This study explores destination stakeholders' perceptions of volunteer tourism (VT) using equity theory. In this paper, 26 semi-structured interviews were conducted to understand individuals' needs, motivations, expectations and their assessments of inputs and outcomes. Equity theory sheds light on the micro-level of interaction between residents and volunteers and demonstrates why and how residents of Cusco (Peru) with an active role in VT develop certain perceptions in direct encounters with volunteer tourists. The data reveal how perceptions differ according to the respondents' social roles within VT. Heterogeneity, dynamism and a fluctuation between materialities and affection are discussed as important outcomes of these interactions. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.