Online volunteering, also known as Virtual volunteering, is a term describing a volunteer who completes tasks, in whole or in part, off-site from the organization being assisted, using the Internet and a home, school, telecenter or work computer or other Internet-connected device. It is also known as cyber service, e-mentoring|telementoring, Online tutoring|teletutoring, microvolunteering, and various other names. Online volunteers are not paid by the organizations that host them. The practice is more than 30 years old.

In practice[edit | edit source]

People engaged in virtual volunteering undertake a variety of activities from locations remote to the organization or people they are assisting, via a computer or other Internet-connected device, such as:

  • translating documents
  • researching subjects
  • creating web pages
  • editing or writing proposals, press releases, newsletter articles, etc.
  • developing material for a curriculum
  • designing a database
  • designing graphics
  • providing legal, business, medical, agricultural or any other expertise
  • counseling people
  • online tutoring|tutoring or e-mentoring|mentoring students
  • moderating online discussion groups
  • writing songs
  • creating a podcast
  • editing a video
  • monitoring the news
  • answering questions
  • tagging photos and files
  • managing other online volunteers[1][2]

In the case of microvolunteering and crowdsourcing, volunteers undertake very small assignments, often via their PDAs or smartphones, that will take just a few minutes to complete, and volunteers do not have to make any other commitment when a micro-task is completed - much like a one-day build on behalf of an organization like Habitat for Humanity. These online volunteers either aren't required to undergo any screening or training by the nonprofit for such tasks, or have already undergone screening or training by the nonprofit and are therefore approved to take on micro-tasks as their availability and interests allow.

Current state of the practice[edit | edit source]

Virtual volunteering has been adopted by thousands of nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities, government programs and other initiatives all over the world, including programs and initiatives serving developing countries.<ref>Cravens, Jayne (Spring 2007). "Online Volunteering Enters Middle Age - And Changes Management Paradigms". Nonprofit Quarterly (Boston: Nonprofit Quarterly).<ref>There is no organization currently tracking best practices in online volunteering or what organizations are involving online volunteers.

Success in online volunteering is based on

  • how well the host organization already manages people onsite, whether paid staff, consultants or volunteers
  • how well staff at the host organization understands the fundamentals of volunteer management (identifying tasks for volunteers, providing training or orientation to volunteers before work begins, providing support to volunteers during assignments, recognizing accomplishments, etc.)
  • how well the host organization communicates with people online, in general

Potential problems with involving online volunteers include:

  • Some volunteers may be brimming with confidence, but may not have the skills needed.
  • Organizations may recruit online volunteers before they are actually ready to involve them, creating frustrations that may get shared online with current and potential supporters.
  • Organizations may have unrealistic expectations of online volunteers.

The United Nations runs the Online Volunteering Service, formerly a part of NetAid, that allows organizations working in or for the developing world to recruit online volunteers. This service, hosted at the UN Volunteers programme, has statistics available regarding numbers of online volunteers and organizations involving such through its service. is an online platform where individuals, organizations and companies present development/humanitarian projects for which they need support. Anyone can observe, discuss and evaluate these projects, and choose to support any they wish, with money, in-kind donations, or donated expertise (volunteering). Available in English and German (Deutsch).

Bpeace is a USA-based nonprofit that recruits business professionals to help entrepreneurs in countries emerging from war, like Rwanda and Afghanistan, to create and expand businesses and employment (particularly for women).

Crisis Commons / CrisisCamp mobilizes technology volunteers to work together to create crisis / disaster response and learning events with volunteers, who collaborate to aggregate crisis data, develop prototype tools and train people on how to use technology tools to aid in crisis / disaster response.

Geeks Without Bounds is "an international coalition of passionate problem solvers working together to assist people whose survival is threatened due to violence, neglect, or catastrophe through the use of technology."

Humanity Road volunteers use Internet and mobile communications technology to collect, verify and route information online during sudden onset disaster. Using the Internet, they provide public safety information as well as directing the public to governmental and aid agencies that are providing assistance for the disaster.

Infinite Family, an online mentoring program matching adults and families in the USA with at-risk, impoverished children in South Africa.

Nabuur recruits online volunteers to support organizations working in or for the developing world.

NetSquared, an initiative of TechSoup, is a place where any individual or organization, including those in or serving developing countries, propose ideas that involve "the intersection of technology and social impact." Anyone is welcomed to comment on the proposed projects on the site, and there are often opportunities to vote on which projects should receive funding.

1947 Partition Archive is "a grassroots, non-political, 100% volunteer run effort to document and preserve eye witness accounts from the partition of British India into present day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1947." Online volunteers can help with transcription of interviews (many interviews are in English), translation of interviews and other materials from/into Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Urdu, Sindhi, and English, video editing, online outreach or legal advice.

Voluntarios en la red, online volunteering in support of Mexico-based organizations.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "What are examples of virtual volunteering?". Retrieved 5 October 2009.
  2. "examples of virtual volunteering". Wikipedia. Retrieved 25 August 2011.

External links[edit | edit source]

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Authors Jayne Cravens
License CC-BY-SA-3.0
Language English (en)
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Impact 694 page views
Created July 4, 2011 by Daniel James Paterson
Modified June 11, 2024 by Kathy Nativi
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