Guide to Volunteer Fees
People are often surprised to find out that some voluntary organisations in Latin America charge participants for the privilege of getting involved, but there is a good reason why this happens.
Volunteer fees are in many instances the only money supporting a project. Grassroots organisations and projects with which you volunteer have limited resources and are seldom able to subsidise your trip or cover the costs of hosting you. If they did have the financial resources to pay an international volunteer it would almost certainly be more beneficial and cost-effective to hire a local person instead, someone who already knows the language and culture.
The process of preparing, training, transporting, housing, feeding and supervising volunteers is not cheap. Additional services such as healthcare all add to the expense of a project.
By paying to volunteer you ensure that projects that would otherwise be unable to utilise and accommodate overseas volunteers benefit from your support, supplementing what little (if any) funds they do receive and ensuring that it can be spent on the things most needed.
I have visited some projects in Latin America that are wholly dependent on the financial and physical input of international volunteers because they receive no government or outside support. I have witnessed projects where "paying" volunteers were actively contributing to the protection of a tropical rainforest and an endangered species (Leatherback turtle).
It is fully understandable why some voluntary organisations rely on international volunteers to assist them in their work and to provide financial support.
It is essential prospective volunteers bear this guidance in mind before condemning an organisation for charging volunteer fees. It is also worth noting that a fee based project can be comparable or even cheaper than a free project when you calculate the total costs. Many free projects require volunteers to cover their own living expenses and this can sometimes work out more expensive than paying a small participation fee where housing and food are provided. For example, if an organisation charges a US$300 per month volunteer fee which includes board and lodging, you might struggle to find cheaper local accommodation and cover food expenses over the same period of time.