16 July 2012

Helping Kenya volunteer with computer

Many first-time volunteers are forever pondering where their money goes. Typing in “why should I pay to volunteer” into Google brings up many articles, preaching the importance of paying to volunteer, which I am all for. But without specific examples, and a break-down of the costs, it does get confusing trying to figure out what money goes where. Words like ‘admin fee’ and ‘resources’ are never fully explained, so I have decided to take it upon myself to put together an article that approaches different projects, and tries to find out, where the money actually goes.

The first example is a sports coaching programme for unemployed youth group in Kenya, Africa, which looks into educating and empowering unemployed youths, through sports. Volunteers will be expected to help coach different sporting teams, assist in fundraising and arranging local tournaments. The cost for a volunteer is, per 4-week period, £1,000 inclusive of meals. So how far does this £1,000 stretch and where does this money go?

Helping Kenya volunteer with sports team

To begin with, £300 goes towards the accommodation. Accommodation of a standard that us Westerners would feel comfortable with, in Kenya, does not come as cheap as you would imagine. The cost to run it, maintain it and clean it, requires workers, materials and products - plus, £300 for 4 weeks, is pretty good value!

£150 goes towards your food, which is prepared and cooked for you, whilst another £100 is for transport costs, for being picked up at the airport, but also your local travel whilst on project business.

A further £150 is for the project, and their admin fee, which incorporates marketing, advertising and other costs such as phone bills, internet, paying staff to supervise the volunteers.

The rest of the volunteer’s money (£300) goes towards the project as a donation, and pays for the resources that the volunteers use, including pens, paper, phone bills, email service, sports kit, sports equipment and other materials that they may use, as well as staff costs. Without these donations, the projects could not afford to carry on; they could not afford to maintain their services, let alone take on volunteers, and therefore could not continue helping the youths of Kenya. These donations allow the project to survive.

In addition some projects suggest you might also like to make a physical donation of goods. The baggage allowance from London to Nairobi amounts to two bags, of which each can be 23kg. This generous weight allowed can be put to good use. Medical projects in Kenya will sometimes ask for the volunteer to bring medical supplies, whilst orphanages may ask for children’s clothes and toys, which again, the volunteer will bring over. These physical donations are in no way mandatory, however some volunteers like to fundraise for these items, and allows other people to get involved, by contributing directly to the project they will be volunteering for.

Other projects, however, may have higher running costs. Our second example is an eco-tourism conservation and research project. It costs £1,250 for 4 weeks. So where does this extra £250 go? As well as the same costs as the sports coaching programme, this project also asks for £250 to go towards the boat hire and fuel costs, which are essential when doing dolphin research. 

Volunteer and locals on a boat - Helping Kenya

Don’t be alarmed, however, to see that an organisation asks for an application or administration fee. When processing a volunteer's application, it is not just a matter of filling in a few forms. This fee is essential towards the upkeep of the agency/project, to cover costs of everything from lighting and phone bills, to marketing and advertising, all expenses endured while finding and recruiting volunteers.

Organisations will also supply support for a volunteer, in the UK and while on project, which will also be incorporated into the cost. Volunteering is an exciting experience, a great way to meet new people, and a chance to live life that is so different from anything previously experienced. Yet going to a new place where there are significant cultural differences can be slightly daunting. When volunteering through an organisation, you have the comfort of the security, knowing you are in safe hands with round-the-clock support if needed. Many volunteer agencies will not only set up accommodation and local travel for you, but they offer 24-hour helplines, support networks and usually a volunteer co-ordinator for support when volunteering. This ensures comfort for a volunteer, when they find themselves in such a different environment.

Taking the volunteering organisation where I work as an example, the £150 application fee is generally broken down into 3 sections:

  • £50 goes on staff, and things like electricity, phone, internet, website fees, rent.
  • £50 goes on advertising, as we are always looking for more quality volunteers for our projects.
  • £50 goes on providing support for our volunteers.

Hopefully, this break-down has allowed a more in-depth look into where the money actually goes. When paying to volunteer, it is important to know how much money goes on what, and a good organisation to volunteer with, will also be transparent as to where the funds go. Next time, instead of asking “Why do I have to pay to volunteer?”, why not try and find out where your money actually goes, and if it’s going on the right things? 

Helping Kenya volunteer with supervisor


This article was written by Felicity Jacques-Diwani of Helping Kenya, a Career Break Site-approved volunteering organisation. The projects used as examples in this post are real projects that are run by Helping Kenya, and the figures are correct as of July 2012. All images are from Helping Kenya projects.