Disputing the Myth: Why Volunteering is Never Free

Running African Impact, a Volunteer Travel Company, one of the most common questions I get is: “why pay to Volunteer?” Interestingly very few people who are genuinely interested in volunteering ask this. It’s normally people who are not familiar with or who are sceptical about Volunteer travel.

So why pay to Volunteer? My immediate response is to do that annoying thing and answer a question with a question — it normally goes something like this:

Joe Bloggs “Why pay to volunteer?”
Me “When is volunteering ever free?”
Joe Bloggs “Huh?”
Me “Seriously, give me one example where you can volunteer and not have to spend any money; or where the project you choose to volunteer with does not have any costs in facilitating, managing and monitoring your involvement?”
Joe Bloggs “Mmmm, ok maybe that’s true with international volunteering, but what about a person volunteering at a local animal shelter or children’s home?”
Me “Even at a local animal shelter you need energy to do your duties which requires food; you need to get there which might entail a car or a bus ride; and you need clothing to wear — all of which costs money. Don’t forget the insurance for the project staff who look after volunteers. It may be provided for you without you giving it a second thought, but someone at some point spends money on you volunteering.”
Joe Bloggs “Oh yea. Never thought about it like that.”

That was quite simplified, but you see what I am saying.

Whilst volunteers don’t receive money for their work; they, a donor, or the people they are volunteering for, has to pay for their kind assistance on some level.

So what? What does this mean? Well, I think it means volunteering should be taken seriously. It means any recipients of volunteers (volunteer coordinator, volunteer company or volunteer group) needs to embrace the volunteers’ resources and maximise the output volunteers can make. At the same time, the volunteers themselves need to take on the responsibility of making the best use of their volunteering opportunities — the monetary costs, as well as intangibles in the form of opportunity costs, or ‘opportunities lost’, have to be considered. However when you do this and get it right teh power of volunteering can be immense more than most ever expect and more than I ever dreamt of.

If you are considering ‘free volunteering’, think about it wisely. Think about what you’re going to do, who is going to pay for it (and how), and make sure your impact will be as large as possible!

You can also read this article here on Medium



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