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Be a Virtual Volunteer

by Kimberly Leung

Be a Virtual Volunteer

Volunteering can be very rewarding; just ask the 13 million Canadians who participate in charitable activities. If you’ve ever wanted to volunteer, but time, mobility, or other barriers have kept you from doing so, virtual volunteering could be the answer.

Despite the name, you won’t need a virtual reality headset or expensive equipment. Virtual volunteer opportunities involve you, your willingness to help, and your home computer. Tasks such as data entry, graphic design, or grant writing can be completed anywhere, not just at the office of your local nonprofit.

Time: a precious resource

According to a recent Statistics Canada survey, volunteers reported benefits such as improved interpersonal, communication, and organizational skills. Their contributions help their communities, increase engagement, and connect them with new friends. But despite these benefits, a lack of time remains a critical obstacle for many people when considering a volunteer activity. With family, work, and social demands, it can be hard to make the time to give back.

Virtual volunteering eliminates the need for you to be physically on-site. Instead, you’re given an assignment. How and when you work on it is entirely up to you, whether it’s a few spare minutes over your lunch break, or after the kids are asleep.

A win-win situation

Many organizations love virtual volunteering programs. For smaller charities without a physical location, it means they can do more without spending their limited budgets on overhead and rent. Meghan Kennedy, the executive director of Epilepsy Education Everywhere, found that as the organization was scaling up, she no longer had the time or skills to handle everything that was coming up.

“One of the first duties I handed over to a volunteer was our Facebook page,” she says. His impact was immediate. From running regular awareness campaigns to increasing the number of followers, his efforts have resulted in a 180 percent increase in people reached through this method alone.

Virtual volunteering also opens up the pool of candidates available to a charitable group. With instant messaging, email, and video conferencing applications, an organization can pick the volunteer with the best credentials and experience needed for specialized work, rather than limiting their search to local applicants.

Professional development

Pondering a career change? Looking for more marketable skills? Virtual volunteering can help with that too. At Catchafire, a website that connects professionals with volunteer openings in need of their expertise, projects are listed by cause, skills required, and time commitment.

No chance to flex your artistic talents at your day job? Volunteer to create an infographic for a youth development organization.

A communications major in your college days? Help a homeless shelter put together a press kit to reach more donors. Skills that you consider stagnant can be updated and put to good use on behalf of a charitable cause. Along the way, you gain relevant, real-life experience and build your professional network.

Stay connected

It’s important to remember that virtual volunteering still requires a commitment. Erin Crane, a development coordinator for Ti Kay, a nonprofit organization assisting patients with tuberculosis in Haiti, finds that while their virtual volunteer program runs quite well overall, the impersonal nature of the work makes it more likely that tasks are left unfinished. Kennedy, too, admits that without the face-to-face contact, it’s harder to establish relationships and maintain engagement with her volunteers.

Remember to be realistic about what you can accomplish when taking on a virtual volunteer opportunity. If you’re having any challenges with the work, don’t give up and go silent. Keep your volunteer coordinator up to date on your progress, so they can give advice and provide help as needed.

The bottom line

Whatever your motivation, volunteering benefits everyone involved. Even a short-term project can make a huge impact. With virtual volunteering, it’s easier to find the right opportunity and get started.

Commitment shy?

Interested in virtual volunteering but not ready to commit? Try microvolunteering! These tiny actions take only a couple of minutes, but make a big difference. HelpfromHome.org catalogues over 800 bite-sized good deeds that support deserving causes. For starters, you can sign a petition for an issue you care about or send a postcard to a sick child.

At worldcommunitygrid.org, you can even volunteer on a passive basis, by donating your computer’s spare operating power. Scientists use this extra computing capacity to complete complex equations that can help cure illnesses, map new genomes, and engineer clean energy options. With thousands of computers participating, calculations that would take years to solve can be cracked in a fraction of the time.

Want to learn more?

For more information about rewarding volunteer opportunities, check out these additional resources:

  • Catchafire – https://www.catchafire.org/
  • Getinvolved! – https://www.getinvolved.ca/
  • Help from Home – helpfromhome.org
  • United Nations Online Volunteering Service – https://onlinevolunteering.org/en/index.html
  • VolunteerMatch – http://www.volunteermatch.org/
  • World Community Grid – http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/

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