An interesting topic was brought up today via an innocent little Twitter tweet. Someone posted a list of great volunteer programs in Chiang Mai Thailand. Another Tweeter thought it was wrong to pay for volunteering. I raised the issue of the cost of accommodation and food – who should bear those costs? I also commented that I thought if a donation to the organization was included in the fee, that was ok. It all depends on the organization, of course and what the program involves.
For small organizations who operate mostly from the ground, with a few volunteers coordinating efforts, it’s impossible for them to pay for food and accommodation, airfare, and such. And in those cases, I don’t mind covering my costs and making a donation in addition to volunteering my time.
I suppose the main point is – does the organization tell you how much of the fee is a direct contribution to their cause? Do they provide a breakdown of costs? Do you know how your donation is being spent?
I do believe that in light of the many recent disasters in our world, we’ve learned that the NGO/NPO’s are not as forthcoming in providing information as to how your donation is being used. And as a donors, it is our responsibility to hold the organizations accountable…make them show you where your money is going. We are well within our right for asking and perhaps if more people did, we wouldn’t find so many organizations skirting the issue.
With any other type of travel, you do some research, you ask questions, you ensure that you are getting good value for your money. It should be no different for voluntourism. Make sure the organization is sound and willing to outline the program fees. It would also be wise to consider what contribution you are actually making and what is the value of that. For example, are you digging ditches and building an irrigation system or are you training elephants? What impact will you have by volunteering your time? Is building a house for a victim of a natural disaster a bigger contribution than picking grapes in a vineyard? That all depends on you, what you hope to contribute and what experience you are seeking. For me, I’m happy to pay a higher fee/donation for an organization I believe is really making a difference for those less fortunate or who are recovering from a disaster. I will be happy to pay a fee to cover costs and make a minimal donation for something which is more to my benefit (like training elephants).
The skeptical tweeter said, “Reasonably priced to volunteer? No such thing.” For me, that just doesn’t compute. I expect to pay my airfare, my accommodation and food and I do expect that some of my funds will go directly to the organization. That’s reasonable to me. I might be volunteering my time, but at the heart of the program is the fact that I am making a contribution. And when I volunteer, I want both my personal and monetary contribution to count.
As always – happy to hear your thoughts!
In the photo: Can-Do.Org I’ve mentioned this organization several times now, because this is the type of NPO which puts your donation directly to work. I respect and admire them very much for making great efforts to prove to donors that the money is directly helping the people it’s intended for.