The Cost of Volunteering
Volunteering in Europe is the same as in many other countries in Africa, Asia, South America and so on. Many people decide to volunteer through an organization because a) it is easier to arrange the volunteer program with a well established agency and b) by dealing with a reputable agency you know that you are going to be making a difference for the people or environment you want to help.
Many people willing to give up some of their valuable time to help out a cause suddenly lose interest when faced with the sometimes high financial cost that some programs require their volunteers to also provide. On the face of things, it is hard to justify spending both the time and the money. Certainly one should be sufficient?
Why Volunteering Costs Money
Here is the thing. While you are helping out wherever in Europe you happen to be volunteering, you are a drain on the resources of that volunteer organization. You have to be fed, given lodgings, an experienced volunteer has to take time to train you; all of these things incur costs to the organization. Yes, your efforts there help to advance the goals of the volunteer organization, but unless others have donated food and a house, the organization has had to spend money on you for you to volunteer. This is why many organizations ask for you to also provide a certain amount of money when you donate.
Why Volunteer Costs are High
Paying for your direct costs is actually only one of the costs incurred by the volunteer organization. They also have many other expenses, some related to the specific project and some related to the organization as a whole.
- Overhead - Each organization has expenses related to maintaining their offices, hiring full time personnel, and others that are a part of running a business. While some of these costs are offset by donations, the amount required to maintain the volunteer organization as a business requires a large percentage of the money the organization receives.
- Your costs while you are volunteering - This is the cost for your room and board and any other things you personally need during the time that you are in the country helping.
- Project Costs - Each project requires money for the materials, professional help, training, and resources that any project, from English teaching to house building, will require to complete the project.
- Cash for ongoing costs of the project - Many projects are ongoing, or require some sort of maintenance funds once the initial work for the first part of the project is completed. A good example is building an English school in Rural Romania. Once the school is built, there still needs to be funds to pay teachers and buy teaching supplies. Without those other funds, the building itself is useless.
- Unhelpful volunteers - Sadly, not everyone understands how selfless their volunteer time should be and some volunteers will rack up huge costs for the organization during their volunteer period with large phone or internet bills or other costs. The reality is that the volunteer organization has to recoup those costs somehow.
As you can see, there is a lot of money that is required for these projects, and much of the money they ask of you when you volunteer is seen as a donation to go along with your donation of your time.
There are a couple of ways that you can reduce these costs. The first is to simply look around at the different organizations that provide programs for the kind of volunteer work you want to do. Some organizations provide only basic services to their volunteers while others provide all kinds of amenities. How easy things are while you are on site will dictate the upfront costs of volunteering at that site.
The second option is to go with a self-funded program through an organization or even simply working through a local organization in Europe and handling all your own food and lodgings.
Both of these are excellent options, but take a lot more work on your part to ensure that things go smoothly. It will help if you have a bit of volunteering experience already if you try to go either of these routes.
No matter which way you decide to volunteer, remember that most of your costs will be tax deductible if you are working with or for a registered charity. Since most organizations will be registered, you will be able to get at least some of the costs back at tax time.