When you picture volunteering, you may think of preparing food at a soup kitchen, cleaning up a city park or tutoring a child. But did you know that you can make a difference without leaving your home? It's called virtual volunteering, and it's ideal for anyone who works nontraditional hours, is a stay-at-home caregiver, has limited transportation or simply prefers to volunteer this way.
Make volunteering easier
"Virtual volunteering is any kind of volunteer activity that you do remotely," says Jayne Cravens, who has been researching virtual volunteering since the 1990s.
Projects include bookkeeping, writing fundraising letters, building a website, entering data, translating a document, designing a logo and countless others, Cravens says.
Flexibility is one of the biggest benefits, says Sarah Jane Rehnborg, a Thrivent member and leader at the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the University of Texas at Austin. "You can do many of these volunteer tasks whenever you want to – early in the morning, late at night," she says. "You're not tied to specific hours."
Thrivent member Claudia Trautmann of St. Louis agrees. Now retired after a career as a chiropractor, she volunteers remotely as many as 10 to 20 hours a week. Trautmann began volunteering virtually right after college. "I was working full time, and I wanted to give back, but I didn't have the ability to volunteer in person," she says. "My first virtual volunteer experience was answering a women's crisis line from my home at night."
Today, Trautmann devotes most of her volunteer time to Bethania Kids, a nonprofit in India. The Christian organization serves poor, abandoned and disabled children through residential homes and before- and after-school programs, while also providing empowerment programs for women.
Trautmann is a board member of Bethania Kids, serving as vice president of Marketing and Communications. She works virtually with a team of other volunteers to create newsletters and other updates for supporters and donors.
"Virtual volunteering will take off from your first offer of help, and it will enrich your life in ways you can't even imagine," Trautmann says.
Making the commitment
Cravens says one of the biggest myths about virtual volunteering is that it's for people who don't have time for traditional volunteering. "Virtual volunteer projects require a real commitment," she says. "Once you've signed up as a volunteer, the nonprofit counts on you, just as it does its on-site volunteers."
Some jobs – like giving feedback on a new video or tagging photographs for a website – may not take long. "But whether the task takes hours or minutes, it can have a real impact," Cravens says.
How to get started
Consider your talents and passions and then contact your church, local schools or nonprofits to learn what kinds of volunteer needs they have. In addition, the following organizations have websites that link virtual volunteer opportunities with nonprofit organizations:
VolunteerMatch: Lists ways to support a broad range of causes, including education, the environment, homelessness and many more. volunteermatch.org
United Nations Volunteers (UNV): Connects volunteers to opportunities to address sustainable development challenges around the world. unv.org
All for Good: Includes detailed descriptions of volunteer positions as well as estimated time commitments. allforgood.org
More opportunities to make a difference
Thrivent’s generosity programs make it easy to give of yourself. See how Thrivent can help you live generously.