You may have heard the terms ‘virtual volunteering’ or ‘micro-volunteering’ banded about over the last few years, but what exactly do they mean?
Virtual volunteering, or online volunteering, is the name given to the process of donating skills, time or knowledge online through various websites or platforms. Micro-volunteering refers to volunteering opportunities that don’t require any kind of application process, take only minutes to complete and don’t involve any extra commitment. The majority of micro-volunteering opportunities (80% in 2016) take place online and with the use of smartphones.
These types of volunteering opportunities are by no means new, having been around in some form since the 90s. However, with ever evolving technology and increased internet access worldwide, it is unsurprising that there has been increased interest in these types of volunteering over the last few years.
So how do they compare to more traditional, face-to-face volunteering roles? In this article we examine the pros and cons of both trying to find the answer.
Pros of virtual volunteering
1. Global reach
This has to be one of the biggest benefits of online volunteering for both potential volunteers and the organisations they want to work for.
All you need to take part is an internet connection and a suitable device so people can contribute skills and knowledge to the causes they care most about regardless of where in the world they are based.
For organisations, this means that they can attract volunteers who are the best fit for the project without being limited to those who live nearby. Currently, the United Nations online volunteering platform hosts volunteering opportunities in 187 countries worldwide.
2. Time efficient
Online volunteering is a great option for people for busy people who don’t have a lot of time to commit.
Micro-volunteering projects are often no more than 30 minutes in duration and online volunteering platforms such as the UN’s website are very clear about the time commitment expected of each role. These can be anything from 1-5 hours a week up to 20 hours for various projects.
Unlike with traditional volunteering, people do not have to travel long distances or commit to an inflexible timetable in order to offer their services, but can donate a spare hour or two from the comfort of their own home whenever they can.
The nature of virtual volunteering means that anyone with a laptop, a skill and an internet connection can make a meaningful impact towards a cause they believe in regardless of their physical ability.
This means that people with disabilities who have a lot to offer but have struggled to engage with volunteering in the past have an outlet to contribute their skills without even having to leave the house.
As the UN website states, online volunteering is ‘by nature, inclusive. Anyone, anywhere, can help.’
4. Skills based
Online volunteering roles tend to be very skills based. Common jobs include translation services, graphic design or copywriting.
This means that it is a perfect way for people who work in these areas to give back to a cause and lend their expertise without having to undertake extensive, time-consuming training. It is an easy and satisfying way to do good with skills you already have.
Pros of face-to-face volunteering
Unlike online volunteering, more traditional volunteering roles require human interaction. For people who feel isolated, it is a great way to meet new people and widen your support network.
Of course, close interaction isn’t possible for the next few months but the social benefits of volunteering have been realised in the new connections established between neighbours, and local communities, as people help each other out with shopping and deliveries during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A shared commitment to a social cause is a great way to establish and build relationships with others. Studies have even found that socialising can have mental and physical health benefits including a lower risk of depression and a stronger immune system!
2. Personal development
While the skills-based nature of online volunteering makes it an attractive option for some, for those who want to learn a new skill, face-to-face volunteering is the way to go.
Volunteering is a great way to get experience in a new field if you are considering making a career change or to pick up a new qualification as many roles require some level of training before you can start.
3. Immediate impact
When volunteering online, the work you do (although important) is less likely to have such an immediate impact on people.
Volunteering face-to-face allows you to interact with the people you are helping, to offer immediate relief and to build relationships with them in order to better understand what they need and how you can help.
Which is right for you?
Volunteering both online and face-to-face have their own benefits. What is right for one volunteer may not be right for another and it is wonderful that there are so many options available for anyone who wants to get involved.
Over the next couple of months, there will be a greater demand for volunteers globally, both face-to-face and online. We will need volunteer drivers, to deliver food and medicine to people quarantined in their homes, volunteer shoppers, dog-walkers, and home-cooked dinner deliverers. We will need online teaching for children stuck at home and telephone befriending to stave off isolation. We need people to share resources, recipes, advice, stories, friendly conversation.
While we are confined to our homes, lets be inventive with the ways we connect with, and support our communities.
Previously, a Help from Home survey found that 1 in 5 micro-volunteers felt they had made no impact, while the most cited reasons for giving up on face-to-face volunteering is a lack of time and other work commitments. This is no longer the case. During this pandemic, micro and online volunteering have shown themselves to be every bit as impactful as face-to-face volunteering. And, for many of us, lack of time and other work commitments are no longer barriers to involvement.
When it comes to getting involved with volunteering, the most important things to consider are what you can realistically commit to and what you hope to gain from the experience. You may not feel comfortable with volunteering to step out of the house for shopping or delivery driving – that’s ok. You may be volunteering for the first time purely because you are bored at home and need something purposeful to do, and that’s ok too.
Knowing your capacity and reasons for giving back will help guide your decision making and choose the type of volunteering that is right for you.
Written by Betty Henderson