Community & Current Events

Virtual volunteering

By: Nancy Angus

Author: Canadian Living

Community & Current Events

Virtual volunteering

By: Nancy Angus

Although virtual volunteering may seem like it will save you time, it still requires volunteers to make a regular commitment. You may not be traveling to your volunteer placement but you will be needed to be at your computer station on a regular basis. The following checklist was developed by The Virtual Volunteering Project, part of the RGK Centre for Philanthropy and Community Service at the University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Before you volunteer to help an organization as a virtual volunteer you may want to answer the following questions to see if you are right for the virtual assignment:

Do you have regular, ongoing access to the Internet?
If you only have access at college, and the semester is about to end; or, if you are about to switch Internet providers or computers, now is probably not a good time to volunteer to complete a project virtually. Online volunteering assignments usually last around three months; make sure you will have ongoing access to the Internet during that time.

Do you know how to communicate well via the written word?
Most, if not all, of your communication during a virtual assignment will be via e-mail. Good writing skills and excellent attention to detail are important in any virtual volunteering project. Even if you want to provide a highly technical service, such as creating a database, you have to be able to clearly communicate what you are doing to your contact at the organization.

Do you stick to deadlines? Do you see a project through to its finish?
Organizations are counting on you to complete the assignment you've volunteered for; there's nothing virtual about your commitment.

Are you comfortable working on your own, without direct supervision?
That doesn't mean you shouldn't ask for guidance when you need it. However, virtual assignments are best for those people who enjoy working on their own, with just occasional supervision.

Page 1 of 3 -- Are you a multitasker? Learn about how time management can affect your virtual volunteering efforts on page 2

Are you self-motivated?
Some organizations involving remote volunteers are good at creating ways to inspire those individuals during their assignments -- they may call you just to say, "good job" or to check in. The executive director may send out a personal email thanking a volunteer for his or her contribution. But many organizations aren't this savvy with online volunteers yet. When you work at home, the inspiration to work on a virtual assignment has to come from yourself.

Do you pace yourself well? Do you avoid over committing for projects?
Most volunteers who do not complete their online assignments say that they thought they could do the work when they signed up, but as the deadline for the assignment approached, they realized that other things must take priority: school activities, home duties, work projects, etc. The organization is left with an unfinished assignment and an unmet need. Think about your work style and your other commitments before volunteering virtually.

Do you have a set time of day when you will work on virtual assignments?
Don't just assume that you will get to that three-hour virtual assignment some time before the deadline two weeks from now; schedule a time, however approximate, to complete the project you've committed to do.

Will your work area be void of distractions while you are working on a volunteer assignment?
Any virtual assignments are going to take a certain level of concentration and intensity. Make sure your environment is going to allow you to devote the proper energies to your assignment.

Is this the right time for you to take on a volunteering project?
If you are feeling overwhelmed by other responsibilities, now is probably not a good time to volunteer, on or offline. Volunteer managers try to be very understanding about your job and family commitments - but they are also counting on you to finish assignments you commit to.

Page 2 of 3 -- Discover the benefits of virtual volunteering on page 3

Do you answer your e-mails quickly (no more than 48 hours/two business days after receipt)?
The organization may need to contact you with a critical issue before you complete the assignment. If you are interacting one-on-one with someone as part of the virtual assignment, responsiveness is crucial to the success of your online relationship.

What benefits do you expect out of volunteering virtually? What results should the organization expect because of your volunteering?
Answering the questions above honestly will help you better identify the virtual assignments you are right for.

If you answered no to any of the above questions, or had difficulty answering some of the questions, you may not be ready for volunteering virtually. If you prefer in-person volunteer interaction as opposed to online, call up your Volunteer Centre today and see if there is a right fit for you in-person, not online!

Learn more about volunteering:
5 great places to volunteer with your teen
Volunteer opportunities: where and how to lend a helping hand

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Virtual volunteering