Man drinking out of a mug and looking at his computer screen that shows a volunteer artwork

How Do I Volunteer Virtually?

Updated April 3, 2021 . AmFam Team

Virtual volunteering is a convenient way to make a difference from the comfort of your home. Take a look at these tips from experienced online volunteers to get started.

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 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!

a collage of people

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.

Related Articles

Related article test
  • a woman writing on a piece of paper
    a person holding a pen
    Follow-Up Email After an Interview

    Your job search is moving right on track! Your application caught a potential employer’s attention, and you just aced the interview. Now, you’re feeling confident, energized and ready to move forward toward your dream job.

    But wait! While the interview finished well, it’s not quite over. Keep the good vibes going by taking the next, sometimes underestimated, step in the interview process — sending an interview thank you email. This is your opportunity to express your gratitude for the interviewers’ time, remind them of what makes you a great fit for the position, and invite them to contact you for further information that would assist in their hiring decision.

    Not quite sure how to write a follow-up email after an interview? Use these tips to quickly get your message in the hiring manager’s inbox and keep your name top of mind!

    How to Write a Follow-Up Email After an Interview

    Follow-up emails should always be concise, but the specifics of what to include depend on the kind of message you want to send. There are three different types of follow-up emails:

    • Thank you email — sent within 24 hours of your interview
    • Checking-in email — sent about a week later if you haven’t heard anything
    • Staying-in-touch email — sent if at least two weeks have passed since your interview with no contact from the potential employer

    For this article, we’ll focus on the first type — the interview thank you email. These tips can help you create the ideal follow-up email immediately after an interview.

  • a person writing on a book
    a person writing on a book
    How to Write a Cover Letter for a Job

    It’s true what they say — looking for a job is a lot of work! From scanning job boards to tweaking your resume to preparing for interviews, it can feel like a job to look for a job!

    But did you know one of the most important steps in the application process — writing a great cover letter — can set you apart early on the path to your dream job? In fact, a recent article shows 53% of employers still want them, and 49% of Human Resource managers think a cover letter is one of the best ways to boost your resume.

    Let’s take a look at what a cover letter is and some tips for how to craft one that sets your resume apart from the crowd.

    What Is a Cover Letter?

    Think of a cover letter as your personal introduction — like sharing a little about yourself to begin a face-to-face conversation with someone you’ve just met. It’s your opportunity to briefly highlight who you are and what you’ve done and inspire further interest. Plus, it can help you connect with the recruiter or hiring manager, give insight into your communication style, and demonstrate your willingness to go the extra mile to show you’re a strong candidate.

    You’ll want to keep the tone conversational yet professional and include three core components:

    • a captivating and memorable introduction
    • a shortlist of work experiences that reveal transferrable skills and provide context to illustrate how you could bring value to the company
    • a conclusion that thanks the reviewer for their consideration and invites them to follow up with you (be sure to include your contact information)

    While not all job listings request a cover letter, it’s highly recommended that you include one anyway. If there isn’t a place to attach it when responding to an online post, you can pair it with your resume in a single PDF document.

    Ready to write a great cover letter? With the following cover letter tips, you’ll be on your way!

    Tips for Writing a Cover Letter: What to Include

    In today’s competitive job market, knowing how to write a cover letter for a job you really want could set you apart from other applicants. After all, first impressions matter, and since a cover letter may be the first part of your application a potential employer sees, you want to be sure it’s engaging, well-crafted and convincing.

    Keep in mind, you have a small amount of space to accomplish a big task. You must be strategic. You’ll want to choose examples that uniquely capture your suitability for the role and accent the reasons you want to work there.

    With these tips for writing a great cover letter, you can feel confident you’re taking an important step toward creating an attention-grabbing application.

    1. Create a strong opening
    2. This is a classic you-had-me-at-hello challenge! Hiring managers receive mountains of cover letters and resumes, so to put yours on top you’ll need an opening that quickly captures interest and makes them want to read more. Rather than a ho-hum “this is my name, and I have X years of experience,” think about more enticing ways to draw in your reader. For example, you might immediately state what you think the company will gain by hiring you. Or you could impress them by sharing something you learned about the company that makes you excited to join their mission.

    3. Tell a compelling story
    4. Your career is composed of defining moments you’ll want to weave into your cover letter narrative. Again, you must be selective. The goal is to identify a few highlights from your experience and use them to craft a story that resonates with the qualifications noted in the position description. By using these “snippets” to reflect your individual journey, you’ll give insight into your personality and work style.

    5. Research the company/division and know about its current work
    6. Your school days may be behind you, but there’s still homework! Take the time to investigate and gain a clear understanding of what the company does and its goals and priorities. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way in convincing a potential employer you see the position as more than “just a job” — it’s a career opportunity in which you’re willing to invest.

    7. Address the recruiter or hiring manager by name
    8. One of the best ways to establish a connection and underscore your interest in the position is to personalize your cover letter. Think about it — when you receive a letter or email addressing you by name, aren’t you more likely to pay attention? With a simple internet search, you may be able to find out who you should address the letter to and make an impression by using their name. If you can’t discover the recipient’s name, consider addressing the letter to the division or the department that’s hiring for the role, such as “Dear (Company Name) Product Engineering team.” Whatever you do, don’t use “To whom it may concern.”

    9. Include job-related experiences and skills
    10. You can spark a hiring manager’s attention by tailoring your application to demonstrate how you’d be an asset to the company. First, brainstorm and jot down highlights from your career path. Then put your list side-by-side with the job description and choose two or three experiences that shine a light on the characteristics or competencies they’re seeking. To successfully prove you’re a good match for the role, you have to first show you’ve got the skills and background to match the job requirements. Pro tip: Use specific keywords from the posted job requirements so, if the company uses filtering technology to scan for qualified candidates, your application will be flagged for closer review.

    11. Keep it short
    12. A well-designed, easy-to-read cover letter is succinct. Since space and time are at a premium, keep it concise — no more than three to four paragraphs fit onto one well-organized page. If your cover letter goes beyond one page or isn’t visually appealing, a busy hiring manager may not take the time to sift through it. They will appreciate your ability to edit and leverage your words wisely.

    13. Customize each cover letter
    14. Here’s the rub: Tailoring your cover letter to each position you apply for takes time and effort. But here’s the payoff: A customized letter could motivate a recruiter to take a closer look at your application and, ultimately, schedule an interview. Use the company name, and reference how your background and abilities are well-matched to their specific needs — whatever it takes to communicate you’re already invested in them and motivated to prove your value to the team.

    15. Focus on the future
    16. A company that launches a thorough candidate search will be more inclined to pursue someone who expresses a desire to grow with them. Share an accomplishment or skill that shows how you can contribute as the company works to solve current and future business challenges. It’s great to talk about your past experiences but put them in the context of what you can bring to the table to strengthen the company now and in the future.

    17. Proofread
    18. Nothing says “hire me” like an error-free cover letter and resume. It’s one thing to make a generic statement about your efficiency and attention to detail — it’s quite another to demonstrate those qualities by proofreading your application materials before you hit submit. Scan your cover letter several times and ask a friend or family member to review it to be sure you have resolved any spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes.

    19. Consider using a template
    20. A cover letter template is a useful tool to help you get started. It can keep your letter focused and make it visually attractive. If you used a template for your resume, there may even be a matching template for an accompanying cover letter. (If you combine the two documents into one pdf file, this will really give it a unified look.)

    What Does a Cover Letter Look Like?

    The templates for cover letters are as varied as those for resumes, so you’ll have choices. From college students to executive-level professionals, job seekers of all types can find an appropriate cover letter template through a quick internet search. Simply type “cover letter examples” or “cover letter templates” into your favorite search engine and you’ll discover a plethora of options to get you started.

    Cover Letter Ready to Go? Take the Next Step

    Now you know how to write an excellent cover letter! By following these tips for writing a cover letter, you’ll not only gain an edge on the competition, but you’ll be one step closer to your next dream job.

    Once your cover letter and resume are submitted, you’ll be ready to prepare for and practice answers to common interview questions and nail your next interview!

    And remember, we have career growth resources to support you along your professional journey — no matter if you’re looking for your first internship, changing careers or planning to start a new business. Visit us and be inspired!

  • Tips to Writing Professional Emails

    Let’s face it — writing professional emails is a skill that must be practiced and honed, much like writing prose on parchment with a feather dipped in ink during the Renaissance. Whether you type multiple emails a day or do it once in a blue moon, writing effective business emails can help you and your work stand out.

    How? Well-written emails can show great project management, leadership and communication skills. Once you’re known as an email-writing pro, you could be perceived as a trustworthy contributor who can handle larger, more complex projects. Plus, you’ll always be a pleasure to work with, making messages and objectives clearly understood and managed.

    Ready to get started? Here are five of the top professional email writing tips.

    1. Know Your Audience

    While you may have background info and passion behind your project, your audience likely does not. If that's the case, try to keep jargon to a minimum and provide meaningful info that helps your audience follow along and stay engaged.

    As you craft your email message, ask yourself:

    • How could I explain this so a friend who works in an entirely different field would understand it?
    • What is the most important thing the reader needs to know? (Pro tip: Put that info near the top!)
    • Is there a due date the reader needs to keep in mind? (Pro tip: Highlight the date to make it stand out.)

    2. Create an Attention-Grabbing Subject Line

    Information overload is real. The subject line of your email could be the deciding factor in whether your email gets read, skimmed — or deleted without being opened. A subject line that speaks to your audience can help. Which of the headlines below would get you to open an email?

    Headline 1: Five 401(k) changes that could impact your retirement?

    Headline 2:Third-party vendor releases annual retirement plan updates?

    Hopefully, you picked the first one!

    3. Keep It Short

    Attention spans are short and schedules are busy — making it more important than ever to keep your email short and to the point. How, exactly, do you do that? Keep these tips in mind:

    • Tailor your message to your audience.
    • Delete all unessential information.
    • Link to background information instead of typing it into your main text.
    • Take out fancy words or jargon.
    • Say it once, say it clearly and move on.
    • Use text formatting such as bold type and bulleted lists to draw attention to due dates and key points.
    • Include only the details that matter to your audience. (People will reply to your message if they want more information or have questions.)
  • Woman learning to play guitar for her personal development plan
    Woman learning to play guitar for her personal development plan
    How to Write a Personal Development Plan

    Everyone has personal goals and dreams they want to achieve. Whether your dreams are focused on self-improvement, personal growth or career advancement, they can sometimes be challenging. Creating a personal development plan can be an important and effective way to realize your personal goals — and cultivate a growth mindset, which is a must when you're pursuing your dreams.

    What Is a Personal Development Plan?

    A personal development plan is an action plan that can help you:
    • Clearly outline your goals
    • Define the steps needed to achieve your goals
    • Track your progress toward your goals
    • Recognize challenges you may encounter
    • Identify your strengths and areas for improvement
    • Increase your motivation
    • Improve your sense of purpose

    Keep reading to learn more about why you should make a personal development plan and how to get started!

    Why Should You Make a Personal Development Plan?

    A personal development plan can help you organize and focus your efforts so the  goals you want to accomplish can  become a reality. A personal development plan can help you:

    • Stay motivated to continue working toward your personal goals
    • Provide you with a greater sense of self-awareness by helping you become clearer about what you want to accomplish
    • Save time because it's your personalized action plan

    How to Make a Personal Development Plan

    A personal development plan typically consists of writing out nine steps:

    1. Setting your goals
    2. Prioritizing your goals
    3. Establishing timelines
    4. Knowing your strengths
    5. Recognizing challenges
    6. Taking advantage of opportunities
    7. Learning new skills
    8. Leaning on others for support
    9. Tracking your progress

    By crafting a detailed plan using these nine steps, you’ll know exactly what needs to be done as you work toward completing your dreams. Let’s break down what makes up each of the nine steps:

    1. Set your goals

    The first step in creating your personal development plan — and achieving your dreams — is setting your goals. This starts with writing your goals down and defining what exactly they are. Long-term goals lend themselves well to a personal development plan because they can take time to accomplish. It can be easier to manage long-term goals when you detail the steps you need to take to achieve them. Consider making a personal development plan for long-term goals like:

    • Getting promoted to a senior position at work
    • Completing your first marathon
    • Improving your diet
    • Learning an instrument
    • Publishing an article in a professional journal

    One effective way to set goals is to follow the SMART goal methodology. SMART goals are:

    S – Specific: What, exactly, do you want to accomplish? 
    M – Measurable: How will you measure your progress as you work toward completing your goal? 
    A – Achievable: What you can realistically achieve, and what skills will you need to reach your goal?  
    R – Relevant: Why do you want to accomplish your goal now? Does it align with your other goals? 
    T – Time-sensitive: What deadlines will you set, and how will you hold yourself accountable for meeting them? 

    The SMART process can help you clarify the purpose of your goals and may even boost your productivity. Learn more about SMART goals below and download this worksheet to help set your goals.