Mom and Dad might not be as active as they once were, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interested in sharing their experience and knowledge with others. Online volunteering allows them to do just that.
“There are at least several thousand organizations using the Internet to support and involve volunteers,” says Jayne Cravens, co-author with Susan J. Ellis of The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. “People engaged in online volunteering undertake a variety of activities, long and short and everything in between, from locations remote to the organization or people they are assisting, via a computer or other Internet-connected device.”
“Virtual volunteering has made it easier for us all to give back and make a difference,” echoes Andrea Ziel, executive director of WomenOnCall, an online platform that connects volunteers to a wide range of projects. “Virtual volunteering opens the door to a meaningful way to give back and makes volunteering accessible. It allows you to support the work of an organization on your own schedule and from the comfort of your own couch.”
According to Cravens, the majority of online volunteers assist traditional organizations, whether it’s the local chapter of Girl Scouts of America or your local library, animal shelter, homeless shelter, faith-based organizations, community theaters, nonprofit zoos, and so many more. These organizations seek virtual, or digital, volunteers to create web pages, write newsletter articles, test online tools, translate text from one language to another, moderate or facilitate online discussion groups, post to Facebook, and much more.
And while you do need Internet access, not all online volunteering opportunities are technology-related. Virtual volunteers can provide legal, business, medical, financial or other expertise/advice; tutor or mentor students; monitor the news; or manage other online volunteers, to name just a few possibilities.
And don’t think that just because you’re not volunteering face-to-face, you’re not making a difference, says Cravens. The nonprofit organization Crisis Text Line, for example, has trained more than 1,500 online volunteer crisis counselors, and exchanged more than 19 million text messages with people in crisis.
There is no one database that lists all online volunteering opportunities, but here are a handful to get you started:
- Catachafire, an online community that matches professionals with nonprofits
- VolunteerMatch, which connects volunteers with organizations, by interest and geographic location
- United Nations Volunteers, which teams up volunteers with organizations around the world to address sustainable development challenges
- Idealist, a searchable database that connects professionals and volunteers with organizations
- Createthegood.org, an AARP project to encourage baby boomers and seniors to share their skills, knowledge, and experience in their community
- Innovations for Learning, an online volunteer tutoring program to teach low-income first-graders to read
- iCouldBe, which seeks online mentors for at-risk middle and high school students
- World Community Grid, which enables volunteers to donate their idle computer hours to scientific research (by downloading a toolkit, your computer will do research calculations when you’re not using it)