Volunteer Abroad For Free – No Fee Projects, Scholarships, Fundraising
FREE VOLUNTEER ABROAD
Aspiring volunteers are often surprised at the lack of free volunteer abroad opportunities and the need to pay for all of their transportation expenses and in-country costs. However, there’s no need to be discouraged as our team of expert writers has identified several great strategies to help you volunteer abroad for free. These three strategies are
- Reducing your trip expenses
- Applying for volunteer abroad scholarships and grants
- Running a successful fundraising campaign
VOLUNTEER ABROAD FOR FREE - REDUCE YOUR TRIP EXPENSES
First, we’ll need to understand the costs associated with volunteering abroad. Aside from the general program fee that a volunteer placement organization may charge, there can be other costs including travel to and from your destination. Here’s a typical cost-breakdown for an overseas volunteer project:
Volunteer Program Fee: $1,500
Miscellaneous Expenses (Travel Insurance, Vaccinations and medications, etc): $500
Total Trip Cost: $3,000
Understanding Program Fees
A volunteer organization often charges a program fee to cover the costs associated with hosting you as a volunteer. The program fee provides funding for an organization to administer/oversee its projects, recruit new volunteers, provide direct funds to the local community, pay for overhead expenses (i.e. staff salaries), and provide for room & board for its volunteers. For many reputable volunteer organizations, charging a program fee enables the organization to shift the burden of its expenses to its volunteers, freeing up more resources for the communities they are serving.
Strategy for Reducing Program Fees
One way to reduce the amount you pay for a program fee is to participate in a no-fee volunteer project. For example, volunteering with the Peace Corps, United Nations (UN) Volunteers, or Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) does not require a program fee and may cover all of your expenses including airfare, room & board, and a stipend. However, these well-known international volunteer programs are highly selective and may require a significant time commitment (27 months for Peace Corps and 6 months for UN Volunteers). If you are interested in long-term volunteering abroad, then check out this article for more information. If you’re looking for a short-term volunteer opportunity, then read on for more alternatives.
Outside of the Peace Corps, UN Volunteers, and VSO, there are several volunteer organizations that do not explicitly charge a program fee. We’ve included several resources below that include no-cost and low-cost volunteer projects overseas. Keep in mind that these projects may require you pay for your own room and board.
One specific organization to look into is VE Global, which operates volunteer projects in Santiago, Chile. VE Global does not charge a program fee to volunteer, but volunteers are required to work for a minimum of four months (six months recommended). VE Global requires a longer time commitment from its volunteers, since its projects involve working with at-risk children in shelters, community centers, and schools. Volunteers are also responsible for their own airfare to Chile and accomodations during their volunteer project. Nearly 500 international volunteers have volunteered with VE Global, so if you're looking for a long-term project with no program fee, their organization is definitely worth researching further.
Resources for Volunteering Abroad for Free
True Travellers (great resource for free and low-fee volunteer opportunities)
VolunteerAfrica.net (resources for free volunteer projects in Africa)
Benevola (Database of vetted free volunteering opportunities, able to access the list once you're a member)
VolunteerSouthAmerica.net (list of free volunteering projects in South America)
Volunteer Forever article on cheap volunteer programs (6 cheap and low-cost opportunities)
Understanding Airfare Costs
The vast majority of volunteer organizations (aside from the Peace Corps, UN Volunteers, and VSO) require participants to pay for their own airfare. As with the program fee, paying for your own airfare means that volunteer organizations do not have to divert limited resources from supporting their beneficiaries. Depending on the volunteer project, airfare costs are typically the biggest or second biggest expense for international volunteers. In order to volunteer abroad for free, we recommend following one of our strategies below for reducing or eliminating your airfare costs.
Strategy for Reducing Airfare Costs
The Students Offering Support (SOS) volunteer program includes airfare.
One way to fly for free is to ask for your family and friends for airline miles. If you know someone who flies frequently, they have likely accrued lots of airline miles that they can redeem to book a ticket for you. Keep in mind that international trips typically require lots of airline miles, so asking for a free ticket can be a big favor. You’ll want to communicate to your airline miles donor that airfare is one of the largest expenses of volunteering abroad and reducing this expense will make it much more likely that you can volunteer overseas.
Furthermore, if airfare cost is a significant concern, you can consider volunteering closer to your home country. For example, if you live in the United States, volunteering in Costa Rica rather than India can save you $500 or more in airfare.
Also, if you’re a student, you can use a student travel website such as Student Universe to book your flights. Student Universe has agreements with many major airlines to provide student discounts for its flights. These tickets can be cheaper than airfare booked through other travel sites.
Lastly, check with your volunteer organization to see if they offer a stipend or bursary for flights. While most volunteer organizations do not help pay for their volunteers’ airfare, some organizations may provide stipends or bursaries for high need projects. For example, Youth Challenge International is currently offering flight bursaries for its volunteer projects in Ghana and Tanzania. Also, People and Places, an award-winning sustainable volunteer organization, covers airfare for its volunteers for two of its Gambia volunteer projects. Lastly, several Students Offering Support (SOS) 2015 volunteer programs include airfare as part of their affordable program fees.
Understanding Miscellaneous Costs
Miscellaneous costs such as travel insurance and vaccinations/medications may or may not be required depending on your volunteer organization’s requirements and your destination country. If your volunteer organization requires travel insurance, they may recommend a specific insurance provider to purchase your policy from. Also, your volunteer organization may have specific vaccinations depending on where you are volunteering. To protect your health, we recommend asking your health provider about the recommended vaccinations for your destination country. You can also check out the travel vaccinations pages for the US Centers for Disease Control website and the UK National Health Service website.
Strategy for Reducing Miscellaneous Costs
Although many volunteer organizations recommend travel insurance from a specific insurance provider, it may be cheaper for you to purchase your travel insurance from a third party provider. We recommend checking with your existing insurance providers (auto insurance, renter’s insurance, homeowner’s insurance, etc) to see if they offer a low-cost travel insurance policy. You can also check with International Volunteer Card, which offers low-cost travel insurance specifically for international volunteers. Lastly, if you’re currently in school, you should contact your university health insurance provider to see if they offer travel insurance coverage with your policy.
For vaccinations and medications, we recommend checking with your health insurance provider or student health clinic to see which vaccinations are provided free-of-charge.
VOLUNTEER ABROAD FOR FREE - APPLY FOR VOLUNTEER ABROAD SCHOLARSHIPS AND GRANTS
If you’re not able to fully eliminate your trip expenses per the strategies above, you should consider applying for volunteer abroad scholarships and grants. We’ve put together the most comprehensive list of volunteer scholarships and grants and have listed over 200 funding opportunities to help you volunteer abroad for free:
You can also sign up to be the first to know about the new Volunteer Forever scholarship ($500-$1000), which will be formally announced in the Fall of 2014. Click here to sign up for our priority waiting list!
Keep in mind that these scholarships and grants may be limited and applying for them can be highly competitive. For example, the Samuel Huntington Public Service Award, which offers up to $15,000 for a volunteer trip, is only offered to one graduating college senior per year.
Also, please be aware that these scholarships and grants may only be available for participants in specific volunteer programs. For example, Travelocity’s Travel for Good Program, which provides $5,000 for volunteering overseas, is only available for participants volunteering with Cross Cultural Solutions, Globe Aware, Earth Watch, and a few other organizations.
Lastly, applying for these volunteer abroad scholarships and grants may require a significant time investment. Since these volunteer abroad funding opportunities are highly competitive, the vast majority of scholarships and grants require either a written proposal, scholarship essay, video submittal, letters of recommendation, and/or an interview. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to apply for these funding opportunities. We highly recommend applying early to ensure you have sufficient time to pursue other funding opportunities in case you are not awarded a volunteer abroad scholarship or grant.
Though applying for volunteer scholarships and grants can be time-intensive and highly competitive, they can be great opportunities to substantially fund your volunteer trip. Due to the long timelines and uncertainty with competing for these funding opportunities, we also recommend fundraising for your trip expenses. The next strategy lays out exactly what to do to fully fundraise for your trip expenses so that you can volunteer abroad for free.
VOLUNTEER ABROAD FOR FREE - FUNDRAISE FOR YOUR OVERSEAS VOLUNTEER TRIP EXPENSES
Crowdfunding to pay for your volunteer trip expenses has become an increasingly popular way to volunteer abroad for free. In fact, Volunteer Forever fundraisers have already raised more than $500,000 to make their dreams of volunteering abroad come true. Many of our fundraisers have been able to completely pay for their volunteer trips through crowdfunding. With so many successful volunteers on our platform, we’re able to share the secrets to running a successful volunteer abroad fundraising campaign.
- Tell A Great Story
- Share Your Great Story
- Stay Persistent and Keep Your Network Engaged
The key to launching a successful crowdfunding campaign is to tell a great story to your potential donors. When asking for donations for your trip, you’ll need to tell a logical and compelling story for why you need funds. Ideally, you should be able to weave your past experience, current educational or professional pursuits, and future hopes and aspirations into a cohesive narrative to explain why you are the perfect person to make a meaningful contribution overseas. In short, you’ll need to provide your intentions of volunteering abroad by tying together your experiences and goals with the needs of the host community you’ll be visiting.
One of the most compelling ways to tell your story is through a personal fundraising video. Our favorite fundraising video is from Julie, a Volunteer Forever fundraiser who raised $3,400 for her trip to Africa. We love this video because it’s simple, yet incredibly authentic and persuasive. We recommend keeping your fundraising video to 2 - 3 minutes; anymore and you may risk losing the attention of your audience.
Once you’ve crafted a great story, your next step is to share that story with your family and friends. Unfortunately, many fundraisers initially have the perception that donors will be coming to them. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. You’ll need to execute a highly coordinated effort to reach out to your family and friends through e-mail, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and even phone calls and text messages.
Furthermore, our analysis of the latest crowdfunding research shows that you should reach out to and get donations from your closest family members and friends first before publicizing your campaign to your entire personal network. This technique demonstrates “social proof” to people further outside your core network. Basically, social proof happens when people close to you have demonstrated that they trust you, which makes it easier for people outside your core network to trust you and support you. Simply put, ask the 10 people in your life you are closest with to donate to you before publicly broadcasting your fundraising campaign on social media.
Persistence is a common trait among our most successful fundraisers. It’s not easy asking for a donation and many times, people may not even respond. Here’s what two of our top fundraisers had to say about persistence:
The best advice I have is Don't Give Up! At one point I was worried about reaching my goal and was afraid of posting too much or coming on too strong. I worried that maybe people thought I was just asking for money. Luckily, someone close to me reminded me to shift my thinking. Although it may feel uncomfortable to ask, fundraising really isn't about the money, it's about providing everyone the opportunity to help! - Lori, $5,500 raised.
"I was extremely persistent and diligent. I learned that people need to be reminded constantly. They are busy. They get distracted. They may see one of my posts and think, 'oh yeah, I want to give to Julie's campaign', but then they forget until they see the post again. That's why I kept posting and sharing. I got over feeling like I was annoying people. I got over feeling afraid that they would say no. I just kept asking, and they gave. Social media and crowd sourcing are powerful tools. But, just like anything else, if we want them to work for us, we must put in the time and effort." - Julie, $3,345 raised.
Heather, who raised $4,300 for her volunteer trip, had this to share about persistence:
"People care about what you are doing and want to contribute and be a part of the goal. Sometimes, they get busy too. A little reminder is all it takes."
We recommend sharing your fundraising campaign at least every three days through social media (Facebook and Twitter). Chances are the majority of your network will not see your posts or have the time available to check out your campaign. Sharing your campaign often ensures that your messages reach your audience during a time when it’s convenient for them to make a donation.
For more awesome tips on running a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign, check out these articles on Top 5 Crowdfunding Myths Dispelled, 3 Must-Know Research Insights on Volunteer Abroad Fundraising, and Top Volunteer Abroad Fundraiser Shares her Secrets.
Though the average volunteer abroad trip can cost thousands of dollars, there are lots of opportunities to volunteer abroad free. Whether it’s eliminating your trip expenses, winning a scholarship or grant, and/or running a successful crowdfunding campaign, we’ve shared with you three great strategies to volunteer abroad for free. Best of all, these strategies are not mutually exclusive; we recommend pursuing all three strategies at once to maximize your chances of volunteering abroad for free.
If you're still looking for a volunteer opportunity, check out our recommend volunteer projects in Africa, Central America, and Thailand. You can also read about 6 Great Medical and Veterinary Volunteer Abroad Projects.
Ready to put these tips into action? Click the button below to launch your fundraising campaign or sign into your Volunteer Forever account!
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