How to Volunteer Abroad for FREE

The costs associated with volunteering abroad can be a very overwhelming. You truly want to make a difference, but don? t know if you can pay for your accommodations, food, transportation, and logistics. The best way to minimize the costs of your volunteer experience is to confirm your placement early, and then do everything you can to get the costs reduced.

The two most popular ways to reduce the cost of your program are through scholarships and personal fundraising.


Some individual organizations offer scholarships for their participants, and be sure to ask potential organizations if they do. At Students Offering Support, we? re extremely proud to say that we offer on campus volunteers a discount off their participant fee, and that since 2007 we have provided over $15,000.00 in scholarships to our Outreach Trip Participants.
Another great place to check for scholarships is your post secondary institution. Groups such as the Alumni organization, the international office, and the student? s union may offer scholarships for currently enrolled students to get real world experience.

Certain foundations, charities, and other volunteer abroad program facilitators may also offer scholarships for young adults looks to explore and make an impact on the world.


The most effective way to reduce the cost of your trip is through personal fundraising. Ask your partnering organization if they have any resources available to help their volunteers fundraise. Don? t hesitate to ask them for advice. They’ve done it all!
But, personal fundraising will only be as successful as the amount of work you put into it. No one will be compelled to donate to your cause unless you show a greater amount of effort has been put into asking them to contribute.

SOS’s Fundraising Guide:

1.Planning and Preparation

Successful fundraising takes a lot of careful planning and preparation, and you will not be successful if you plan to raise the cost of your placement overnight.
The first step to fundraising is recognizing who it is that you are asking for donations. Unfortunately, unlike a religious group or a school fundraiser, your immediate pool of potential donors isn? t as obvious. Luckily, you do have friends and family who you can ask for donations from. You will start with your immediate family and friends, and then network through them to their family and friends.

2. Volunteer Program Components

Now that you know who you are asking, you need to decide what you are asking them for. Money, the obvious answer, is vague and unappealing. There are many great causes that ask hard working people for donations every day. How is your appeal different? Why should your cousin donate $20.00 to you instead of $20.00 to Doctors Without Borders?
The answer: because the money is going towards you, towards your experience.  Fundraising for a personal experience puts you in a much better position to ask for a donation, because the direct beneficiary of their donation is you. Someone they know and want to see succeed.
For example, compare the following appeals for a donation:

Volunteer 1: “I’m volunteering in Costa Rica to build a classroom! Please donate to help me pay for my trip!”
Volunteer 2: “I’m embarking on a journey of a lifetime! I?m so excited to volunteer in Costa Rica this summer. It’s always something I’ve wanted to do but I need help! Please donate today!”

The difference is that someone who has a relationship with the second volunteer is more likely to donate to their campaign because the appeal relates back to the volunteer. The emphasis on the experience being one of personal transformation speaks to the relationship that the donor has with the volunteer. Since the donor will be a family member or friend they are more likely to donate to that volunteers? individual experience.
To develop your appeal even further, a very successful strategy is to ask donors to donate to individual components of your volunteer experience. Every volunteer placement charges a fee to organize and execute your volunteer program, and you can break that down for potential donors. Compare:

Volunteer 1: “It will cost me $2,000.00 to volunteer in Costa Rica this summer! Please donate to help me get there!”
Volunteer 2: “I’m volunteering abroad to build a classroom in Costa Rica, and I need help paying for my flight there! My flight is $810.00. Please donate to my life changing experience.”

Asking donors to pay for specific components of your trip will demonstrate to them exactly where the funds are going. Being able to know where donations go is a huge motivator for donors to fund your cause. Find out if your organization is able to provide your donor with charitable tax receipts. These are a great incentive for donors

3. Strategies

Now that you know who you are asking and what you are asking them for, how are you going to ask for and collect donations?
Be wary of crowdfunding websites as usually a percentage of the donations you receive go towards their organization. Check with your volunteer placement to see if they have an online platform you can use to collect donations.

If your donation campaign cannot be accessed through an online platform,  plan for other ways to collect donations. Perhaps staying in a central location for 3-4 hours for people to drop off donations, or mailing cheques to your residence, or dropping by your friends and family members? homes to collect.
Remember even with an online platform you will not reach all your potential donors. Circle back to who your donor base is. Are they connected online? Ready to use technology to make a donation? Develop your collection strategies around those who you are asking to donate to your experience.
How are you asking for donations? Via email or social media? Plan this out with ample time and make sure you include how the donations can be given to you.

4. Your Contributions

It? s important to demonstrate that you are not entirely relying on individual donations to fund your trip (and it is wise to have a contingency plan in case you fundraise less than you had hoped).
Plan to show your donors how you are actively preparing for your trip. This can include looking for scholarships, paying for a certain component of the trip yourself, or working on fundraising campaigns such as a bottle drive or bake sale.
And, once donations start to roll in, share them! You do not need to show a specific dollar amount, but show donors that they are a part of the team that is going to get you to your placement

5. Follow-Up

Once you receive a donation- don? t disappear. It? s your responsibility to follow up with the donor at least twice. (1) After Receiving the Donation: a thank you card goes a long way in showing your gratitude for their support. (2) After the Placement: once you come home and have all your pictures and videos ready to share, send a digital scrapbook out to your donors thanking them again. You are able to show them exactly how you used their donation.
Throughout your donation campaign, be sure to keep donors in the loop about your host country, your placement, your partnering organization, and why the trip is important to you. Remember that donors have to send donations before you go on the trip, so it is important to show them that you followed up on how exactly the money was spent.


To access SOS’s FREE Fundraising Guide email

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