Volunteer (aka Camper) Fees
Many home repair organizations rely on volunteer fees as a main revenue source. Prices for a week-long summer trip with organizations that we researched range from $229 to $595 per person, including food and lodging. (Association members can view a chart of the fees charged by 30 different programs/organizations, as well as details about their payment structures, incentives, etc.) Rates vary a lot because each organization provides a unique experience. Considering raising (or lowering) your prices? We want to help you consider all of the factors that should go into setting your fees. We also have ideas to share with you regarding cancellation policies, rate structures and payment schedules. Finally, we have collected information about incentives you could use to help retain and recruit volunteers/campers.
When working on your annual budget, you’ve probably considered questions like these before setting your volunteer fees:
- What are your costs per person (food, lodging, construction materials, etc.)?
- What is your overhead (program staff, administration, vehicles, insurance, etc.)?
- What is included in the fee (t-shirt, devotional guide, etc.)?
You might want to take a step back and also consider your pricing philosophy:
- Do you need to cover all of your expenses or do you have other revenue sources (grants, donations, merchandise sales, etc.)?
- What kind of volunteers/campers are you trying to attract (junior high, high school, college and/or adult; affluent, low-income or a mix; etc.) and how much can they afford to pay?
- What other expenses do your volunteers/campers have that they aren’t paying to your organization (vehicle rentals and possibly airfare, food before and after the trip, etc.)? The total cost to your volunteers/campers may actually be double your fee.
- Are you trying to grow and recruit new volunteers or are you happy with your current registration numbers?
- Have your fees have ever deterred anyone from participating with you?
- Do you provide your volunteers/campers with fundraising ideas?
- Do you have a scholarship fund?
Some organizations have different prices for different programs. You could charge the least for a college spring break program, for example, because college students don’t have a lot of money (or usually a lot of skill, so they won’t go through construction materials as quickly). Your middle tier for pricing might be your summer youth program. (Teenagers eat a lot!) An adult program fee could be the highest as adults can work much faster, need more construction materials, and they also usually have the most financial resources. You might consider offering a daily rate so that groups who want to work a long weekend have an option. Other pricing variables could include whether or not you allow the group to provide their own food, programming, etc. AdventureServe Ministries charges an individual volunteer fee and then a separate worksite fee based on how expensive the home repair project is. Jubilee Project charges less if volunteers choose to purchase their own construction materials. If you have local volunteers and aren’t providing food or lodging, you might not want to charge anything. Folks don’t usually expect to pay to volunteer in their hometown like they do when they go away on a trip. Instead, you could ask for a suggested donation to help you cover the cost of building materials.
It is a good practice to require a deposit in order to register for your program. If your volunteers have some “skin in the game” they will usually register for a more accurate number of volunteers. Without a deposit, they may grab more space than they really need and later reduce their numbers, after you’ve already turned away other potential volunteers. Deposits will also help with your cash flow; consider making a payment deadline for a time of year when your bank balance tends to be the lowest. A $50 deposit for a week-long trip is common. Some organizations also charge a group registration fee in addition to an individual fee. This could help you cover some of your administrative expenses.
You could break up the remainder of the fees due into two payments. It will help your volunteers to spread out their deadlines; it gives them smaller, more manageable fundraising goals. If possible, have the final payment due a couple of weeks before the trip. This will allow you to have firm numbers for ordering food, planning projects, etc. It will also eliminate the need for a conversation about finances upon the arrival of your volunteers, which will allow you to provide a more welcoming, hospitable beginning of their experience.
Even if you charge a deposit, you will probably experience some attrition between your registration numbers and actual volunteers. Life happens; people get sick, change plans, move, etc. The more time there is between registration and the trip, the more attrition you’ll have. Some volunteer groups have a waiting list and are able to substitute people at the last minute. However, you’ll need to decide what your cancellation policy is. Deposits are usually non-refundable. You may decide to be lenient in the case of extenuating circumstances for an individual, but have a firm policy in the case of an entire group wanting to cancel after making a partial payment.
Some home repair nonprofits offer incentives related to pricing. Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity offers a lower rate to returning groups while Sierra Service Project gives a discount to new groups. Carolina Cross Connection has three different payment deadlines; a discount is given every time a fee is paid on time (or a late fee is tacked on if you pay after any deadline, depending on how you look at it). Mountain T.O.P. charges slightly less for the weeks that are harder for them to fill, gives a discount for groups who haven’t participated in the last three years in order to encourage them to come back, and has lower pricing and free registration for the youth director and pastor for new groups. Alabama Rural Ministry also offers several different incentives: a free or discounted team leader if the group is over a certain size, churches with small memberships get a special rate, and there are incentives for recruiting another church to volunteer and for recruiting a summer staff applicant who they hire.