Like planning a holiday, preparing for a volunteer experience abroad requires some thinking on how to be financially sustainable during your stay. Sometimes volunteers (particularly first timers) come with the expectation that expenses such as accommodation or flight tickets will be covered or reimbursed by the hosting organisation in exchange for their volunteer work. While it is certainly a very reasonable expectation, it’s not always met.
Why hosting organisations (often) cannot cover the volunteer’s expenses
Based on my experience volunteering in Cambodia with Professionals doing good, some host organisations may offer the volunteer some small benefits, like the usage of a bicycle free of charge. They may even offer some small amount of cash. The majority of non-profit organisations, however, do not have the financial means to cover the volunteer’s expenses.
The average wage and cost of operations in a developing country are much lower than in a developed country. If they have extra funds, they would very likely use it to cover their own operational costs. For example, the cost of an average round-trip flight ticket to Cambodia ($850) is equal to a one-year salary of a local primary school teacher. With a three-star hotel monthly rent ($380), you could provide a daily meal to 40 children for a month.
This also explains why professional and qualified volunteers are such sought after individuals—organisations in need would never be able to afford to pay for their salary or living expenses.
How to be financially sustainable while you’re volunteering
Like planning a holiday, preparing for a volunteer experience in Cambodia requires some thinking on how to be financially sustainable during your stay. Here are some tips and suggestions.
Make a list of all potential expenses you may incur
Potential expenses include:
- One-off expenses, such as the round-trip flight ticket, health insurance and vaccinations.
- Recurring expenses, which may differ depending on the duration of your stay. These may include: visa, accommodation, food, transportation, and additional cash for extra thing.
And make sure you have sufficient funds to cover these expenses!
If you are not used to independent travelling, ask for help and have a travel agency sort out the logistical aspects for you.
Know yourself and your requirement for comfort
Each of us has fundamentally different needs when it comes to our everyday life. What are the things you cannot live without? This is particularly important to know when you’re visiting a developing country, where even basic elements may only be available with an extra cost. Some people cannot live without air conditioning, while others need a WiFi connection or want to be in the city centre amongst the nightlife. Make a list of life’s pleasures that you would not be able to live without and factor them into the extra costs.
Ask other people who have gone through the same experience
Make the most of social media and connect with volunteers who have had similar experiences, or even just with people who have travelled to Cambodia. Get tips on the local lifestyle and the cost of living.
Enquire about the benefits of the volunteer role
If you apply for a specific volunteer job position, enquire about the tangible benefits the hosting organisation is offering in exchange for the volunteer work. They may largely vary depending on the hosting organisation’s size, budget and volunteer policy.
Find creative ways to raise funds for your volunteering project
If the overall cost of the volunteer trip is way above your budget, do not give up! Think creatively.
You could use crowdfunding tools or ask your friends and family to contribute to your dream volunteer project prior to your departure. Global giving.org provides useful tips on useful crowdfunding tools and strategies. Or, kick off your campaign straight away with the Find and Seek website.
If you have some specific expertise or skills and you do not mind working extra hours, you could allocate time for some paid consultancy/teaching/tutoring work while you’re overseas.
Let your motivation find the way
If you’re really motivated to make a volunteer experience happen, take the time to assess the necessary expenses, and plan a strategy to cover your funds. It’s exactly what you would do when planning a holiday abroad, with the difference being that this one could turn out to be a deeply meaningful and life-changing experience!