We believe international volunteering should be accessible to as many people as possible. A fundamental part of our work is to offer the highest quality volunteer experiences at the lowest possible cost.
“I found UBELONG to be an extremely affordable program with very reasonable prices, especially in comparison to other similar companies.” – Eleanor Weekes, UBELONG Costa Rica Volunteer from the United Kingdom – read her interview here.
Without compromising safety, flexibility or the extensive support UBELONG Volunteers receive, we offer very affordable international volunteering opportunities.
Why are we so affordable?
For too long international volunteering was either limited to the Peace Corps, a U.S. Government program open only to American citizens willing to serve for over two years, or “voluntourism” companies, which are basically just tourism companies seeing an opportunity to charge people a lot of money to be “tourists” while “doing good.” UBELONG has revolutionized how people volunteer abroad by making it more accessible. A critical component of that is affordability.
UBELONG is not a tourism company. And we’re not part of an “industry” – there is nothing industrial about volunteering. In fact, we are uncomfortable with the word “voluntourism” because the motivations of volunteers and tourists are very different. We help educate the public about that difference. Many people take a vacation to volunteer abroad. But taking time off work or school to volunteer is very different from taking a “volunteer vacation,” which UBELONG does not offer.
We are mission driven. We want to make international volunteering more accessible because we believe international volunteering can change the world for the better. Human exchange is powerful. Learning, sharing and traveling breaks down barriers and brings people together to solve problems.
At the same time, we are dedicated professionals with families ourselves. We put a tremendous amount of effort, time and work into UBELONG, and, like anybody else, we must be compensated for our work.
Offering a volunteer trip, especially to the types of countries where we work, does not “just happen.” There are a tremendous amount of resources that go into organizing logistics like accommodations, transport and meals, as well as providing all the network, structure and support that UBELONG provides. So, our goal as it regards to affordability is to offer opportunities that are economically fair and sustainable for ourselves and our families, but also rooted in our social mission.
How do we do it?
UBELONG has managed to introduce a new model of short-term international volunteering that is big on affordability, but also service. The UBELONG model keeps our field costs low. In all our locations we work with a network of local partners. We have partners that are clinics, NGOs, schools, etc. That’s where our volunteers work. We also manage networks of local individuals and organizations that run everything else, for example airport pickup, orientation, housing, meals and field support.
From a development standpoint, strong local partnerships make more sense to us: we’re empowering and hiring local capacity. And, getting back to the dollars, it fits us better. Yes, working with locals means we have to put more upfront work in terms of bridging cultural gaps and preparing locals for the expectations of Westerners, who are 80% of our volunteers. However, once our local partners are up the learning curve, we are working with people who are more effective navigating the local context – it is their country after all – and more likely to work with us long-term because they are already at home. We do more with less.
“I would highly recommend volunteering through UBELONG to others, especially if you are traveling solo! With having UBELONG and the local team supporting you and taking the guesswork as well as the stress out of finding clean, safe, practical accommodation and an ethical organization to serve, it is worth the very affordable cost!” – Caitlin Fahey, UBELONG Costa Rica Volunteer from the United States – read her interview here.
Connections are also really important for developing new projects, recruiting volunteers and managing an organization like ours. We are fortunate to have many great connections, and these help us fulfill our mission to make international volunteering more accessible. Our connections come primarily from two sources:
- UBELONG was founded in Washington, DC. When we walk down the street we cannot help but walk into embassies, think tanks, government agencies and universities. This access is free and enormously valuable in building an international volunteering organization. Simply, we do not have to hop on a plane to meet influential people. We are already living with them.
- Our team has an enormous network to tap into. We have connections into universities throughout the world, as well as some of the most important international organizations, including the U.S. State Department, United Nations and World Bank. Our team has also lived, worked and volunteered internationally extensively, which means we also have a powerful grassroots network. Being able to tap into these already established networks lets us further save money, which we then pass on to UBELONG Volunteers through lower costs.
Finally, marketing is expensive and takes a big chunk of most international volunteer organizations’ budgets. We also spend our fair share, but we have also embraced a very old fashioned mentality that keeps costs low: we really, really care about each UBELONG Volunteer.
Our goal is to exceed their expectations. We do it because delivering excellent service is part of our organizational culture, but also because word of mouth is free and infinitely more powerful than any paid ad. We have had people say UBELONG Volunteers are “over-serviced” – they pay half and get twice as much. But we believe that is the right thing to do, and the results prove we are on to something. Many of our volunteers come to us after being referred by a UBELONG alumnus. And, as you can read in our Volunteer Abroad news section, the overwhelming majority of our volunteers really like us and are willing to tell the world about UBELONG.
We are not the most affordable – and neither is anybody else
There are a few organizations that claim to offer the “most affordable” volunteer opportunities.
First, they do not, because in many cases UBELONG is more affordable than them. Make sure to compare our prices to theirs, and also consider the authenticity, support and services they offer.
And, if they are more affordable than UBELONG, they are not the “most affordable.” There are ways of volunteering abroad for free, and any organization that claims it offers the “most affordable” volunteer trips is lying.
For example, if you’re an American citizen you could volunteer with the Peace Corps and not only have your costs covered by the U.S. Government, but also get paid a little.
Or, if you’re willing to put in a lot of extra legwork and don’t want the security, structure and support that an organization like UBELONG offers you, you could just show up in a country and find a project, for example a school, to volunteer in. You’ll of course have to negotiate with local folks to get your housing and meals for free, and you won’t have much support, especially if things go wrong, but it is possible.