24 Virtual Volunteer Opportunities to Make a Real Impact (Without Leaving the Couch)
From picking up trash to serving meals at a soup kitchen, volunteering is often associated with acts of kindness that require, well, a physical presence...but if the last year has taught us anything, it’s that many activities can indeed be done from the comfort of your couch. Of course, a virtual visit to a food bank won’t do anyone much good, but there are countless other ways to contribute to the greater good without leaving home. In fact, many non-profit organizations and other volunteer-led initiatives have found ways to bring do-gooders on board from a distance, which is excellent news considering that a recent survey from Volunteer Match concluded that fear of illness remains the biggest reason that would-be volunteers are reluctant to give their time. But while the pandemic has made a hermit out of pretty much everyone, the need for community support and the volunteers who facilitate it is greater than ever. Want to fill the void by becoming a virtual volunteer? Excellent. Check out our roundup of worthy organizations and start donating your time to a cause that matters, without risking your health...we promise you won’t feel like you’re phoning it in (even if you technically are).
How does virtual volunteering work?
Virtual volunteering is simply an act of service that can be accomplished over the phone or internet—and in modern times such opportunities abound. Aside from the obvious awesomeness of being able to give back without leaving bed, virtual volunteering experiences are also particularly convenient for those with busy schedules, as much of the work is flexible, both in terms of how much and how often you do it. See below for some ideas for how to get involved without going out...and keep in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg, friends.
1. United Nations
Check out the United Nations online volunteering database for a host of diverse service opportunities. The United Nations connects volunteers with remote work at government agencies (including the UN itself) on projects that run the gamut from helping with the COVID-19 response to contributing to an array of civil advocacy initiatives. Plus, translation, research, social media, writing, and art and design are just a few of the areas in which volunteers can lend their skills and make a difference—so it’s safe to say this resource has something for everyone.
2. Smithsonian Digital Volunteers
History enthusiasts will delight in the digital volunteer work that the Smithsonian has on offer—namely a boatload of fascinating transcription jobs. Smithsonian digital volunteers play an important role in making historical data more accessible for the institute—volunteers have contributed over 700,000 pages of transcribed material since 2013—and since the Smithsonian provides both general and project specific instructions, even those who are new to transcription work can sign up and join the team. Best of all, the material is far from snoozy (think: field notes from archaeological digs and historic audio recordings) and you can set your own schedule and pace.
3. Career Village
Career Village is an innovative, volunteer-led resource for students seeking practical career advice from working professionals (i.e., those who have been there, done that). Students log on and pose all kinds of questions like, “What should I study in college in order to become a journalist?” or “How should I approach building my resume for my first job?” and volunteers with real-world experience give counsel. For volunteers, the time commitment is minimal—so you don’t have to worry about biting off more than you can chew—and for the young people in need of professional guidance, your contribution will be huge.
4. Catch a Fire
The mission of Catch a Fire is to connect volunteers with non-profit organizations that need their skills. Professionals who want to donate their time for the greater good can find a boatload of opportunities on this search engine, which deals exclusively with virtual volunteer work. Bonus: You can refine your search by skill, cause area and time commitment, so you won’t have to spend hours scrolling before you can start giving back—and once you find something of interest, a brief application process is in place to ensure it really is a good fit for both parties.
5. Cards for a Cause
Give the gift of good vibes by crafting a handmade card with an uplifting message for a sick or injured child—a small, but meaningful gesture that will bring a lot of joy to a young person who needs and deserves it. Plus, there’s no limit to the number of cards you can make and send to Cards for a Cause, the organization responsible for distributing them, so you have the opportunity to touch more than one young person with your creativity and heartfelt sentiment. Note: Be sure to check out the guidelines before you start the card-making process, as certain content (i.e., “get well”) and decorations (think: googly eyes and pom poms) are off-limits.
6. Oakwood Educational Foundation
The Oakwood Educational Foundation was created to tackle the issue of educational inequality—an endemic problem that breeds wealth and racial inequality in almost every other area of life as well. The mission is ambitious, but the approach is simple: Connect under-served youth with volunteer tutors who can inspire a love of learning while helping bridge the achievement gap. The free academic help can have a big impact for many (especially at a time when the school systems are in a state of disarray), and the work can be tailored to both your area of expertise (i.e., it’s cool if you don’t remember high school physics) and your schedule.
7. Crisis Text Line
The Crisis Text Line hires volunteers to talk or simply listen to people who are feeling seriously overwhelmed by personal circumstances and struggles—ranging from emotional abuse and eating disorders to generalized depression, anxiety and stress. Unsurprisingly, these volunteer positions require training and commitment, as any intervention and counseling position should: You can expect to put in 30 hours of web-based training before you get started, and another 200 hours (four hours per week) in order to serve out your commitment once you join the crisis management team. Also, keep in mind that crises tend to occur at odd hours (read: the wee hours) so this option is probably best-suited for night owls. That said, volunteers acquire invaluable skills like active listening and problem solving, that can be leaned on not only to support a stranger in crisis, but to strengthen all relationships across the board.
8. Writing Wonders Organization
The Writing Wonders Organization was founded in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic with the objective of spreading positivity and kindness through writing and art. Volunteers for WWO write letters (as short as one paragraph or as long as four) or create original artwork (digital or drawn) to send to individuals who are struggling with unfortunate circumstances. Once the writing or art is complete, volunteers can choose one of the many organizations on the WWO website that will ensure it reaches an elderly person, healthcare worker or child in need of the good vibes. Note: WWO doesn’t send the work for you, but their website does include organization-specific information on how to submit your writing or art—and if you also submit it to WWO they will respond with a certificate that serves as credit for the volunteer hours you’ve put in.
Help youth in underserved communities find their way to college by becoming a mentor for iMentor, an organization that works closely with participating schools to pair high school students with college-educated professionals who can support them in pursuing their goals. Not sure you’d know how to help? No problem—iMentor staff provide volunteers with curriculum and expert advice to ensure they are set up for success. In terms of time commitment, mentors are expected to meet with their students once a week online and once a month in person—so this opportunity is mostly, but not entirely, remote. (It is, however, 100 percent rewarding.)
10. Caring Calls
Run by Dorot, a non-profit that provides a wide range of services to support the elderly population, Caring Calls offers volunteers a chance to make a difference by simply picking up the phone. As a volunteer for Caring Calls, you will be matched with a senior to contact by phone on a weekly basis for at least four weeks. The time commitment isn’t huge—just 30 minutes a week—but the calls are long enough for volunteers and seniors to have interesting conversations, find shared interests and build a meaningful friendship. These calls help meet the emotional and social needs of the elderly who have been hit particularly hard by the isolating restrictions that the pandemic has brought about—but ultimately, the opportunity to bond with someone new is one that both parties are sure to appreciate.
11. The Kids Circle Foundation
The mission of the Kids Circle Foundation is “to enrich the lives of children by virtually providing them guidance, support and companionship.” This non-profit has multiple forms of volunteer work on offer, all of which are intended for high-school age volunteers. So, if you have a high-schooler in your life who could stand to spend some more time (think: one to three hours per week) giving back, this organization is an excellent place to start. High school volunteers can choose the type of work they want to get involved in, whether it’s writing letters of encouragement to children in the hospital, helping younger kids with their homework as a virtual tutor or contributing to the foundation’s efforts from behind the scenes as a member of the social media, graphic design, web development or outreach team.
12. Be My Eyes
Be My Eyes is a free app that matches sighted volunteers with blind and low-vision individuals who are in need of visual assistance with a wide range of daily tasks, from reading instructions to navigating new surroundings. Getting started is exceedingly easy: All you have to do is download the app and sign on whenever you have a moment to engage in a video call and be of service. In other words, this innovative virtual volunteer opportunity is incredibly flexible, so even the busiest person should be able to participate—and every time you do, the small gesture will have a significant impact, allowing blind and low-vision people to enjoy easier and more independent lives.
13. Create the Good
If you’re struggling to find virtual volunteer work that really speaks to you, we suggest you start looking on Create the Good. This searchable database run by the AARP boasts a user-friendly interface that makes it a breeze to sift through the abundance of opportunities and zero in on one that suits your particular skills and interests. There’s an option to “show only home/remote opportunities” and future volunteers can also refine their search by timeframe (to find one-off gigs, long term commitments and everything in between) and category, in case you’re more into marketing than mentoring or vice versa.
14. The Trevor Project
Join the fight to end suicide among at-risk LGBTQ youth by volunteering to be a counselor for the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to young people who reach out for help. You don’t need to have prior counseling experience to apply: The Trevor Project provides extensive training in the form of a 40-hour, 10-week course to ensure that volunteers have all the crisis intervention skills needed, as well as a firm grasp of the technology used to connect with callers. Once the remote training process is complete, counselors can begin taking calls—a job that entails two four-hour shifts per month and a minimum commitment of one year. Bottom line: If you have both the time and passion to see it through, you’ll be rewarded with a volunteer experience that actually saves lives.
15. Empower Work
Empower Work is a text hotline in which professional or retired professionals serve as volunteer counselors to adults who need help navigating a variety of problems in the workplace (think: micro-aggressions from supervisors, bosses who don’t respect boundaries, etc.). After completing a 20-hour digital training course, volunteers can start using both their professional and newfound peer counseling skills to give back—on either a fixed or flexible schedule, and at a minimum of two hours per week for six months. Because the counseling occurs exclusively via text, it’s especially easy to make good on the commitment—and the pay-off is knowing you played a role in helping peers find agency and take positive steps to protect their rights as working professionals.
16. Translators without Borders
If you are fluent in at least one language other than your native language, Translators Without Borders would be happy to have you. This organization relies on volunteers to translate a wide array of texts relating to humanitarian initiatives in the areas of crisis management, advocacy, development and more. There are many different translation projects that bi- or multi-lingual volunteers can participate in, all of which revolve around lifting the language barriers that compromise quality of life for so many. In other words, this volunteer experience promises to have an immediate positive impact on people around the world.
17. Distributed Proofreaders
Distributed Proofreaders is a non-profit organization in which volunteers proofread pages of digitized text in order to prepare e-books for submission to Project Gutenberg, a free e-book library founded with the mission to archive and increase accessibility to valuable cultural works. If you want to support the cause, sign up to be a member of the Distributed Proofreaders community and you can contribute as much or as little time as you like to the effort of creating a digital library, one proofread page at a time.
Volunteers for RAINN provide crisis counseling to victims of sexual assault who reach out to the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline. This web-based opportunity requires rigorous training—a 20-hour online training course, three live learning sessions and a three-hour debriefing session—but the prep work comes at no cost (other than time) to the volunteer. Once training is complete, hotline volunteers are expected to put in at least 10 hours a month for a minimum of 18 months as online counselors—a sizable commitment, but a powerful way to give back by supporting survivors and their loved ones.
19. Amnesty Decoders
Amnesty Decoders is a platform in which digital volunteers assist Amnesty International researchers in exposing human rights violations by using their phones or computers to sift through images and documents of interest. There are no shortage of diverse and engaging projects to get involved in—from decoding the cause and location of oil spills to blowing the lid off of abuse against female politicians in India—and the work only requires a few minutes of your time and, of course, internet access. This vital organization is one of the easiest ways to give back and become a part of a force for good.
20. Points of Light
This large global volunteer network is an excellent resource for anyone looking to get involved by donating time and talent to a good cause. The Points of Light website features an extensive, searchable database of volunteer experiences that take place inside and outside the home, as well as a list of ideas for DIY, informal volunteer projects that can still make a difference. Finally, Points of Light has also put together a resource list for on-going virtual volunteer opportunities affiliated with non-profit organizations and entrepreneurial initiatives alike
Sidelines is a high-risk pregnancy support group in which volunteers lend an ear to women who are experiencing complicated pregnancies. To become a volunteer, you must have a) gone through a high-risk pregnancy yourself (first- hand experience is huge here) and b) completed the required online training. Once you become a support person on Sidelines, you will stay in touch with a woman via phone, email, chat and group discussions for the duration of her pregnancy, providing much-needed comfort and empathy to help her cope with the stressful experience.
Tarjimly is an app with a mission that’s similar to Translators Without Borders—namely to provide language assistance to those who are struggling to navigate difficult situations while facing the additional challenge of a language barrier—but with a more individualized approach. Multi-lingual volunteers who apply for a translator position will be matched through the app to engage in a live chat with refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and humanitarian workers who need language access to quickly resolve a problem. The platform allows for video and voice calls, as well as sharing of images and documents, and each chat typically requires somewhere between 30 seconds and five minutes of time. Yep, it’s a small commitment that can have a big impact: Tarjimly translators have assisted children in understanding classroom rules, helped victims of natural disasters coordinate with their community and more.
23. I’m Alive
A program of the Kristin Brooks Hope Center, IMAlive is a suicide intervention and prevention service run by a diverse group of volunteers who respond to chats or phone calls, providing live support to individuals in crisis. To become a volunteer, you must pay for and complete a $250 20-hour online training program in order to learn the crisis intervention techniques that are required when helping individuals recover their coping skills and plan next steps. After training, IMAlive volunteers are asked to commit to serving one four-hour shift per week for a 12 month duration.
24. Lifetime Connections Without Walls
Another organization created to serve the needs of seniors, Lifetime Connections Without Walls is an eldercare program that enlists volunteers who are willing to provide social engagement and coordinate enriching classes and activities for older adults—and all the work can be done over the phone. This program is specifically seeking volunteers who can expand the course offerings, so your contribution can be tailored to your specific talents and interests. You can also determine how much and how often you volunteer depending on your availability, as there are no hard and fast rules in that regard. The takeaway? This one is a fun, flexible and stimulating way to bond with and improve the quality of life for previous generations.