Become a Virtual

Written by Marissa Poulson

Volunteers are an essential part of any community. But what happens when you want to give back, but don't know where to start? Maybe the organization you are interested in is far away or there aren't a lot of volunteer opportunities in your town—what happens then?

Thanks to the rise of virtual volunteering, time and place no longer dictate whether or not you can give back. As long as you have access to the Internet and a computer, you can find a way to volunteer.

Finding Virtual Volunteer Opportunities

It wouldn't be much of a virtual volunteering opportunity if you couldn't find it online! Thanks to websites like VolunteerMatch.org, the Web's largest volunteer engagement network, you can search for volunteer opportunities anywhere and from wherever you are.

"When we launched VolunteerMatch, we were very interested in using the power of the Internet to not only create brick-and-mortar relationships, but also to unlock the potential of new relationships between good people and good causes that would no longer be dependent on proximity and region," explains Robert Rosenthal, vice president of communications and marketing at VolunteerMatch.

While the bulk of the 80,000+ volunteer opportunities listed on the site at any given time include an actual brick-and-mortar location, there is a small chunk dedicated solely to virtual volunteer opportunities.

"Virtual volunteering opportunities, or those that can be accomplished from virtually anywhere, typically make up about five percent of the overall number of volunteer listings posted by nonprofits at VolunteerMatch.org," reveals Rosenthal. "They remain a popular way for people to get involved and contribute from anywhere."

Virtual Volunteering Snapshot

So what do these virtual volunteer opportunities look like?

A search on VolunteerMatch.org turned up 4,386 virtual volunteer opportunities. Needs ranged from tutors and peer mentors, to writers and web developers. There are options for people who want to serve as advocates in education, those who can serve as helpline volunteers for at-risk individuals, and those who can jumpstart online fundraisers for a good cause. There are even some options for those of you who can knit or sew!

All that's required is a computer, a needed skill set, and the desire to serve.

Benefits of Volunteering

You may be wondering why you should consider giving up the little bit of free time that you have to volunteer. For one thing, helping people never gets old. Just ask those who do it on a regular basis! There is simply no substitute for putting a smile on someone's face or meeting a need.

At the same time, there are practical benefits associated with volunteering. If you are considering switching careers, but need to gain additional experience, volunteering is a great way to do it. It's also a way to get more involved in your current career field.

For example, Dr. Mary Goggins Selke, core curriculum faculty for Northcentral University's School of Education and founding chair of the Association of Teacher Educators' Special Interest Group (SIG) for Educational Leadership, recently had the opportunity to publish an article in the Southern Journal of Educational Administration with other SIG members.

"It started out as a presentation for a national conference that we attended, but then I received an email call for article proposals and suggested to the team that we convert the paper to an article," she relates. "We met over lunch at the conference and hammered out an article outline and who -needed-to-do-what. I wrote the intro and closing discussion, submitted the article, and the rest is history."

Selke also serves as choir director for a nursing home choir in her hometown, the perfect outlet for utilizing her passion (and undergraduate degree) for music.

"I always thought volunteering was just something you did because my family did lots of it and involved me from the time I was very young," she says. "But the truth is it doesn't matter if it involves professional service or local or global community service in an area of passion apart from one's profession. Or, if it's done in-person or virtually… volunteering always provides a means to augment the quality of life for people touched by the ripple effect of putting your actions where your beliefs are."