WHAT IS ONLINE VOLUNTEERING?
Online volunteering is not a completely new concept in itself, but is undoubtedly experiencing a renaissance as many are turning to volunteering to help in these unusual times. While we don’t have an accurate record of the beginning, one of the earliest examples of online volunteering dates back to the 1970s, with the founding of Project Gutenberg in the United States. The task of the project was to create electronic books (eBooks) from publicly available titles. The volunteer work included everything from proofreading to the production of eBooks. To date, the project’s digital library contains over 60,000 titles in its collection, and its offering is growing and adapting to our changing habits (including, for example, the addition of audio books to the collection).
WHAT DO ONLINE VOLUNTEERS DO?
Of course, since the 1970s, technology has evolved in leaps and bounds, so that people who want to volunteer online can now participate in a wide range of activities. Here are some ways that people today can contribute their time and talent:
- SCIENCE: Online volunteering is a popular option for those interested in supporting civic science projects or participating in scientific research. Through Zooniverse, anyone can “participate in truly cutting-edge research in many fields of science, humanities and more”. Skype a Scientist brings scientists together with primary school children and their teachers for a 30 to 60 minute interactive session, while Fold.it hosts a crowdsourcing computer game where participants can contribute to important scientific research.
- CULTURE: Museums also try to use online volunteer work as much as possible. They offer opportunities for engagement by rewriting texts, as in the Smithsonian Museum, or by centralizing data from natural history collections, as in the Australian Museum.
- EDUCATION: If you are passionate about education, there are several ways to volunteer online. You could lead a learning circle on the P2PU platform, which offers an extensive catalog of free online courses, or help ESL (English as a second language) speakers in Manitoba practice their English through Live&Learn.
- INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT: If you would like to use your time to connect with people in countries outside of Canada, you will find many opportunities through the United Nations Online Volunteer Program, our e-Volunteer Portal and CUSO.
- MENTORING: The Together project connects Canadians with migrants and refugees and helps them – everything from practicing language skills to navigating online services, making contacts and answering questions about the COVID 19 guidelines.
- Mental Health: StoriiTime allows children to volunteer to read a story to isolated seniors, while Adult Adopt a Nursing Home allows adults to send emails or letters of encouragement to nursing home residents. Those interested in providing emotional support to the wider community can do so through 7 Cups or by volunteering to answer texts for Crisis Text Line.
- TRANSLATION: For people with a passion for languages, Translators without Borders offers many opportunities to participate in the translation of various documents, tasks and projects.
- SUPPORTING TECHNOLOGY: With Bookshare, volunteers scan or edit books for people with reading disabilities, while Be My Eyes enables volunteers to help blind and visually impaired people with their daily tasks.
- HUMAN RIGHTS: Amnesty International has developed several ways for volunteers to donate their time and skills online. The Decoders program offers the opportunity to help Amnesty researchers view images, information and documents to uncover human rights violations. Volunteers can also help with other campaigns through the Volunteer page.
… but that is not the end of the list!
Online volunteers have a lot to offer to non-profit organizations looking for support in their daily work or programming – they can be a valuable asset to the team of a non-profit organization, especially in these difficult times! And the good news is that you don’t need a dedicated portal or custom app to recruit, manage and collaborate with online volunteers. Your involvement can be as simple as communicating via email or sharing access to cloud-based tools like the Google Suite, Box or Dropbox. Looking for ideas to get started? Here are a few examples of how online volunteers can support non-profit organizations:
- EDITORAL SUPPORT: moderating discussion forums or social media/blog comments; editing web content; translation; proofreading; research; writing;
- PUBLICITY WORK: campaign promotion or management; social media and/or communication strategy maintenance; fundraising; networking; mentoring; volunteer management
- OFFICE SUPPORT: assistance with day-to-day tasks; correspondence; special needs of COVID-19; data hygiene and document archiving; document archiving;
- TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Troubleshooting; Design of materials; Web maintenance; Programming & development; Back-ups.