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Online Volunteering in Action

TIG Guide to Online Volunteering

Paolo Ricciardelli

on 10 August 2013

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Transcript of Online Volunteering in Action


Online volunteering is the act of donating one’s time and skills for a cause through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Working without financial remuneration, volunteers typically join an organization they admire to contribute to its growth, or join a project because they strongly believe in a cause and want to play a role in affecting its outcomes.

There are many reasons for volunteering. At times, volunteer experience may be part of a school’s credit requirements, other times, it may be a way for an individual to enhance their skills and competencies for future employment or educational opportunities. No matter the reasons, volunteering is proven to have a significant impact on society, and it has traditionally been linked with:

Online volunteering is also a way to transcend geographical boundaries and encourage international, and often intercultural, exchanges. As an online volunteer, you often have the chance to expand your network and/ or that of the organization you are volunteering for, all the while building new skills, addressing challenges faced by an organization and doing so with a great degree of flexibility.

What’s more, online volunteering is known for boosting confidence and self-esteem, promoting a sense of ownership, providing a source of local know-how, as well as being a means of precipitating change (see, for example, the Change section in this guide).
Quiz n. 1
Myths of Online Volunteering
There are many myths about online volunteering.
Play along to the quiz questions below to see if you can pick out the
statements from the
Online volunteering is a solitary gig
Online volunteering does not require
communication skills
Online volunteering is mostly about technology related tasks
Yes, it’s true that you’ll be working online and may not get a chance to interact with peer volunteers face to face. But most often you’ll be part of a community. Many organizations have virtual hubs where online volunteers can connect and network with one another. Some organizations even host physical meet-ups for online volunteers. And of course, you will always have the support of the organization you’re working with.
Even if your online assignment includes designing a website or researching information, you’ll need to communicate your progress and findings to the project coordinator and sometimes communicate with peer volunteers or individuals who are dependent on your assignment.
Not every organization will need to have a website built. There are a wide variety of online volunteering opportunities that are not solely related to technology. Examples of tasks may include advocacy, research, translation, mentoring/tutoring, data entry, writing, policy and procedure development, and more.
If you answered
to all 6 questions, you’re ready to dive into the world of online volunteering!
Are You Ready to
Regular access to the Internet is a requirement to become an effective online volunteer. Before you sign on to volunteer online with the organization of choice, make sure to have a clear understanding of the hours you will be expected to contribute. Be upfront (with yourself and the organization) about your own online accessibility. Do you have a computer at home, and regular access to the Internet? Which additional tools (webcam, specific design programs, chat functionality, etc.) will you need, and do you have these readily available to you?
Can you work with limited supervision?
It’s true that online volunteering affords much independence, but it can also demand a lot of concentration and self-discipline. If you have the ability to self-direct, make decisions on your own, and work with little supervision, online volunteering may be the right opportunity for you.
Do you have excellent
communication skills?
Do you possess excellent
organizational skills?
Do you have regular access to
the Internet?
Working on online assignments, be it research, translating content, building a website, etc. requires a great deal of organizational attention and a keen eye for detail. At all times make sure you know what is expected of you and keep a list of to-do items with clear deadlines. Report your progress and communicate directly with the coordinator, and track your volunteer hours (if the organization calls for it).
For the most part, online volunteering will require you to communicate via email, chat messaging or by posting in online discussions, depending on the organization’s processes. Excellent writing and communication skills are required. To be an effective communicator, be clear, prompt in your replies, and always follow up accordingly.
Are you comfortable
working with deadlines?
Do you have the
ability to self-motivate?
Online assignments will have defined deadlines. To be an effective online volunteer, you need to adhere to these deadlines and communicate regularly on the progress with your project coordinator. You must also pace your work, and be flexible if a deadline’s original date is changed. Keep in mind that your assignment may be the part of a larger whole; if you miss your deadline, it may affect the course of the entire project.
Motivation is key in any volunteering opportunity, but as an online volunteer it is particularly important that you possess the ability to motivate yourself. As you may not have regular face-to-face contact (or none at all) with peer volunteers, you can’t rely on external motivation. Some volunteers find this a determining test of their ability to volunteer online. If you happen to stray from your task, can you find motivation in your work, and the enthusiasm to see it through?
Online volunteers perform a wide variety of tasks and work in many capacities. As a whole, they provide organizations with the additional skills and expertise needed to succeed: from expanding the organization’s network to developing additional internal capacities. Here are some examples to help you understand what online volunteers typically do:
moderating discussion board threads, blog comments or chats; editing and/or approving content on a website or online community; translating content into other languages; proofreading content;

assisting an organization with its promotions campaign; managing or participating in social networking strategies; fundraising; facilitating connections between individuals who share the same interests;

supporting staff members with day-to-day tasks; helping out with correspondence; cataloguing or archiving documents; writing proposals or reports; performing research;

troubleshooting; designing materials; performing web maintenance operations; ensuring overall quality of online contents; managing an online community;

mentoring; training or coaching individuals; coordinating a team of other volunteers; writing business plans and strategy documents; facilitating knowledge-sharing; organizing off -line meet ups.
There are no limits to what an online volunteer can do. With a little creativity and help from emerging technologies this list of sample activities is only likely to grow in the future. If you see an opportunity for an online volunteering but the organization you are interested in does not have an online volunteering program in place, don’t hesitate to talk to them about starting one up!
Now that you know more about what a volunteer does and what makes volunteering so valuable and fun, where do you start?
Here are some tips to get you started on the right step, and remember, online volunteers are engaged at all levels: from the grassroots to UN-level, so possibilities are virtually endless!
Step 1: List your skills and define an outcome
Step 2: Pick your cause
Step 3: Schedule your time
Step 4: Establish contact
• List your strengths and skills;
• List what skills you would like to learn or refine;
• Why do you want to volunteer? To obtain school credit, to gain work experience or for fun?
• What social issues matter to you the most?
• Are you currently involved with any organization, and if so, do you wish to remain with the same organization or in the same sector?
• Do you want to volunteer for a local organization or an international one?
• What does your work and school schedule look like? Can you balance your obligations and commit fully to volunteering?
• How long do you foresee being involved with the organization? Will your obligation be a short or long-term volunteering assignment?
• Identify your free time.
• If you have an organization in mind, contact them to inquire about their online volunteering opportunities. If you’re interested in volunteering for a particular organization that doesn’t seem to have any online volunteering opportunities posted, contact them anyway and offer your virtual availability. They may be able to accommodate you!
• Discuss the role with the project coordinator in a phone conversation or via email. Make sure to ask what the role entails, what is expected of you, the time commitment they are seeking (how many hours per week, for how long), and ask about the support that is offered to their organization’s online volunteers.
Now that you have identified your free time and have a better sense of how you would like to contribute your skills, you need to make sure that you have the right ICT tools at your disposal.
First and foremost, make sure you have regular access to the Internet. Most online volunteering programs rely almost exclusively on access to the web, so make sure you are honest about what is available to you. As an alternative, if you do not have regular Internet access you may be able to get involved as an ‘occasional volunteer’, helping with ad-hoc projects when need be. In this case, though, it is important to negotiate your involvement directly with the organization so to establish clear expectations on both ends.
Remember to read your job or opportunity description carefully to ensure you have access to the tools needed for your position. If in doubt, ask your organization to clarify your role and the tools you will need to perform your duties effectively. If you are lacking a particular tool or technology, ask if the Organization is going to provide that for you, or if there are ways for you to access that online and free of cost.
Communication is important because it opens up further avenues of collaboration, it helps keep the team focused, motivated and united, and it is also a way for everyone to share any doubts, success stories or tips. You will have several occasions to communicate with your team members, but first of all, do not forget to ask for their contact information so you know how to reach them! If possible, you may want to arrange a team phone call or online chat every couple of weeks so that you can check in, and remain connected with one another.
To help you stay focused and on top of your responsibilities, make a check list of all that is required of you to keep track of (ex. Reports, team meetings, duties, deadlines etc.) You can use a spreadsheet or word document to check tasks off month-by-month. This will give you both a visual reminder of your tasks as well as an instant way to monitor your progress. And remember, using a calendar is a great way to remind yourself of short- and long-term deadlines.
•Make a priority list for the week or month, including detailed key responsibilities and deadlines;
•Make a to-do list based on these priorities;
•Review deadlines and decide if they are realistic or need to be reviewed;
•Always make sure you have the latest information from the project coordinator. Has anything changed since the project began?
•Complete and submit regular progress reports.
Being an online volunteer is a truly rewarding opportunity, but not one free of challenges. In general, online volunteers have a proactive attitude, maintain consistent and timely communication, are committed to their role and responsibilities, have good management skills and self-direction and are positive leaders. The next slides offer a few concrete tips to help you make the most of your experience.
Think about your past experiences and your interests, how do they complement the skills and responsibilities necessary for the position that interests you?
Gather additional information
Do not hesitate to ask for further information on the project, organization or campaign-communication is essential and having the details you need will help ensure you pick a position that complements your interests, availability and skills.
Get to know your team
Don’t over-commit your schedule
Plan ahead
Working with online volunteers from around the world is a truly rewarding experience, but not one free of its challenges. Take the time to get your know your team members- regular communication is an essential part of the success of the team… and it makes the experience a lot more fun!
Make sure you set realistic goals and expectations of yourself, and that the organization you are supporting is aware of your other commitments, so you don’t take on too much work all at once.
Make sure you incorporate your tasks and deadlines into your personal calendar- and make this a habit. This will allow you to meet your deadlines with ease and on time!
Ask questions
Give Feedback
Learn new skills
If you are not sure what tasks you are supposed to be working on, or how to complete one, don’t be afraid to ask, your team is there to support you. It is important to be proactive so that if there are doubts or concerns, you can bring them up and address them quickly, rather than waiting for the organization to find out about them.
Make sure you let your team know about what is working and what needs to be improved. Your team relies on your feedback to introduce innovations that will help the organization be more effective and supportive of you and your teammates.
Remember to keep an open attitude towards new challenges- we often learn more about ourselves and our abilities by doing something new than by doing what we’re already familiar with.
Be a leader
Whether you are working independently or in a team, it is important to maintain a positive attitude and to be a leader in what you do. You have certainly heard of the term “leadership” before, but who exactly is a leader?
• A leader inspires others to work on their tasks by setting the example and by managing the team with grace.
• A leader always looks for ways to improve performance, but is also. capable of celebrating achievements
• A leader can work and relate with others, and understands that team members bring their own sets of skills and talents to the team, too.
• A leader has good judgment: he or she must be able to assess situations, determine the pros and cons of any decision and actively seek out a solution. A leader is not afraid of asking for guidance and help.
• A good leader realizes the importance of creating a supportive environment: harmonious relationships contribute to success, whereas conflict slows down the team and brings down the morale!
• A good leader will not use their position of authority for self gratification and promotion, or in a controlling and domineering manner.
• A good leader is aware of his or her responsibilities and knows the organization- this information is what helps them guide others better.
• A leader is first of all a good listener. Take the time to review your team’s feedback and incorporate their best suggestions into your future plans.
• A leader adopts a positive form of communication: put cooperation before personal power, and use friendship and a strong-willed personality to maintain positive communication.
• A leader is a person who is willing to listen to other people’s ideas and adapt to change if the situation requires it. A leader is also someone who is able to take constructive criticism.
• A good leader is available and in touch with people. An important leadership skill is the ability to recognize needs and be able to respond to them quickly and in the moment.
• Good leaders conduct meetings in an atmosphere of trust, and display appropriate confidentiality and respect towards others.
• A leader can command attention, and uses the attention in positive and constructive ways.
Be a Good
Know Your Team
• A good leader understands the dynamics of group relationships. Leaders are inclusive and skilled in creating a sense of team unity.
• Leaders are capable of balancing the strengths and weaknesses of the group for best results.
• Leaders establish a personal relationship with team members- both individually and in a team context.
• Leaders ensure that tasks are understood, supervised and accomplished, and create realistic expectations.
• Leaders understand and respect people’s different work styles, and try to allow individual expression to transpire while also remaining true to the team’s goals and needs.
• Leaders develop a sense of ownership and responsibility in team members.
Give Feedback
Know Yourself
• A leader is someone who shows confidence in the team, and acknowledges and celebrates the successes of both the individual and the team.
• Good leaders set and use goals to stay focused.
• Successful leaders not only motivate themselves in personal development but also motivate
those around them.
A leader is eager to refine skills and learn more. There are many resources available out there for
people interested in team management, good leadership and improving organizational skills.
Do an Internet search based on your interests and needs…or start with TakingITGlobal’s Action
Guide for ideas! This website is also a great resource to help you set and track your goals:
All this information might be daunting at first, but remember, leadership is something you acquire and enhance through experience, so we hope you will welcome this opportunity for self development and professional growth!
•Schedule any upcoming meetings, online chats or conference calls with the coordinator or peer volunteers;
•Schedule in upcoming deadlines;
•Check in with your project coordinator when agreed upon;
•Submit progress reports regularly or as agreed upon.
Ready to Make
TIP: How to prepare your application
Congratulations, you’re ready to submit your application for an online volunteering position! So, how do you do this?
Some organizations will have an online application for you to fill out. Make sure you provide all the necessary information, and if you have any additional comments or questions, or the option to upload a CV or resume, include them as well.
If you need to apply via email, below is a list of items to include
your contact information
an updated CV or resume which includes work, academic, and past/present volunteering experience
a personal statement which will convey to the organization the reason and motivation why you chose their cause to volunteer
specific skills you want to contribute or refine
your online availability
The reach of online volunteering has only grown since the 1970s, attracting countless online volunteers worldwide. As the Internet began to offer enhanced connectivity on a wider scale, more organizations began to see the benefit of online volunteering, and in turn, a higher number of volunteers became interested in fulfilling their civic engagement via the use of ICT tools.
Since its inception, online volunteering has mobilized thousands of online volunteers to end extreme poverty, especially through its extensive database of online volunteering opportunities.
The continued rise of web-based tools has also made online volunteering a perfect niche for many youth-led development campaigns to evolve. Until recently, youth were often seen as being the most disengaged from civic involvement, but their readiness to embrace (and understand!) frequent technological changes has given them the chance to utilize the potential of the Web for the promulgation of socially-conscious initiatives around the globe.
There is a rich world of online networks that provides youth with the tools and connections they need to define themselves as fully aware and engaged in civic responsibilities…
so the chances of affecting change
are greater than ever!
Volunteerism has many social benefits, but it is also an activity that can enrich you as an individual and contribute to your personal growth. Read how online volunteering has had an impact on Jessica:
Geographic location of online volunteers in the youth-led development sector
North America
Central America
South America
Middle East
The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is the UN organization that contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. UNV contributes to peace and development by advocating for recognition of volunteers, working with partners to integrate volunteerism into development programming, and mobilizing an increasing number and diversity of volunteers, including experienced UNV volunteers, throughout the world.
http://www.unv.org and http://www.onlinevolunteering.org
United Nations Volunteers
TakingITGlobal is an international organization, led by youth and enabled by technology, that connects youth to fi nd inspiration, information and involvement in their local and global communities. Headquartered in Toronto, Canada, with a growing worldwide presence, the organization’s flagship program is tigweb.org, the most popular online community for young people interested in connecting across cultures and making a difference, with hundreds of thousands of visitors each month.
The World Volunteer Web supports the volunteer community by serving as a global clearinghouse for information and resources linked to volunteerism that can be used for campaigning, advocacy and networking. It is an online hub where the community can meet, share resources and coordinate activities to mobilize volunteer action in support of the Millennium Development Goals. With a constituency comprising of over 20,000 organizations and individuals, the World Volunteer Web helps to catalyze partnerships among volunteer stakeholders from all continents.
World Volunteer Web
Time Banking
Time Banking is a social change movement in 22 countries and six continents. For every hour you spend doing something for someone in your community, you earn one Time Dollar. Then you have a Time Dollar to spend on having someone do something for you.
You can download this guide at
Thank You!
making services more caring and personal
encouraging innovation and a fresh perspective
promoting equality; enabling a service to be user-led
promoting community cohesion
reducing dependency, promoting equality
helping the unemployed or underprivileged enter the work market
Editorial support
Outreach support
Office support
Web support
Community support
Online volunteering replaces
on-site volunteering
I don’t have to stick to a schedule
It is true that volunteering from your computer has some comforts. But taking on a volunteering assignment online is equal to volunteering in a physical setting. You will have responsibilities and deadlines, and are expected to fully commit to the task at hand.
Online volunteering is easy
Online volunteering is not meant in any way to eliminate on-site volunteering programs. In many organizations, an online volunteering component is complementary to the on-site program. These virtual opportunities offer a chance to volunteers who may not be able to work on-site due to accessibility, schedule, or other obstacles.
There are freedoms that come with volunteering online, however the project you’re volunteering for may have strict deadlines, so be sure to check with your project coordinator and determine how much time you will need to spend on each task, and if you will need to be ‘online’ (for an online chat meeting or a progress check-in) on specific days and times.
Know what your position is about
Read the job or opportunity description carefully and make sure you understand what its requirements are. Ask for details on how your involvement will take place and clarify schedule and deadlines.
Make sure you can commit for the minimum weekly hours and volunteer term before you sign on with the team, online teams rely on the efforts of dedicated volunteers who can help them meet their goals!
Think about how much you can commit
Consider the skills you have to offer
Further Reading
Bennett, Lance W., Chris Wells, and Allison Rank. (2008) Young Citizens and Civic Learning: Two
Paradigms of Citizenship in the Digital Age.
http://www.engagedyouth.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/youngcitizens_clo_fi nalaug_l.pdf
Center for Communication and Civic Engagement
Commission on the Future of Volunteering, Manifesto for Change
http://www.volunteering.org.uk/NR/rdonlyres/0B8EC40C-C9C5-454B-B212-C8918EF543F0/0/ Manifesto_fi nal.pdf
Gaines, Sarah. Virtual Volunteers, Real Results. The Guardian, 2 June 2008
United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission for Social Development, Thirty-ninth
Session: The role of volunteerism in the promotion of social development (E/CN.5/2001/6).
Volunteering and Social Activism: Pathways for Participation in Human Development.(2008)
CIVICUS, IAVE and UNV joint publication.
http://www.unv.org/fi leadmin/img/wvw/Volunteerism-FINAL.pdf
UNDP Essentials: “Volunteerism and Development” (2003)
Virtual Volunteering Guidebook (2000) by Susan J. Ellis and Jayne Cravens
Virtual Volunteering: Current Stats and Future Prospects (2002), Vic Murray and Yvonne Harrison
International Days related to
online volunteering
Here is a list of ICT tools commonly used by online volunteers.
They are all are valuable communications and self-organizing tools.
Volunteer Online?
Quiz n. 2
Full transcript