Funding for Volunteering Abroad 101

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GoAbroad shares key tips to secure volunteer abroad funding

Volunteering abroad is a fantastic way to travel and see the world while using your skills and time to help a community in need. It can also be a source of personal transformation while providing positive benefits to a community. However, going abroad for a volunteer experience can be expensive. There are program fees, insurance requirements, plane tickets, other overhead costs, and hopefully a little extra for fun. While some volunteers have ample access to funds for their volunteer trip, the reality is that most need to do some serious fundraising and saving to finance their trip.

woman hanging laundry on line

Your volunteer abroad funding can be put towards specific projects within the community you’re helping

Don’t let financial barriers keep you from participating in such a meaningful activity. Today, we’re going to cover our three favorite strategies to whip up funding for volunteering abroad fast:

  • Volunteer abroad scholarships 
  • Crowdfunding online
  • Saving money (so that this → 💸  doesn’t happen!)

But first… 

Why do you have to pay to volunteer abroad, anyway?

It’s a great question, and something we’ve talked about extensively with our GoAbroad community. Before you move any further in this article, definitely check out these resources. It’ll help you better understand the costs and work that goes into hosting international volunteers like yourself, and can hopefully give you more motivation to put towards getting your funding for volunteering abroad together.

Lonely Planet’s latest guide to volunteering abroad, “Volunteer: a Traveller’s Guide to Making a Difference Around the World,” summarizes nicely the reasons volunteering abroad for free isn’t that realistic:

"One, there are significant administrative costs involved in maintaining a well-managed volunteer programme and in finding you a volunteer placement. As such, it is normal for a fee to be charged (note: charities call this fee 'fundraising'). Two, the host programme incurs costs by using volunteers. Volunteers have to be looked after, possibly trained and certainly supervised. Then there's the question of who is going to pay for board and lodging, in-country transport and any other ancillary costs. Three, hosting volunteers is often a way for local projects to earn an additional source of income. In many cases, a proportion of your fee (whether charged by a sending agency or a local NGO) will go towards helping fund the project you're working on."

You might be one of the folks searching on Google for thing things like:

  • volunteer work abroad free travel and accommodation
  • volunteer abroad free flights and accommodation
  • volunteer abroad for free including flights
  • expenses paid volunteer abroad

If that’s you, kudos to you on your journey to organize these experiences independently and at-cost or less. But for the rest of us that recognize the resources necessary to coordinate your volunteer experience—and willing to pay a little bit for it—read on! Here are three key strategies for securing your funding for volunteering abroad.

[Here's your 12-month guide to preparing for volunteering abroad]

Apply for volunteer abroad scholarships

Family lugging plantains

Your actual volunteer work might not be easy, but making incredible new friends and relationships will be.

Volunteer abroad… scholarships? Yup—you read right. While scholarships might seem like a natural fit for studying or getting your degree abroad, you can actually find some organizations that are willing to foot the bill (or at least part of it) for more altruistic travelers.

Our best advice for winning volunteer abroad scholarships

  • Treat every application individually. It might be tempting to “game the system” with using the same app for multiple awards, but you’re doing yourself a disservice in the long run. Instead, treat each application individually, and tailor your essay or resume content to reflect the values of the organization instead.
  • Follow up. If you haven’t heard back on the status of your application, why not pop the organization an email? You can introduce yourself, thank them for their time and consideration, and remind them in a sentence or two why you would make their best choice.
  • Play the numbers game! The more volunteer abroad scholarships you apply for, the better your odds of winning. Duh!

Top volunteer abroad scholarships

The Omprakash Ambassador Travel Grant covers travel and living expenses for entrepreneurial adventurers who volunteer abroad within its international network of grassroots health, education, and environmental organizations. 

GVI’s International Volunteer Abroad Scholarship Program runs annually and is given to a young person (aged 15-24) who can demonstrate how a volunteer program will positively contribute to their future studies or career.

The Samuel Huntington Public Service Award is for graduating seniors from college, and funds an entire YEAR of volunteering abroad. A typical award is between $10,000-$15,000.

[Find 7 more volunteer abroad grants and scholarships]

Fundraise online

hands holding pile of dirt

Not all vulnerable populations in need of volunteers’ help are human

Have you heard of websites like FundMyTravel, GoFundMe, or Kickstarter? All of these tools leverage your online community network to making raising money to fund a specific project or idea easy as can be—and finding ways to make your fundraising efforts easier is a worthy cause in it of itself.

If there’s one thing that almost all volunteers say about fundraising, it’s that it takes up lots of time. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to focus on events or schemes that will give you the maximum return…

Lonely Planet dishes #realtalk about the challenges—and ultimate rewards—of fundraising. To help get you started, here’s our best tips to raise funding for volunteering abroad with the help of crowdfunding websites.

1. Create Your Website or Blog

Creating your own website or blog is not only a potential source of income or fundraising, but also the ideal way to share photos and stories of your experiences. You can do this on your own domain (Squarespace ads on NPR, anyone?!), simply create a Wordpress blog, or craft a personal page on any of the above mentioned crowdfunding sites, like FundMyTravel.

A blog or website lets everyone who supports you financially take part in your adventures and could motivate others to donate. Supporters can use easily donate, receive thank you messages and exciting updates, and view your progress towards your funding for volunteering abroad. Work out how much time you have and give yourself month by month fundraising aims. This helps you visualize how best to spend your time and money.

Pro tip: Be sure to use other social media channels, like Facebook, to get people excited about and involved in your volunteer abroad fundraising campaign.

2. Tell a Compelling Story

Why have you decided to engage in this form of meaningful travel and what will donations contribute to? People respond to stories, so make sure yours is engaging, which is likely pretty easy considering you are hoping to volunteer internationally. 

The more enthusiastic you are about your trip and funding for volunteering abroad, the more likely it is to get others excited. Here’s how to tell a compelling story:

  1. Connect the reader to the population or location. Tell the reader a little about how you will help improve locals’ financial literacy or the community where you want to build houses. Share with the readers the same reasons that made you want to go there. Be colorful and descriptive. Think about the sentence: “I will teach kids English,” versus the sentence, “I will teach young children in a local village English skills through games and daily lessons.”
  2. Illustrate the need. Those who have experienced international volunteering already know that it can be expensive, but your potential donors may not. Things like: you actually have to pay a program fee, travel insurance, and airfare can be a shock to someone who has never looked into international volunteerism. Be sure to provide a breakdown of how the funds will used. 
  3. Directly state the mission and how you will help. Tell the problem and the solution by illustrating how you will spend your time, including metrics that indicate success and impact for the project. Since you did your homework and vetted programs, you should be easily able to identify specific, tangible goals from your work. 

[Start your volunteer abroad funding on FundMyTravel today]

men working on red nets in India

Fundraising might seem difficult now, but knowing your funds will directly—and positively—impact the lives of others is incredibly rewarding.

3. Utilize Your Relationships

Don’t limit your outreach to just people you think have the money to donate or family members. Make a list of the people you know and who might be able to contribute. Remember, even $5 donations add up! Always think about who you know that could help you. When you share your page, ask people to share it with their contacts too. If you don’t ask, they may not even realize how they can help.

4.  Don’t Forget to Say “Thank you” Publicly

Make your “thank you’s” public whenever possible or appropriate so that everyone can see that someone has contributed to your campaign. This might just help get additional donations from others. Consider making a short video during your program then posting it online as a thank you message or making a small handmade craft for each donor. 

5.  Keep Sharing! 

People need several reminders before they act.  So spread the word among everyone continuously. Many campaigners make the mistake of a strong initial outreach then just waiting. Don’t let your drive go stagnant. Pick good beginning, middle, and nearly finish marks and do additional pushes.  A good first step is to use the “Share” widget on your campaign page to promote the page through email, Facebook, and Twitter.

You will be much more successful in raising funds if you continue to share your campaign multiple times and throughout the whole process. Use your campaign timeline to create a sense of urgency, especially towards the end. Be sure to remind people of the approaching deadline.

[9 Tips to Launch a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign]

Save your money!

Well, duh, right?! You’re probably never going to reach your goals for funding for volunteering abroad without rubbing a couple of pennies together. It’s important to be strategic in your spendings now (trust us, it’ll pay off later!). 

Review our volunteer abroad budgeting and planning timeline, then get to work on some of these creative ideas to help you save more money towards your volunteer abroad funding.

Ask for Financial Gifts Instead of Physical Gifts

We know you’re dying to have the latest pair of Gucci Ace sneakers, but hold up—why not ask your parents, family, friends, grandparents, etc. for money towards your volunteer trip instead of a traditional birthday or holiday gift? Just this once. 😉

Get a Part-Time Job

Sometimes when we have less free time we actually spend our time more wisely. No, seriously! Instead of waking up to binge watch Youtube all damn Saturday, what if you cut that time in half, then spent time at a coffee shop, mastering the perfect espresso shots, meeting people in your community, and making a couple bucks to put towards your funding for volunteering abroad?

Getting a part-time job might not sound like a super awesome option, but we think you’ll like it (most days, anyway!).

[Find more travel scholarships]

group of friends silhouettes at sunset

Using your travels to make a difference around the world is a worthwhile mission.

Open a Savings Account (and use it!)

Your debit account is great, but instead of watching your funds get bigger and bigger and feeling constantly tempted to spend it, you should automate withdrawals from your debit account to a savings account that you rarely look at. Out of sight, out of mind.

Focus on the End Goal

Use your printer quota to print physical pictures of the places you’re hoping to visit and the adventures you’re planning on having. Stick them around your room, your mirror, in your wallet, hanging from your rearview mirror. Stay engaged and inspired and focused on your goal. 

For even more personal testimonies and stories about the highs and lows of fundraising and saving to volunteer abroad, pick up a copy of Lonely Planet’s volunteer abroad guidebook ASAP!

Getting your volunteer abroad funding—not the easiest task, but 1000% worth it

Instead of looking at the task of fundraising and saving as a major bummer, look at it as an invitation to get more invested, both with time and money, in your experience right from the beginning. Just like purchasing your first car after crummy high school jobs felt incredibly satisfying, so too will paying off that final invoice from your program fee.

Find volunteer abroad programs now