Do you use social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook? Have you ever
attended a chat that was moderated? How many cool websites do you visit frequently?
How many times have you sent a message asking a question through e-mail or
a social network?
In many cases, the person behind the site who moderated your chat, answered
your question or built the page you viewed was a virtual volunteer.
A virtual volunteer is a person who volunteers to help an organization
by doing projects that can be tended to with the use of a computer and an
Internet connection. Volunteers build Web pages, answer e-mail, monitor social
media pages and write Web content. They moderate chats, manage message boards
and conduct e-mail advertising campaigns..
Volunteers can work during their free time from any computer that has an
Internet connection. Of course, you do need at least a basic understanding
of how to use computers and the Internet.
But for someone who already has a computer, the benefits are tremendous.
"Besides the cold business side, I think it's great fun," says Megan Potter.
She is a virtual volunteer for the Polycystic Ovarian Support Association
"I meet lots of people, even if virtually. I make friends and I get to
help people," she adds.
"For PCOSA...they don't have a lot of money. They are nonprofit and rely
on volunteers to make it through. Without volunteers to write their promotional
and education material, they would never be able to get the word out there
to help other women."
Virtual volunteering seems to be on the rise. In the last 10 years or so,
organizations to help connect volunteers with organizations that need their
help have sprung up all over the Web.
One organization, Service Leader, has conducted surveys to gather informal
feedback about virtual volunteering. They have found that almost 200 organizations
use the help of virtual volunteers. "Based on informal observations...these
numbers likely greatly underestimate those who are involved in virtual volunteering
activities," it notes.
Matthew is a virtual volunteer with the Virtual Volunteering Project. "As
a virtual volunteer, I receive the benefit of doing the work from my own home
on my own time. I also receive the benefit of knowing that I am doing something
good for others."
At 17, Matthew is responsible enough to handle working without someone
watching over his shoulder. "I have to complete assignments that are given
to me by the volunteer coordinator. I request them, and then I report in once
a week on my progress and eventually turn in my assignments by the due date."
The assignments he does involve research, Web design, and other Internet-related
Megan Potter is a 22-year-old virtual volunteer. Working as virtual volunteer
has brought her unique opportunities that she might not have had otherwise.
"Every year, the PCOSA has a conference. But I couldn't afford to go because
it's in Chicago, it's expensive," she says.
"The person above me in the PR committee offered to pay for me to go. In
exchange, I did some writing on the conference," she says. "I got a free trip
to Chicago, and I got to meet some very influential doctors in the field.
Not to mention I got to see my new friends face-to-face."
Relationships seem to be one of the best advantages of volunteering virtually.
Mark Pratt is a volunteer with AOL and the Virtual Volunteer Project. He should
know. He met his fiancee volunteering virtually.
"I've done a lot of volunteering in different areas on AOL. I just started
moving toward other Internet sites more. But my favorite story is about meeting
my fiancee over the Internet," he says.
How to Get Involved
"There's nothing virtual about the people involved, nor the commitment
that needs to be made as an online volunteer," says Jayne Cravens. She is
the manager of the Virtual Volunteering Project. "It still takes time. And
deadlines are every bit as important as they are offline."
To get involved as a virtual volunteer for an organization, Cravens recommends
that you first take a survey at the Virtual Volunteering Projects website.
The main requirement for virtual volunteering is to have a computer and
an Internet connection. In most cases, if special software is needed, it will
be provided to you free of charge. Otherwise, there is generally no cost to
The great part about virtual volunteering is that it is accessible to almost
everyone. It can be done from home, which means there is no need for transportation
to and from your volunteer assignment. And with technical advances such as
speech recognition software, limited mobility doesn't mean limited opportunities.
When you are ready to begin volunteering, contact one of the following
organizations to get started.
Impact Online -- VolunteerMatch
Are You Ready to Volunteer Virtually?
Learn the many areas where you can share your skills
Virtual volunteer opportunities you can do from home!