Are local projects kept too much in the dark about what volunteers pay? Master student Emma researched voluntourism in South Africa and shares her experiences with Volunteer Correct: “There is ample opportunity for improvement if receiving projects insist on becoming better informed”.
My time in Durban has come to an end. During the three months that I have conducted my fieldwork I have interviewed 21 people at six different organisations. These organisations are contributing to the rights or take care of street children, orphans, mentally disabled people, HIV/aids repression, abused children and the rehabilitation of wildlife. Even though I still have to begin with analysing the collected data, I can already make some small conclusions. One of those conclusions is that the receiving organisations and their staff are not sufficiently informed about the financial side of the volunteering industry. Five out of six organisations do not know exactly what volunteers pay the sending organisation.
Here, I will only talk about financial dependence of volunteer projects but local organisations could also be dependent on the work of volunteers. Volunteers could be doing tasks that staff members could do, they would be working as normal staff members. If there are no more volunteers, the projects would not be sustainable in this case. At the six projects I have been to, this was not the case. All projects had enough staff members to keep the program running when there were no volunteers. The volunteers only had a supporting part within the project.
To make things clear; volunteers have to pay the sending organisations a certain amount of money to be able to participate on a volunteering program. The only organisation which is up to date about the finances, is not content with the way the money is divided. They have told me that the projects get 10% of the total amount of what the volunteers pay the sending organisation. In addition, the volunteers are encouraged to donate some extra money. The money from the donation has to be transferred to the bank account of the sending organisation, they will administer the donations. The project will have to prove that they really need the money. Also the donation can only be invested into material things. In the case of the above mentioned project it means that they now have a lot of nice stuff but they are struggling to pay their staff, electricity bill and hospital bills. If they can show on which material purpose they want to spend the money on, the sending organisation will hold back 10% for administrative costs (on a donation of €2000,- this would be €200,- of administrative costs!)
A remedy for the ignorance about finances would be communication.
All the organisations will receive a certain percentage of the amount the volunteers pay. The way the organisations make use of this money varies. Four out of six organisations say they are depending on the money they get. Also, these organisations say that the project they run will not survive without the help and the money of the volunteers. In this way they will make themselves dependant on the sending organisation. If the sending organisation pulls out the project will not survive. Furthermore it gives the sending organisation the power to claim things from the project, they are the ones who bring money in, so they are in a position to demand things. But on the other side, more people and animals are being helped by the volunteers being there, if they were not, the project would not exist. A lot of the projects were set up because of a missing factor, a lack of government organisations who should take care of ‘the weak’. If these projects will disappear because of money problems, there is often no other organisation who can fill the gap.
At the street children project I was told that they prefer to have long term volunteers, because they have more impact. Nevertheless, having long term volunteers can be problematic because at some point they will cost the project money. The amount they get for each volunteer does not cover the costs of accommodation and transportation in the long run. The difference in money for a long and short term volunteer is not that big. When I asked the volunteer supervisor if he would talk with the volunteers about the costs, he said he’d rather not talk about that subject: ‘The volunteers are coming with good intentions, I don’t want to talk about money with them.’
A remedy for the ignorance about finances would be communication. To improve the communication between the receiving project and the volunteers would help a lot. The volunteers know what they have paid and the receiving projects know what they get. Both sides can make a calculation and find out how much money would stick with the sending organisation. There is a task for the volunteers and the sending organisations, but certainly also for the receiving projects to get better informed. The receiving projects need to get behind the steering wheel and make sure that they inform themselves about the finances within the volunteer tourism industry.
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This post is also available in nl_NL.