How To Volunteer Online—From The Comfort Of Your Own Home
Virtual Volunteering For Socially Distanced Support
It’s time to throw #aesthetics and performances out the window and contribute our actual time to the causes we care about—because an Instagram story only lives for 24 hours, but an investment of self can linger for a lifetime.
COVID-19 finds many of us with more time, less money, and an abundance of concern for our communities. But we can’t easily head into retirement centers, affordable health clinics, or animal shelters to lend our energy as volunteers, so how can we foster that support from home?
We’ve compiled a list of ideas for virtual volunteering below. Each section starts with some tips to support the people directly in your network so that you can strengthen existing connections. But don’t stop there—it’s also equally important for us to expand our horizons and help those outside of our spheres, especially if our network is homogenous. For a wide variety of specialized remote volunteer opportunities, start by checking VolunteerMatch, Idealist, or your local volunteer match organizations, like LA Works.
Ultimately it comes down to this: we’re stronger when we’re together, and 2020 requires all the community connection it can muster.
Mental Health Support
The CDC notes rather simply, “pandemics can be stressful.” Combine that stress with the essential conversations around race and inequality, and there’s a heaviness that cannot always be borne alone. It probably won’t take you long to find someone in your own network who can benefit from a listening ear. Make a plan to text one friend a day to check in, to offer up a phone call, or to run an errand for them. Or, invite your connections on social media to engage with you privately if they’re experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, or otherwise. Unless you’re a mental health professional, you cannot provide full service to someone, but support can go a long way.
Train as a crisis counselor and support others through the Crisis Text Line
Become a crisis counselor for The Trevor Project, which offers support for LGBTQ+ young people
If you’ve experienced a high-risk pregnancy, you can support others currently experiencing one through Sidelines National Support Network
Many seniors, especially those in retirement or assisted living homes, are isolated from friends and family right now. Connect with the older people you know—neighbors, grandparents, family friends—by writing letters or setting up a regular call or virtual touch base. If you can’t offer emotional support right now, consider picking up groceries or running essential errands to help reduce more vulnerable people’s exposure to COVID-19. The below opportunities are global, but you can make a local impact by calling nearby care homes to see if anyone needs extra outreach.
Find a new friend to write to through Victorian Senior Care’s posts on Instagram
Help with essential errands like yard work, snow removal, and grocery shopping through Cultivate
Adopt a grandparent through CHD Living (UK)
Reach out to an elderly person who is experiencing loneliness while living at home through ALONE (Ireland)
A pandemic brings additional stresses for parents of young children when regular resources are no longer available to them. Additionally, many schools are wavering between in-person classes and virtual learning, which both carry significant concerns for parents, teachers, and kids alike. If you have friends with kids, host a virtual storytime, or send a care package of simple and engaging activities like crafts, games, or outdoor toys. Especially if you’re volunteering with children directly, look for organizations that do background checks and have policies to ensure protection and privacy for children.
Offer your science knowledge to young people through Science Buddies
Help students improve their reading skills through Reading Partners, which offers virtual reading tutors based on local school re-openings
Narrate audiobooks for children and adults who have “a demonstrated learning disability, visual impairment, or physical disability” through Learning Ally
Write a letter to a child experiencing physical illness to brighten their day through Post Pals (UK). You can also write to the child’s siblings. This organization connects volunteer penpals with kids ages 3 through 17
Mentor a young person between the ages of 11 and 30 through The Prince’s Trust (UK), which helps people gain skills and confidence, find jobs, and start businesses
Career & Technology
If you’re tech-savvy or have a specific skillset, extend your professional support to those around you. Consider developing a website, lending business plan guidance, or offering legal tips to people in your network who are starting their own businesses. And if you’ve got an editorial eye, you can help others craft a sharp resume and polished cover letter.
Support a nonprofit through Catchafire, a certified B Corp that connects volunteers with nonprofits to offer professional services
Consult pro bono through Taproot and help nonprofits with projects like social media strategy, HR consulting, business plan creation, financial analysis, and more
Engage with entrepreneurs to support their areas of growth as a Micromentor
Increase access to Code.org’s classes by offering your skills as a translator
Accessibility & Translation
With our increased reliance on tech, it’s important to note that it’s not always accessible to everyone. In your own community, reach out to people who might need help setting up a social media account or email address to keep in touch with their loved ones. If you’re multilingual, offer translation support to those in your network. Lend a virtual hand as needed to friends and family with visual or hearing impairments to ensure up-to-date information, resources, and entertainment are available in the formats that best work for them.
Translate subtitles for TED Talks so that big ideas can reach more people around the world
Support refugees in need of interpreters through Tarjimly, an app founded in response to the Syrian refugee crisis
Justice & Human Rights
No matter where you look, there’s a cause to fight for right now. If you’re on the ground in the US as a vocal and active supporter of Black Lives Matter, keep pushing forward. You can tangibly support the movement through donations, marching, and urging your local representatives to create systemic change. Get yourself registered to vote, and encourage others to do the same.
Reach out to your local Black Lives Matter chapter to see if there are any virtual volunteer opportunities. You can also get involved with The Center For Racial Justice In Education or search online for a Volunteer Lawyers Project that serves your community
The UN is looking for online volunteers across the board—including web development, design, writing, and teaching
Collaborate with Missing Maps to ensure that humanitarian response organizations have up-to-date maps in areas that are vulnerable to natural disasters
If you only have a few free moments, Freerice is an online vocabulary game that uses advertising revenue to donate to the World Food Programme
Art & Archives
Supporting the arts and preserving cultural and historical works are more important than ever. Locally, you can invest in art and amplify the voices of artists and writers who inspire you. Create a bookshare program so that your friends and family can diversify their reading list. (Here are some anti-racism book recommendations—be sure to add a few fiction books to your shelf, too!) Help people explore their family trees and connect to their histories, or connect virtually with a grandparent or senior and transcribe their stories for future generations.
Transcribe documents (and fill in missing information on Wikipedia pages!) for the Smithsonian
Bring public domain books to life through Librivox by volunteering as a reader, a “prooflistener,” or project coordinator
If audio isn’t your thing, help transcribe public domain books into e-books through Distributed Proofreaders
Nature & Animals
If your comfort level lies outside of interacting with people, you can make a difference in your community by protecting your environment. Consider doing a neighborhood trash cleanup on your morning walks or when hitting the trails. If you love animals, serve as a temporary or long-term foster parent for dogs, cats, rabbits, and other animals that need a home. Socializing pets before they are adopted is a significant service to the pet’s future owners—and the pet, too.
Contribute to research about space, species, and other sciences through Zooniverse
Learn more about birding and contribute your findings to eBird
Join a citizen science project on iNaturalist and expand your knowledge about the natural world
Invest your energy wherever you feel you can make the most long-lasting and sustainable impact. Take care of yourself and be open to rest, but remember: in the face of injustice, discomfort is not an excuse to step away entirely. Keep finding ways to come back and rise to the needs of your neighbors, whether literally or virtually.
How are you supporting your community right now? Share your suggestions in the comments below!
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio.