Magazine article Information Today

Virtual Volunteering. (Perspectives)

Magazine article Information Today

Virtual Volunteering. (Perspectives)

Article excerpt

Needed: An idea researcher

Details: To research amazing cultures/belief systems in the world so GLEAN (Girls Global Education and Action Network) can prepare expeditions to learn more about them

Skills Needed: Ability to gather information through various sources, organizational skills, self-starter, interest in world cultures and belief systems

The pay offered is a little low: zero dollars. But the rewards from this assignment--which was recently posted by a Santa Monica, Calif., nonprofit on VolunteerMatch--are personal satisfaction for a job well-done and an opportunity to put your talents to work for a worthwhile purpose. And there's no transit or parking hassle--you'll be working right out of your home or office.

Welcome to the world of virtual volunteerism!

Creative efforts in the nonprofit sector have harnessed the Web to let willing volunteers provide their time and talents online. CompuMentor (, a San Francisco nonprofit formed in 1987 to tap IT personnel as mentors for nonprofits new to computing, was the pioneer in this field. It has since passed the baton to others as it has developed additional technology-related services such as and DiscounTech.

At least 1,000 organizations in the U.S. alone used online volunteers in 2000, according to the University of Texas--Austin's Virtual Volunteering Project. Generally, virtual volunteers help by providing technical assistance to an organization or direct service to its clients.

Everyone Benefits

According to Susan J. Ellis and Jayne Cravens, authors of The Virtual Volunteering Guidebook (http://www.energize, "This innovative use of technology ... is adding both to the quantity of service contributed and to attracting people who have not necessarily volunteered before."

Organizations that use the Web to list opportunities and recruit volunteers save money on hard-copy communications and postage, and can tap into a contingent of "nontraditional" volunteers. These are people who travel too much to volunteer in person, have conditions that interfere with their mobility, have unusual work schedules, and possess special expertise. For their part, volunteers can easily screen opportunities for the causes that interest them, the kind of work they enjoy doing, the length of engagement, and the time they have available.

Among the activities a virtual volunteer can undertake are advocacy, "visiting" with the homebound, Web site design or maintenance, and virtual librarian duties such as researching current-awareness artides for the staff. Organizations may have meetings and training sessions online, but many states have not yet updated their laws to allow for virtual board meetings.

The Internet also gives volunteer managers a greatly expanded toolkit for inter-and intra-organizational communications; inexpensive audio and video training; and functions such as report-writing, maintaining calendars, and record-keeping.

Finding Volunteer Assignments

A recent Network for Good search for virtual volunteering opportunities yielded 612 in the Arts and Culture category, 501 in Animals and Environment, 885 in Children and Youth, 1,304 in Civic and Community, 992 in Education and Technology, 100 in Faith-Based Organizations, 648 in Health, 952 in Human Services, and 83 in Public Safety & Disaster Preparedness.

These included opportunities to work for local, national, or international organizations as an "idea person," accountant, grant writer, e-mentor, software engineer, Bible-study leader, insurance benefit advisor, Spanish translator, senior advocate, and class organizer, among many others. Each opportunity is labeled for Youth, Seniors, Groups, or Kids. More information is provided in subordinate screens. The Network for Good matching service is powered by VolunteerMatch (http://www. …

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