- Giving Tuesday is traditionally a time to give back after the commercial frenzy of Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
- While volunteering in-person is restricted due to the pandemic, there are still ways to give your time to those in need.
- Virtual volunteering is on the rise, and includes anything from remote marketing support to tutoring, data entry, and even letter writing.
Working from home, virtual happy hours, and live streamed sporting events without spectators aren’t the only new virtual trends from this past year. Virtual volunteering is also on the rise as the pandemic has changed how people volunteer.
Volunteerism in 2020
The winter holiday months traditionally see a surge in volunteerism among individuals and employee groups. In particular, Giving Tuesday is a popular time for individuals and companies to spend time volunteering for community projects.
Suggested Reading: 3 Ways to Give Back to the Flexible Workspace Community on Giving Tuesday
However, opportunities to volunteer in person this year have been drastically impacted by COVID-19, even while many nonprofit organizations are experiencing higher demand for their services.
This past spring, with many countries around the world under some form of lockdown to combat the first waves of coronavirus, many people stopped their volunteer work.
In Australia, it is estimated that as many as two-thirds of volunteers stopped working as a direct result of the initial spread of coronavirus in the nation. Similarly in the United States, many organizations were forced to scale back their operations as volunteer numbers dwindled, particularly older volunteers.
Volunteers serve a crucial role in supporting social and community services. Many organizations depend heavily upon volunteers to run programs and struggle to do so without them.
The Benefits of Volunteering
Additionally, participating in volunteer activities has benefits for the participants as well. A recent study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies that looked at around 70,000 people in the United Kingdom found that participants who volunteered experienced a boost to their own mental health regardless of how happy they were with their life prior to volunteering.
Volunteer programs also play a role in employee engagement for many corporations.
These programs are used to support team building, professional development, and company culture. According to a 2017 Volunteerism survey by Deloitte, creating a culture of volunteerism can boost morale among employees and improve the atmosphere in the workplace.
Virtual volunteering is one solution that can help increase volunteer participation when in person opportunities pose too many hurdles.
What is Virtual Volunteering?
Virtual volunteering is any activity for a nonprofit that can be done from home.
In many cases, these activities are internet based for anything from data entry, marketing, or engineering support. For example, OneDegree, which develops tech-driven solutions that help families find, access, and manage nonprofit and social services efficiently and with dignity, uses the help of volunteers to ensure that all of their community resources are up to date, something that needs a human touch.
Other virtual volunteering activities can include letter writing campaigns, phone calls and video calls, mask making, or tutoring.
Virtual Volunteering for Groups and Teams
Whether a corporate team or a coworking space, virtual volunteering can provide an excellent way to build community when gathering in person is not feasible.
According to a recent survey by Fidelity Charitable, the challenges of this year have inspired an increased desire to give, including by volunteering.
The Medtronic Foundation, for example, completely pivoted all of their in-person volunteering opportunities to virtual ones this year. They used four approaches to effectively make the transformation happen:
1. They offered virtual opportunities.
What they found was that despite wanting to give, many of their employees were not sure of how to do so safely during the pandemic. By directly integrating a Volunteer Match search tool with virtual volunteering opportunities on their website, they were able to provide thousands of options to make an impact around the globe.
2. They made it personal.
To increase engagement and promote a culture of volunteerism, they leveraged the power of storytelling to make volunteer experience personal and to share the true impact of each volunteer activity.
3. They leveraged people’s skills.
When people can put their existing skills and passions to good use, it can help boost engagement. For Medtronic, this meant supporting employees with healthcare experience that wanted to volunteer their clinical skills.
4. They recognized both big and small acts of kindness.
This year has brought challenges close to home for many people, and stress to many more. As a result, it is not always possible for people to get involved in large scale volunteer projects. By recognizing even the smallest acts of kindness, such as delivering groceries to an elderly neighbor, people are encouraged to keep volunteering, no matter how much or little they are able to do.
Getting started with Virtual Volunteering
There are a number of excellent resources and lists of virtual volunteer opportunities, but looking close to home is a great way to directly impact programs in your local community.
Many local chambers of commerce, governments, and even coworking spaces can provide information about local non-profits organizations and how to connect with them about volunteering. If a favorite non-profit isn’t offering virtual opportunities, they may also need help shifting to digital operations, so it’s worth reaching out to see if they need support.
Here are several organizations with lists of virtual volunteer opportunities:
One thing that is important to remember is that volunteering is not just a holiday activity. Volunteers, whether in person or virtually from home, are needed by many organizations year round, not just during the winter holiday months. With an increase in virtual volunteer opportunities, finding ways to give back year round has become more accessible than ever.