LOTS of "Volunteer" programs in Costa Rica cost something - ranging from a stipend $10 or so a day to $1,750+ for a week.
What's the difference you ask? Why are you having to pay?
First off, a large percent of the volunteer programs in Costa Rica entail you living there or nearby so there's of course food, accommodations and transportation+ involved.
Some volunteer programs are doing good in the community - so who's supposed to pay for the supplies, and your meals, accommodations, etc. since we KNOW that the government rarely helps out much.
I've had MANY organizers of some of the more expensive "Volunteer" programs share that they are OFTEN substitutes ways for people to ship their kids off during school break times so there's LOTS of "babysitting" going on (and Goddess forbid the spoiled brat prissy kids that complain about the rusticness, bugs, etc.).
Those programs also have insurance and often do other activities that include entrances, hiring drivers, gas in this EXPENSIVE country, etc.
Some programs are owners not wanting to hire regular workers to work their farm, etc. and/or that want responsible workers that they have more risk with (to say nothing of what a nightmare and how expensive hiring workers really are and how hard it is to get rid of bad workers).
Some programs you're helping someone on their personal property but they either charge $5-$10 or so a day to cover food and let me tell you, it's AMAZING how MUCH young growing guys and gals doing manual labor can eat (let alone how much a raw foodie often eats!!)!! A few months back I was staying at such a Work-Trade-Stay places in Ciudad Colon at Rancho Monovista Learning Center and Guesthouse - fb.com/ColonOrganica - and WOW!! LOTS of growing boys and girls and money going out and believe me - NOT all the volunteers do their share!! There's LOTS !!!
There are MANY different types of Volunteer programs in Costa Rica - something for EVERYONE and every budget!
I think it's one thing when people are gifting their professional time (like doctors, p.r. people, photographers, etc.) - BUT - MANY people these days are kids wanting to make their resume look good - OR - to help get them into college (international volunteer work is a BIG help for that I hear!).
On that note, I CAN say that it was volunteering for 2 weeks at Gail Nystrom - Costa Rica Humanitarian Foundation - CRHF.org • fb.com/CRHumanitarianFoundation - that got my nephew to be one of the few (% wise) white kids from an upper middle class family into UCLA right out of high school 2 years ago!!!!!!!!