When you think about volunteering, you picture visiting the sick or elderly, serving food at a homeless shelter or
tutoring schoolchildren. All in person. But now, as the coronavirus rapidly spreads across the U.S., and social
distancing is required, you still can give back. You just need to change how you do it.
There's a trend that's long been popular with those who work nontraditional hours, are stay-at-home parents or
caregivers, have a disability or illness that limits them, or simply prefer to volunteer from home. It's called
Virtual volunteering is really any activity that you can do from your home or another remote location and involves
the phone or the internet. And no special skills are needed in many cases.
Taking It Online
LCC K-9 Comfort Dog Cubby is a golden retriever placed at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, Colorado, through
Lutheran Church Charities. Cubby and her handlers minister to children and adults of all ages, providing comfort in
times of trauma, loneliness, grief and fear.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, Cubby Comfort Dog has not been able to visit people in person. But she's
"visiting" through email and Zoom. And, of course, on her Facebook page. For example, Cubby's friends at Respite
Care, Inc., in Fort Collins, recently received an email card from Cubby. It was her picture with some good tips from
Cubby (OK, her handlers) on how to stay healthy during this time.
It's something easy to print out, post in common areas of the facility or deliver on paper to residents' rooms. The
notes can include bible verses, healthy wishes and lots of love for those who may be lonely or fearful.
"It's mercy, compassion, prayer and presence," says Bonnie Fear, Cubby's lead handler, or "top
dog." "It's about making connections, and we can do that while following the health guidelines. Other LCC
K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry teams located across the U.S. are also coming up with very creative ways to stay in touch
with others they routinely visit."
There are many ideas for virtual volunteering, and they've been popping up all over the internet:
Choirs and bands hosting online concerts to raise money for a community cause.
Church leaders learning how to stream their services. And tech-savvy people coaching their less-savvy family and
friends on how to access those services.
Teachers, college students and others offering online tutoring services.
Neighbors or friends emailing, texting or calling someone who lives alone.
Fitness experts providing online classes for anyone who wants to get fit.
"These requests to volunteer are no surprise to us: during times of great uncertainty, we are often deluged with even
more inquiries than usual by people wanting to help – even when helping might put them personally at risk," Hughes
Both organizations provide resources to help people find a good virtual volunteer fit. Many of the opportunities
don't require specific skills.
"However, if you're already a skilled in-person volunteer, many of those skills can be transferred to digital
volunteering," Hughes says. "For example, you can become an online tutor for a child experiencing
homelessness, or perform research and grant writing for organizations that take on community safety and health
Other tasks could include bookkeeping, building or updating a website, writing fundraising letters or translating documents.
One of the biggest benefits of virtual volunteering is its flexibility. You can do many of these tasks when it works
best for you, including early morning or late at night. You're not tied to specific hours. Plus, you know that your
work is making a difference for a cause you care about. A nonprofit counts on its virtual volunteers just as much as
on its on-site volunteers.
Since COVID-19, and until recently, Cubby Comfort Dog and her handlers were still visiting residents at care
facilities, but it was all through glass windows. While Cubby pressed her nose to the window for a virtual stroke
under her chin or behind her ears, a handler held up a sign expressing love, bible verses and wishes for good
"We're being creative with our ministry," says Fear. "We'll use windows, distancing and technology as needed to continue to connect with people."
Share Your Virtual Volunteering Stories
If you’ve got a virtual volunteering success story, or have an idea you'd like others to know about, share it with us!