A few years ago, I volunteered frequently. The weekend before the world was summoned to shelter-in-place, my peers and I had wrapped up a 9-week program to teach local middle school girls how to code. I didn’t mind giving up weekends and staying up late to prepare, as it was always worth the time and energy as long as the students got something out of the program.
Once the shelter-in-place started, however, my motivation dwindled quickly. I was in the final stretch as an undergrad student and despite my previous energy to help others, I was exhausted by the end of the day and extracurriculars became somewhat of a burden.
The attempt to recreate in-person events over Zoom was exhausting and often never achieved the same energy or excitement from attendees. It’s the harsh reality that any event planners know all too well.
Now slightly better settled in the virtual community, however, I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the numerous opportunities that non-profits and organizations have created and grown to allow people to easily give back to global communities — all from home.
These opportunities are not attempts at recreating in-person interactions, but instead reflect an acceptance of the virtual space we now all (partially) live in. They provide a realistic way of giving back without overburdening anyone involved.
In the spirit of the holiday season, it’s about time we leverage our virtual community to expand our personal reach beyond our house or even local community.
Want to give back this year in a different way than ever before? Take time this holiday season to chew on this:
Consider your passions and interests.
Haven’t thought of this one before? Now’s a better time than ever. Beyond knowing these for yourself, it’s always motivating to volunteer for something that aligns with your passions. This may seem obvious, but big-name non-profits can be flashy and distract you from a lesser-known place you’d actually be more interested in.
Find the place that aligns well with your values.
Here’s the meaty part of the piece. Finding a place to volunteer for should feel similar to looking for a company that aligns well with your values and mission. With most organizations, you can view their mission statement, current team, the values that keep them going, and the work, products, or processes that you would also contribute to if you were to join the team.
Check out these awesome organizations and virtual volunteering or donation opportunities if you’re interested in…
Mentorship & Coaching
- Career Village — CareerVillage is a community where students can get free personalized career advice from real-life professionals.
- Grow Movement — Remote coaching for entrepreneurs across the world, from Africa and Asia to the United States.
- Opal — Help to make mentorship accessible and easy by joining as a mentee or mentor.
- Skillanthropist with BPeace — For nearly 20 years, both on the ground and remotely, Bpeace business volunteers (“Skillanthropists”) have been helping international entrepreneurs, especially women, grow their small and medium-size businesses and create jobs in their communities.
- Table Wisdom — Chat with folks who need your help without leaving your home.
- Upchieve — Help democratize access to academic support by joining as an Academic Coach.
Counseling & Tutoring
- Crisis Text Line — Become a Crisis Counselor with Crisis Text Line, the free, 24/7 text line for people in crisis in the United States.
- TeensGive — Tutor students who attend after-school programs in underserved communities and are attending Title 1 schools and are performing below their grade level.
- Trevor Project — As a trained Trevor counselor, you’ll support LGBTQ+ young people remotely either by phone or text & chat.
Share Your Skills
- Audiopedia — Audiopedia is a free and open resource of audible knowledge tailored to the needs of illiterate rural women. And it’s accessible virtually everywhere using solar-powered audio players, mobile apps and WhatsApp.
- Bookshare — Contribute your skills and passions to help people with print disabilities read. From scanning and proofreading, to describing images, to providing support for Bookshare teachers and families.
- Catchafire — Using your time and skills to help nonprofits has a direct impact on their ability to deliver critical services. Join today and discover the good you can do.
- Develop For Good — Develop for Good aims to accelerate the digital transformation of the nonprofit sector while empowering the next generation of leaders in tech to commit their skills for social good.
- Digital Volunteers at the Smithsonian — Use your skills to assist the Smithsonian with a variety of projects, such as transcribing, identifying, and solving mysteries.
- Doe Network — The Doe Network is a 100% volunteer organization devoted to assisting investigating agencies in bringing closure to national and international cold cases concerning Missing & Unidentified Persons. It is our mission to give the nameless back their names and return the missing to their families.
- Hire Heros USA — We are fortunate to work with devoted volunteers across the country who are making a real difference in the lives of military families.
- Mozilla — Mozilla is a non-profit organization working to ensure the internet is open and welcoming to all. And we need your help. By joining our community, you can help drive innovation, enhance accountability and trust and make the internet a better place for everyone.
- SciStarter — SciStarter connects you to thousands of projects in need of your help. You can also connect to the thousands of other citizen scientists in our community to answer questions, share experiences, and more.
- Tarjimly — Tarjimly’s mission is to eliminate language barriers for refugees and humanitarians. We do this by mobilizing our community of thousands of everyday bilingual volunteers as remote translators.
- TED Translate — TED Translators are a global community of volunteers who subtitle TED Talks, and enable the inspiring ideas in them to crisscross languages and borders.
- Translators Without Borders — Whether you are interested in translating medical texts or translating for crisis response, there are engaging projects available to suit all preferences.
- We Connect the Dots — Help to teach students and get them interested in Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts, Math (STEAM) careers.
Make a New Friend
- Be My Eyes — The app that connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call.
- Chronic Warrior Collective Holiday Card Swap — The Card Swap is a free event where those who live with long-term illness, rare disease, paralysis, long COVID, or disability send “snail mail” or digital messages of hope and encouragement to one another in December.
- Lasagna Love — Lasagna Love is a global nonprofit and grassroots movement that aims to positively impact communities by connecting neighbors with neighbors through homemade meal delivery. We also seek to eliminate stigmas associated with asking for help when it is needed most. Our mission is simple: feed families, spread kindness, and strengthen communities.
- Love for Our Elders — We post about elders who want mail from you on the 1st of every month! So take a few minutes, sit down, and write a letter. Tell them about yourself, maybe share a joke or a riddle and let them know that they are loved.
- A Million Thanks — Send A Letter to the Troops. We collect and distribute millions of letters of thanks and support and send them directly to our active, reserve, and veteran military.
Move & Play
- Charity Miles — For every mile you move, you help earn money for your charity from our corporate sponsorship pool. You can also get sponsored by your friends.
- Freerice — Free trivia where every correct answer donates money to the World Food Programme (WFP) to support its work saving and changing lives around the world.
- DoSomething — As the largest not-for-profit exclusively for young people and social change, DoSomething’s millions of members represent every US area code and 131 countries.
- DonorsChoose — Teachers and students need your support more than ever. Get crayons, books, cleaning supplies, technology, and more to help students get back to learning.
- Feeding America — Feeding America secures and distributes 4.3 billion meals each year through food pantries and meal programs throughout the United States and leads the nation to engage in the fight against hunger.
- PATH — Across California, we help people find permanent housing and provide case management, medical and mental healthcare, benefits advocacy, employment training, and other services to help them maintain their homes stably. Since 2013, we have connected more than 9,000 people to permanent homes.
- Project Linus — Provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volunteer “blanketeers.”
- Soldier’s Angels — Soldiers’ Angels has thousands of virtual volunteers or “Team Angels” from around the world that work to provide support for deployed service members, military families, wounded heroes, and veterans of all eras.
- Toys for Tots — The basic mission of the Marine Toys for Tots Program is to collect new unwrapped toys and distribute those toys to less fortunate children at Christmas.
- WhyHunger — For decades, WhyHunger has operated a national “Find Food” database, Hotline, and Texting service to connect people with free, nutritious food in their local communities.
Research & Data
- Amnesty Decoders — Join a global network of digital volunteers helping us research and expose human rights violations.
- Zooniverse — The Zooniverse is the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research. Zooniverse research results in new discoveries, datasets useful to the wider research community, and many publications.
And Some Extras
- Points of Light — Search their database of DIY Volunteer Projects and opportunities.
- United Nations (UN) Volunteers — Join the United Nations in assisting with global projects with various roles.
- VolunteerMatch — Filter by causes, skills, and more to get matched with opportunities.
There are also ways to give back without feeling the need to overcommit to a particular organization. For instance, you can
- Support local restaurants and businesses.
- Check in on family members and friends.
- Take time for yourself. Yes, I said it. It takes time and energy to give back to the rest of the world. Taking time for yourself makes giving back to others sustainable.
We’ve all heard it before — “don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it”. Trying anything new can be scary. Similar to starting a new role at a company, even volunteering comes with its own rules, structure, and long-timers. It is intimidating to be the new person in the group, but remember and remind yourself of how the opportunity aligns well with your interests and passions. Bring it all back to your “why” for a motivation boost and be communicative with your supervisor about what work within the organization will feel most fulfilling to you.
Show up consistently for yourself and others.
When you show up consistently for others, you also show up for yourself. You prove to yourself that you can indeed follow-through on something you wanted to try out and once you’ve put some time in, then you can really make a judgement of whether or not you’d like to continue.
While showing up for yourself can mean volunteering for others, it may also mean that you take sufficient breaks to relax and do something else. Your worth is not defined by your volunteer work or ability to give back to the world.
If you’ve made it this far, it’s clear that you want to give back but want to find a way to do so without jeopardizing your well-being or over-filling your already full plate. Volunteering should be fun, align well with your values, and feel more like a fulfillment rather than a burden. Virtual opportunities may be the best way to start giving back without taking away from your day-to-day.
Let us know which virtual volunteering opportunity you want to try first!
Did we miss anything? Let us know as we’d love to keep this an updated list.