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Financial Issues

There is a wide range of financial arrangements behind international projects. The only hard-and-fast rule seems to be that nobody gets rich.

The level of financial support or compensation you receive is generally in line with the experience and skills you have to offer. However, there are always ways for motivated people with almost any skill level to participate on an international project.

The financial arrangements break down into three broad categories:

Consulting Projects

People who are highly qualified, with senior-level experience, or with a specialty that is in demand, can get an international project that carries a competitive salary. Medical doctors typically fall into this category, as well as people trained in disaster relief, national-level economics, or agricultural specialties in great demand.

Pro-bono Projects

You donate your time and the project covers your expenses (airfare, lodging, meals) and possibly gives you an additional small stipend. These projects are often available to people with advanced training or experience.

Within this broad category, the specifics vary from project to project. A particular project may also pay for the costs of immunizations, visas, health insurance, etc. Some projects even pay for the expenses of a spouse or dependent children.

Participants on pro-bono projects are typically called “advisors” because the bulk of these projects provide technical assistance. For example, many farmers and agriculture experts advise crop producers under one of the many farmer-to-farmer programs.

Volunteer Projects

If you provide the funding for the expenses of the project, you have a great deal of freedom in the type of international projects available to you.

Even people who are highly qualified to do pro-bono or consulting projects sometimes choose to do a volunteer project on their vacation time. In the words of a friend of ours: “it beats a week on the beach”. One friend of ours favors scientific research projects, because he and his son can spend a week on an archeological dig and get a whole new perspective on history.

The cost of travel while performing volunteer duties for a not-for-profit organization is usually tax deductable (but the value of the voluntary service itself is not). These issues need to be examined on a case-by-case basis by a tax professional.

If you don't have the personal finances to fund your expenses on a project, that's a hurdle that can be overcome! If you have a real desire to participate in volunteer projects, there are many ways to raise funds. Many field organizations that oversee volunteer projects will help you in fundraising efforts, and some even have scholarship programs. And while this web site does not focus on fundraising, please visit our Fundraising page for resources to raise funds.

Within the broad range of volunteer projects, there are some key points to consider about the project fee:

  • The fee for some projects just covers your actual personal expenses on the project. Any expenses that the organization has for organizing the project or its own overhead are obtained by the organization from grants or their own fundraising.
  • Some organizations take a portion of your fee for their own operating overhead and management of the project.
  • Some projects funnel a portion of your fee to the host organization with whom you work.
  • Sometimes, a portion of your fee goes to the materials you use on the project. For example, volunteers on some construction projects pay their own way and also buy the lumber and hardware for the project.
A volunteer project is a good way to introduce yourself to the world of international projects, since you have a good deal of control over the location, duration, and type of project.

There is another dividend to volunteer projects: spending a week or two on a volunteer project may set the stage for other pro-bono or consulting projects. If a field organization is considering two equally qualified advisors for a pro-bono projects, and you have “spent a couple of weeks working internationally,” you will be their first choice.

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