Despite the fact that you're donating your time and energy to a good cause, it's a fact of life that volunteering abroad can be pricey. With housing, flights, visas, food, and other expenses, it's easy for volunteering to become even more expensive than the initial sticker price of the program -- an issue for those who want to 'do good' but are constrained by their budget.
Never fear: as the popularity of volunteering placements in far-flung places around the globe has grown exponentially, so have the number and variety of scholarships for service, particularly given that many aren't well known by other prospective volunteers. For those who do know where to find them, there are plenty of options for cutting costs, meaning more opportunities for you to supplement your savings or even completely cover your expenses.
To get you on the road towards additional funding, we've compiled these tips and resources meaning your dream of volunteering abroad will soon be on the road to becoming a reality.
Community Scholarships for Volunteering Abroad
When searching for scholarships to volunteer abroad, it's a great idea to start in your own community. Many businesses and organizations will be glad to help someone local, especially a young, compassionate person looking to invest in service learning.
When searching for local scholarships, you might want to start with service-oriented community organizations such a local VFW chapter or Rotary Club. Be prepared when seeking information to be able to describe the benefits of your service in three ways:
- How it will help the actual people you are serving
- How it will help you
- How it will help their organization
Even if the group can't help you, they may know someone else who can.
In your community, there are also organizations that are specifically dedicated to service, either in the public or private sector. Many states have a division of volunteerism or community service that may be able to point you to local groups in your area that may have resources that you can use as a volunteer.
Churches, libraries, local non-profits, and community centers may also be good places to look for scholarships or funding and don't forget German clubs, Hispanic heritage groups, Chinese-American associations and your local Rotary Club either. Remember that it never hurts to ask and to always be appreciative of any advice or assistance that you receive.
Awards & Grants for Volunteering Abroad
Volunteering scholarships are abundant, generous -- and also very competitive. While there are many service scholarships out there funded by a variety of organizations, here a few of the largest ones in the business.
Notice that many scholarships are meant to pay for either certain projects or cover specific time commitments; they also often have very clear criteria for those who are can apply, so be sure to read the application details carefully.
- Scholar Trips International Travel Scholarships: 41 grants of up to $2,500 are available annually to high school students wanting to volunteer abroad. You just need to submit a 500-word essay or 60 to 90-second video responding to the year's question about travel.
- Samuel Huntington Public Service Award: This award gives a graduating college senior a budget of $15,000 for one year of public service anywhere in the world. Even better, there’s often more than one winner per year.
- Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program: This award is available for students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding and who want to study, intern or volunteer abroad, with grants of up to $8,000.
- National Geographic Grants: If you've got an amazing idea for a volunteer program or experience you want to organize from start to finish, this grant (worth $10,000-$30,000) is a good option. You have to submit a full outline of your proposed project to be considered.
These are just a few of the good things that the world has to offer- keep searching! Many of these grants and awards are offered annually, so be sure to check back regularly.
Scholarships from Volunteering Platforms & Organizations
As more and more individuals are drawn to volunteering abroad, an increasing number of volunteering platforms and organizations are offering their own scholarships to prospective volunteers.
- IVHQ "Alternative Break Scholarships": IVHQ offers four sponsored two-week programs in different fields, with the winners also getting their hands on flight vouchers and travel insurance from STA Travel and World Nomads.
- Rustic Pathways: Rustic Pathways gives away $250,000 in scholarships every year to gap year and university students each and every year to cover some or all of the costs of a volunteering semester somewhere around the world.
- Omprakash "Ethical Global Engagement Grants": If you're committed to service learning and keen to study for a qualification in this field, Omprakash helps those signing up for their EdGE Learning Platform and spending three months or more in a volunteer program with grants. These are particularly aimed at those in financial need and range from covering all costs (between $500 and $1500) to providing some assistance but expecting participants to fundraise the rest of the money.
There is a whole world of volunteering scholarships out there: check out this list of 32 volunteer scholarships and grants that Go Overseas has collected.
Go Overseas' Scholarship for Volunteering Abroad
You're in luck -- Go Overseas offers a $500 scholarship to apply to any part of your volunteering abroad trip, with applicants required to send in a creative short essay about what inspires them to volunteer abroad. Best of all, this scholarship is open twice a year, so check back on our scholarship page periodically for updates!
Ask Your Program about Scholarships
One of the largest funders of volunteer scholarships are the programs themselves. These funds can come from either the actual project or NGO in the country you are working with or the program that connects you to these projects.
The best way to go about this is simply to ask your point of contact about any opportunities that they may know of and be sure to search online as well. They may be able to put you in contact with benefactors.
What to Do If You Can’t Find A Scholarship?
Remember -- it is ok to pay to volunteer!
Even if there aren't any scholarships available for you at the moment, know that the money that you are paying to volunteer is usually money well spent. Although the organizations are more than thankful for your service, your monetary contribution helps them stay active.
Consider your time spent volunteering and your money spent on the program a one-two punch for the cause that you are championing. Also, don't forget that housing and food are usually included in the program fee, which is always a bonus!
If you’re struggling to find a scholarship that will support you through your volunteering program, however, there are still other options.
Fundraising Your Program Fees
Fundraising can be a good way to raise money for volunteering. If you feel like raising some money on your own, we love Fund and Seek, although other platforms such as GoFundMe are also a great option for connecting with friends and family keen to support you in your efforts.
Getting Paid to Volunteer Abroad
Yes, you did read that correctly: some companies actually pay their employees to volunteer abroad! From a few extra days per year for a short volunteering break to a six months' paid leave to invest in a project abroad, companies from Microsoft to Patagonia (and many more in between) are recognizing how important volunteering is to the globe and to their company's own performance. So, if finding a scholarship doesn't turn up trumps, polish up your resume and get applying to one of these forward-thinking companies!
Finding No-Fee or Free Volunteering Programs
Although some volunteering programs might look quite costly, there are plenty that are no-fee or completely free (bear in mind the former normally means you are still required to pay for your accommodation and food).
The range of volunteering programs that are completely free are quite limited; for example, you’re more likely to find opportunities in conservation or building projects than community development or education. However, if you do a little digging (the internet is seriously your new best friend on this one), then there are still plenty of options around the globe to choose from.
For a complete rundown of how to volunteer abroad cheaply, check out this article about finding free or no-fee volunteering programs around the globe.
This post was originally published in October 2011, and was updated in July 2018.