How to Volunteer Virtually
Looking to make a difference from the comfort of your own home? Look no further! All you need is an internet connection. These days, people are spending more time online, meaning virtual opportunities like volunteering are becoming more and more common — making it that much easier for you to give back.
But what’s the first step to virtual volunteering? That’s where we come in. We chatted with four American Family Insurance employees who have dedicated some of their spare time to online volunteer work. With their help and experience, we’ll walk through the process of getting involved with virtual volunteering, the skills needed to volunteer and tips to go above and beyond for your online cause.
Here’s what we learned.
How to Get Started as a Virtual Volunteer
First things first — find your perfect fit to volunteer! Keep in mind that you're volunteering a limited resource (your time) to this organization, so it should be something that adds value to your life. Write down what you aspire to achieve while volunteering before you start your search to make sure you stay on the right track of finding the right opportunity for you.
So where to begin finding the right fit? You might just find opportunities at your place of work! Many companies, including American Family, offer employee volunteer programs that make it easy to find opportunities that match your own passion with causes in your community. And if your company doesn’t offer these programs, you can always see if your friends or family members have any recommendations! Utilizing your network can help ensure you find trusted sources to meet your ideal match.
Otherwise, a quick search online can generate countless options! Our tip? Head to VolunteerMatch.org to explore their growing directory of virtual volunteering opportunities.
What Skills Are Needed to Be a Virtual Volunteer?
Volunteering is a great way to use individual, specific skillsets to give back to your community, like being a respite caregiver or volunteering as an EMT. But there are some general skills that all virtual volunteers will find helpful to have.
Here are key skills the volunteers we interviewed find most important:
Self-Motivated. Remember, you’re doing this work for free — and likely in the comfort of your own home. So having the skill to stay motivated is essential to being a virtual volunteer. Finding a volunteer opportunity that you’re interested in or passionate about could be just the key to staying motivated!
Jason Drain, who’s an application development engineer with American Family, said, “I volunteer because I want to help kids get excited about technology.” Jason found a way to blend his job profession with a passion of helping the younger generation learn about technology. IT skills-based volunteering is a great way to volunteer a specific skillset and give back to organizations like nonprofits or education.
Kelly Jones, a training specialist with American Family, was also fortunate to find an experience that tied a passion of hers with a personal skill — and uses that combo to get her excited about volunteering. “When I heard I would be working with kids and facilitating Saturday learning sessions, I was all in. I feel that my background in education, my role as a trainer, and my facilitation skills helped make the sessions successful and seamless.”
Like Jason and Kelly, consider what you’re passionate about and combine that with volunteering! Is there an area that really interests you or that you want to grow in? Use that as motivation to find — and enjoy — a volunteer opportunity!
Enthusiasm. Maybe you’re volunteer tutoring with a student after a long day of school or you’re helping a nonprofit after a full workday; whatever the case, putting a smile on your face and bringing enthusiasm to the session can really boost the morale!
Take it from Jennifer Lorenzin, a construction project consultant with American Family, who said, “In my experience, it is more important than ever to show enthusiasm. People tend to show up to virtual meetings/activities already drained about the idea of being virtual. The added excitement shows them that it’s not just a meeting on the calendar and that you really want to be there.”
Before logging on, take the time to prepare yourself mentally so you can create an atmosphere filled with positivity and excitement!
Adaptability. Volunteering in a virtual setting will require some flexibility — technology can be unpredictable! So being able to adapt on the fly is an especially important skill to have when online volunteering.
Liz Watson, who is also an application development engineer for American Family, shared, “A good volunteer is someone who’s willing to help and is flexible to the needs of the organization. This is especially important with virtual volunteering because it can be difficult at times.”
Kelly, who works with students, is a model example of being agile and adjusting to unexpected circumstances: “There were times when students’ technical equipment wouldn’t work, so having an understanding of mics, speakers and other methods of communication, like encouraging students to use chat, made the sessions much easier,” she said. “Also, there was a collaboration tool we used that I hadn’t used before. I learned and experimented with the children during the session with this tool and just went with it. They all enjoyed collaborating on one screen.”
Jason said the skills you need for virtual volunteering are actually similar to in-person volunteering — that is: “Communicating well, providing guidance and showing up consistently. You just have that added layer that it’s over Zoom. So being comfortable with that is important.”
There are many skills you can possess that’ll make you a valued asset to any volunteering opportunity. The fact you’re even thinking about volunteering shows that there’s something inside you that wants to get out and make a difference!
What’s the Time Commitment for Volunteering Virtually?
We understand that life can get in the way and keep you busy — but that’s one of the best parts about virtual volunteering: there’s less of a time commitment than in-person volunteering. With your commute being just a click away, there’s more time for learning and less time driving!
The time commitment for volunteering virtually usually varies according to the volunteer opportunity, but you can expect many places to require a minimum time commitment.
For example, Kelly said, “I volunteer every couple of months or so. For me, the time commitment is a couple of hours on a Saturday morning. The times or day may change depending on the volunteer activity.”
Liz shared that her commitment varied depending on the time of year and circumstance, saying, “Over the summer, we met with the mentees two hours a week for three weeks in a row. Now we meet for one hour every month.”
Only have a short amount of time to give a month? That’s okay! Jason said he volunteers for one hour a month, so finding places that’ll work with whatever time you’re able to give, whether it be thirty minutes or five hours a month, is definitely an option. Don’t hesitate to find out how much time is expected for you to commit before signing up — knowing the time commitment up front will help you prepare and better manage your time. And remember, if it’s not a good fit and you find yourself struggling to meet the time requirements, talk to your volunteer lead contact to see if they can work with you.
What Are the Benefits of Volunteering Virtually?
Volunteering in person is great, but volunteering virtually has a set of benefits all in its own — our volunteers helped us identify some specific to virtual volunteering:
It’s less limited. Volunteering virtually can give you more options than in person, since you’re not restricted by distance or location. You can volunteer online across the world if you dream of making an impact across the globe! Take it from Jason, who says his favorite benefit is, “You don’t have to drive anywhere!”
Jennifer said one of her favorite benefits of virtually volunteering is, “Being able to commit without the added schedule restraints and limitations of getting to facilities throughout my city. And being able to volunteer remotely has opened opportunities for places all over the country.”
It’s flexible. Being able to digitally volunteer gives you more flexibility in your schedule to commit to volunteering, too. Liz said, “One benefit of virtual volunteering is that it’s very accessible and easy to dedicate time to during the workday.” If you’d like to squeeze in volunteering into your breaks at work, just make sure your manager and team know in advance!
It’s safer. Kelly said one of the benefits of virtual volunteering is that it feels safer for her. Given the pandemic, many things, like work and school, have turned virtual to keep people socially distant and safe. Volunteering is no different!
Looking for ways to give back safely? Here are some simple ways you can support others while social distancing.
What’s the Most Rewarding Part About Virtual Volunteering?
Still unsure if virtual volunteering is for you? Consider this: Volunteering is a great way to get involved with your community, help those in need and do something for the greater good. You can meet new people, learn new skills and challenge yourself to try something different. Plus, it simply feels good to give back!
When asked what’s the most rewarding part about volunteering, Jennifer said, “There is no greater joy in life than in the things you can’t buy. Knowing that by helping someone you’re improving their day and making connections with people you otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s also very important to realize that what you gain out of a volunteer program can be so rewarding — not just for the mentee but also the mentor.”
Kelly said that what’s most rewarding for her is, “Seeing the children get involved, even if it was via chat or unmuting themselves. They were willing to speak up and share their thoughts and their creativity. Giving children the autonomy to collaborate, experiment and make their own decisions is the best learning there is.”
Liz, who also works with students, said, “For me, the most rewarding part is seeing what the students are working on and supporting them in any way they need.”
Do you also enjoy working with students? Learn more about becoming a volunteer tutor.
Tips for Virtual Volunteers
If online volunteering is new to you, there are some things you can know up front that’ll help you make the most of your experience.
Keep an open mind
Liz’s recommendation for new virtual volunteers is to come into the experience with an open mindset. She said, “My biggest tip is to be flexible and keep an open mind. It might be awkward at first, but it will be worth it!” Like any new experience, volunteering virtually might take some time to get used to, but you’ll gain confidence and become comfortable in no time if you trust in the process.
Find a volunteer opportunity you enjoy
Choosing to virtually volunteer with an organization is a great way to help others — but make sure to find something meaningful to you. Taking the time to find something you enjoy means you’ll likely stick with it longer and get more out of it.
Jennifer, who volunteers with high school kids, offers some great advice, said, “If you do it, really put in energy and excitement. I find it harder to generate motivation and enthusiasm virtually with this age, so don’t make it all business — think of fun ice breakers and games. Really leverage the tools out there.”
Have a contact who can advise you throughout the process
Kelly also gave some advice, saying, “Don’t hesitate to reach out to the program lead to make sure you feel comfortable with the volunteer opportunity and see if it would be a good fit.”
Sometimes you need to dig a little deeper than the description to find out if an opportunity is right for you — and that’s okay! See if there is someone else in the organization who is willing to take you under their wing. Having a mentor along the way can eliminate some of the stress or frustration when problems arise.
Get familiar with the technology
Kelly said, “It’s important to check out the virtual platform that will be used so you understand it before actually volunteering.” Up-front preparation — especially when technology is involved — can make all the difference. Familiarize yourself with the organization’s specific programs and you’ll be set for success!
There are many reasons to volunteer your time — but what we’ve discovered through speaking with Jason, Kelly, Liz and Jennifer is that giving your time to help a cause can be just as rewarding for the volunteer as it is for the organization you’re helping.
Sometimes our dreams can be more than about ourselves, so if you can change someone’s life and champion their dreams all from the comfort and safety of your home, that can spark a new dream inside you as well.
Support Others & Your Dreams
As you find ways to help others, make sure you’re making time to help yourself, too! Whether it’s helping you find ways to give back or offering support for your dreams, American Family is your go-to for inspiring articles and resources.