Volunteer from home

Use your time and talents to help others, even when you can’t be there in person.

Virtual volunteering is an activity that you can do from your home or another remote location and involves the phone or the internet.

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."

It's traditionally taken many forms: from mentoring a small business, to helping reduce isolation for an elder over the phone, to offering your civil engineering skills to create a sustainable community, says Darcy Hughes, communications coordinator for VolunteerMatch.

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.

Comfort Dog Cubby giving tips on staying healthy

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.

Opportunities are Limitless, Flexible

Organizations like VolunteerMatch and the Points of Light have been receiving a record number of inquiries about virtual volunteering as well.

"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 says.

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 year-round."

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 health.

"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!