where my lack of knowledge and experience at the time actually could have hindered more than helped the people I was working with. Organizations not only have to provide the infrastructure for volunteers overseas, they are also very much responsible for making sure that their lack of experience doesn’t jeopardize the local community or the project underway.

I DO want to volunteer... but how can I pay for it?

As frustrating as it might be that volunteer organizations can’t just send you abroad, fund-raising the amount required is not an impossible task and it just might pay off in the not-so-distant future. Volunteering abroad is one of the best ways to gain professional experience while contributing positively to the global community. Having to adapt to life overseas requires an open mind, adaptability and the ability to work with people of backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs different than your own—all highly sought-after skills in today's globally-minded workforce. Basically, volunteering abroad is not only a life-altering experience, and lots of fun, it also looks great on your resume.

So, if you love to travel with purpose and you’re eager to get a head start in your career, taking part in an international volunteer placement can be worth every penny. Just remember to do your research and choose the organization that's right for you (check out our volunteer program directory here).

Here are some tips to help you get started:

Tip #1: Don’t be afraid to pop the question
Use your contacts, of contacts, of contacts. Talk to everyone. Make it your business to tell people what your plans are and don’t be afraid to ask for help raising money. As long as you are not continually trying to raise funds, people will listen to what you have to say.

Tip #2: Make a website and go social!
Use social media to spread the word about what you’re doing. Tweet and post your way into the hearts of friends and family who may be kind enough to share your plea with friends of their own.

Tip #3: Get creative!
Organize a bar night, theme night, trivia night, etc. Go big or go home! Sell tickets to a themed event, use your contacts to scope out a band that might be willing to perform pro-bono, or pair up with a venue that will give you a discounted space to raise funds for your overseas adventure. Everyone loves a good time, especially when the ticket sales go towards a good cause!

Tip #4: Work for it. Don’t get stressed out trying to raise funds on your own. If you’re struggling to collect money from other people, pick up some shifts at a local restaurant or bar. Especially in larger cities, it’s possible to earn upwards of $100/night as a server or bartender. A few months of late night and weekend shifts and you’ll be ready to roll.

For some more great ideas on how to raise funds to volunteer abroad, check out these links!

Recent Verge Articles:

10 Ways to Fundraise for Volunteer Travel

Beg, Borrow or Fundraise

15 Ways to Travel for Free (or at least cheap)

Other resources:

101 Ways to Fundraise

20 Great Fundraising Ideas

Fundraiser Insight

Happy Travels!

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Verge Magazine

Verge believes in travel for change.  International experience creates global citizens, who can change our planet for the better.  This belief is at the core of everything we do.

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Travel with purpose; travel for good. Articles, resources and events for ethical and meaningful travel, volunteering, working and studying abroad.

Verge believes in travel for change. International experience creates global citizens, who can change our planet for the better. This belief is at the core of everything we do.

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