Why do I have to pay to volunteer or to do an internship abroad? Many people ask this question. After all, you are providing your skills and time for free, so why should you even have to pay on top of this?
The short answer to this question is: Because costs occur that have to be covered by someone.
Many volunteers/interns only see the direct cost that occur for their stay abroad, such as for accommodation, meals and transport. However, the costs for a high quality volunteering or internship abroad abroad include so much more!
This article will explain which costs arise and why it is the voluntees/intern themselves who have to cover these costs.
Selection and support of suitable project partners and local infrastructure
It requires a high effort to find suitable projects abroad and to guarantee successful long-time cooperation with them. To achieve this, the wishes and needs of three interest groups have to be satisfied:
- The volunteers/interns
- The project that receives volunteers/interns (e.g. a school)
- The beneficiaries of the project where volunteers/interns are active (e.h. the students of the school)
As in most cases this involves persons from very different cultural backgrounds, it is a very complex task.
Your volunteer/internship assignment should provide you with the maximum learning outcome and should make you feel that you can "make a difference". Indeed foreign volunteers and interns can be of benefit to the projects, but they also mean a large additional organizational effort to the project: Different ways of working, different styles of communication and language barriers require high sensitivity from everyone involved. We are the link between the various interested groups and have to satisfy them all. We do not only have to prepare you, but also have to prepare and support the staff of the local projects.
This work is key to a long-term sustainable use of the placements. You can read about our approach to achieve sustainability for our placements.
Besides the selection of projects and support given to them, the same effort has to be done for many further local logistic providers, for instance when choosing and maintaining relations with landlords, host families, transportation providers, and authorities such as ministries.
These are all aspects that as a responsible provider of placements abroad can't be solved by just visiting the location once, but they include long-time and permanent feedback processes from everyone involved (participants, project staff, beneficiaries of the local project, further infrastructure providers...). This requires experienced and qualified staff, which get a suitable salary for their work and for whom organizational expenses, communication costs and travel costs apply.
Consultation, preparation and support of participants
Our staff are answering a large amount of emails and do phone calls and skype calls every day, including weekends and holidays, answering questions by persons who inquire and by confirmed participants. To plan and organize your stay abroad, of course they also communicate with our local staff at the host countries and directly with the projects. They need to be appropriately qualified, not only to provide qualified consultation and to plan your stay abroad, but for instance also to be up to date about permanently changing topics such as visa and labour issues, scholarships or university requirements in case of internships for university credit (for participants of many countries).
Of course these staff members get a salary and there are costs for office infrastructure (space; hardware such as computers; software such as organizational and information systems) and communications costs.
We put a lot of effort into the preparation of our participants and permanently update many preparation documents. We do preparation sessions via Skype for all participants and we regularly train our staff so that they are professionally qualifid to support our participants. The amount of information we process is large and it means a lot of effort to always keep this information up to date and to process it for people who are interested, and for participants, to guarantee customized consultation and support.
For qualitiy reasons, at most locations we work with our own support staff and not with external partners, which allows us to keep in permanent and direct touch with our local projects. This differentiates us from many other providers of internships and volunteering abroad. There is a personal support staff for you at your destination, an orientation and introduction at your location, accompanyment to your placement on your first day, 24 hours reachability of the local support team for emergencies etc. This often keeps our coordinators busy around the clock.
As a participant you often imagine the effort needed for the provision of this kind of support as smaller than it actually is. Also one easily overestimates one's own capacity to get along at the destination without any support and is happy about the fact to have someone to count on.
Also for the projects, the effort we spent on communication, preparation and support means a massive assistance because they usually don't have sufficient resources in terms of time, staff and finance to communicate with volunteers/interns prior to their arrival, to introduce them to the living and working conditions of their new host country, and to provide them with all support and information. Therefore they outsource such tasks to partner organizations such as World Unite! and can instead spend their full energy on their actual project work.
The best programs and the best intentions of local projects are meaningless if nobody knows about their existence. To change this, marketing is necessary. You read this text on our website, which means costs have already applied, not only to create this website and its contents and to update it regularly, but also for things such as search engine optimization, protection from hackers, technical updates (e.g. for display on new smartphone/tablet technologies) etc. In this aspect, we "compete" with "more commercial" providers that are much financially stronger, trying to push us to lower positions in the search engine results. If you found us through another website, we usually have to pay the operator of the other website for each "lead" or click bringing visitors to our website, or they ask us to pay commissions if you finally book through us. If you know us from an event, costs for a stand, for travel, for printed materials and staff apply. If you have read about us in a printed magazine, we generally have to pay to be mentioned there.
We think it is not correct to spend large amounts on marketing that can be better spent for the benefit of projects that exist for a good and charitable cause. Or, if the costs wouldn't occur we could lower the rate of your volunteer or internship placement. Unfortunately, marketing costs are however necessary for us to survive, as without them we simply wouldn't have any participants.
Very easily identifiable are of course the costs for your own local transport, accommodation and meals, as well as your project donation. But is it clear to you that beyond this, there are lots of further costs, such as taxes, costs for tax and legal consultation, accounting and administration, insurances, incidential wage costs and bank fees (e.g. for expensive international transfers, costs for currency exchange and curreny fluctuations; also accepting payments via credit card and Paypal isn't free for us!!)?
Who should cover these costs? The local project?
Very few charitable projects, particularly those in the so-called developing countries, have the financial means to do so. In the sense of sustainable local development, this wouldn't even make too much sense, because if a local project had the financial means, it could instead hire local staff who would stay for a longer duration and who is familiar with the local circumstances, rather than employing foreign short-time staff that they need to introduce over and over again. The local employees are generally also easier to satisfy than the foreign volunteers. A nurse in Zanzibar for instance makes 200-300 USD per month, an amount that allows her to live only a relatively simple life. The expectations that foreign volunteers and interns have in regard to accommodation and meals (many ask us, if there is no salary, why they can't even get free accommodation and meals), cannot be covered with the salary of such a Zanzibari nurse.
In case of internships with commercial organizations (e.g. hotels), accommodation and meals however are often provided; in some countries in addition there is a stipend or salary. If accommodation costs apply for you, we try to keep them low, just as our program fees. But we also try to make sure that the costs for accommodation don't result in forcing local accommodation providers to offer their accommodation under value, and to get a fair share.
Why doesn't World Unite! cover my costs?
World Unite! is not a religious, political or governmental organization that can make use of funds that for instance in case of religious communities or policital foundationsare generated through donations. We are religiously and politically independent. Also we don't have access to public grants, but instead we have to PAY taxes, which are then partically used to subsidize other organizations.
Luckily, there is a range of funding opportunities that you may use to finance your stay with World Unite!. Read more about these here.
Can't it be a little cheaper?
Our rates are thoroughly calculated and in case of volunteer placements just cover our operationals costs. We can therefore not give any further discounts. The majority of similar organizations are much more expensive than we are. Please compare our rates with those of other organizations, but also keep in mind the quality. Without a suitable infrastructure in place at your host destination - how can you be sure about your safety? Does a project really exist that you found somewhere on the internet? Do you want to be accountable if a certain project hasn't been screened properly, causing possible damage, and you will only find this out after several weeks or months? Will you value the effort that we put into project selection, support and preparation? World Unite! is a founding member of an interest group of providers of flexible volunteer work from the German-speaking countries, committing themselves to certain quality standards.