Virtual Volunteering

One of the best places to network is in volunteer organizations. Besides putting your skills to good use at a cause you believe in, you demonstrate your expertise and commitment to other like-minded individuals, who may become, or refer you to, prospective clients, partners, or employers for you.

Nonprofit organizations all over the world are benefiting from the addition of virtual volunteer opportunities to their volunteer programs. With these online opportunities, volunteers often find that they have more time to give because there is no travel time required and they can often be even more efficient in their own environment. Listed below are some of the types of projects that are easy for virtual volunteers and valuable for the organization.

Typical virtual volunteer job opportunities:

  • Web development — an online community must have a strong web presence designed to provide maximum ease and efficiency of participation.
  • Translations — with global online networking there is more and more need to have websites, press releases and other literature available in numerous languages so that diverse communities can connect.
  • Writing press releases — writing and sending press releases online can make the difference in a cause getting public attention and support.
  • Writing and Proofreading — Sites that want people coming back on a regular basis have to keep updating their information and must make sure everything is accurate and professional.
  • Graphic design — graphics are compelling and help to paint an emotional picture and create a powerful image of the problems and solutions addressed by online communities.
  • Research — if you love to surf the internet, you’ll love this. And you’ll be generating valuable information for a good cause.
  • Track legislation — if you are fascinated by the ins and outs of government, you could be a valuable resource for a nonprofit advocating legislation to further their cause.
  • Creating online forums — these organizations need people who are tech savvy to host chat rooms, create online forums, develop blogs and other internet activities.
  • Writing emails — you can be a valuable resource by helping to respond to the many emails that these online communities are generating.
  • Generating sponsor support — utilize your sales, marketing, and negotiation skills to get sponsorships, support and alliances that help further their cause.
  • Database management — you can help an organization be more efficient and effective with their online contacts.
  • Professional advisor — if you have legal, financial or management expertise, you could be a valuable on call advisor or member of a virtual advisory board.
  • E-zine and newsletter development — Making regular contact with members of an online community are vital for it’s longevity.
  • E-mentoring — depending on your background and expertise, you might be a great e-mentor at an executive, management or leadership level; or as an e-mentor for volunteers in the organization or the people served by the organization.

Some people don’t like to donate their services, thinking that it somehow devalues them. In truth, there is nothing that demonstrates the value of what you do more than to put it to good use for a cause you believe in.

Review: NetAid.org

NetAid.org represents a “growing network of people and organizations committed to ending extreme poverty”. They focus on bringing people together in a way that helps them achieve the United Nation’s goal of cutting poverty in half by 2015 by raising awareness and offering people concrete ways to take action.

NetAid.org represents the true spirit of networking by building direct connections of people to projects and people to organizations where there is someone with a need and someone who wants to help satisfy that need.

This beauty of this is evident in their program, NetAid Online Volunteering, run jointly by NetAid and UN Volunteers. Through NetAid.org, thousands of volunteers have partnered with organizations to address issues around the world in developing countries. Volunteers from all around the world are writing articles, writing grant applications, conducting research, translating documents, creating websites, monitoring discussion groups, managing email lists, and sending group emails.

“We pride ourselves in our ability to take a complicated weighty issue and present it in such a way that people can understand and relate”, says Joy Portella, Director of Communications for NetAid.org. “People tend to think there’s nothing they can do and we like to set up interesting things that people in developed worlds can do for people in the undeveloped world.”

“We also believe in getting information to people quickly so that contributors know where there money is going and so that they feel like part of the community. Their monthly newsletter goes out to approximately 35,000 subscribers and is also stored on the website. With their desire to keep creating a community experience, they send out quizzes, petitions, trade links with other sites and have a “Tell a Friend” option at the bottom of their site.

Success stories listed on their website include:

  • Canada volunteer helps to develop web site of an African organization that helps people with disabilities.
  • A volunteer in Turkey helped to add 1,150 publications to the library on HIV/AIDS run by Mgbala Agwa Youth Forum in Nigeria.
  • United States volunteer established the first regional office of World Computer Exchange in California. This Boston based organization was looking for someone to help establish the organization in San Francisco.
  • Costa Rica volunteer finds sponsors to establish a library for children with disabilities and their parents Uganda. She sent hundreds of emails out to librarians, advocates, disability specialists, publishers and doctors, asking for information resources, brochures and children’s books.
  • A volunteer in Nicaragua is technical advisor on IT/web problems for the Nile Basin Society in Canada.

Ten virtual volunteers are honored every year with their photos and stories posted online and kept in archives. Volunteers get to know and appreciate each other even though they are in different countries, working on different projects and never meet in person.

From Picket Line to Online

You no longer have to join a picket line (although you may still choose to) to take a stand, make a difference, share your convictions and join with others to represent the power of the group. Today there are numerous ways that you can take a stand and make a difference from your computer and through finding and joining with others online.

• Inspire people to utilize the internet and online communities to bring people together to make a positive difference in our world.

• To give people information on how to access online communities that are focused on social causes.

• To give inspiring examples of people truly making a difference through their online activities.

• To give people direction and encouragement to live their life as a contribution.

• To provide information on specific sites that can be useful for people interested in volunteering.

Online communities provide individuals and organizations an avenue to:
• Increase visibility about a concern or issue
• Make people aware
• Help people generate positive action to further their cause
• Facilitate the sharing of information
• Vehicle for announcing events
• Vehicle for recruiting volunteers
• Connect donors with organization and projects
• Create visibility
• Enhance exposure
• Spread the mission
• Ability to send information throughout the world to other interested parties in an easy, fast and relatively inexpensive manner.
• Share purpose that provides compelling reason to belong to the community.

Rather than selling a product the nonprofit is selling a cause, mission, vision. Rather than having customers they are reaching out to advocates, donors, volunteers. The internet is a vehicle for nonprofits to bring people together to share their interest and concern for particular social causes.

Review: IdeaList.org

IdeaList.org is an online resource that is making a difference in our world by connecting thousands of people every day with information from over 33,000 organizations from 165 countries. This site serves an online community of people interested to contributing to a greater good and supporting social action that enhances the quality of life for people all around the world.

Whereas many internet sites support individuals in creating communities for social causes, this site helps individuals locate the sites best suited for their particular passion and vision.

IdeaList started in 1995 with the idea of building a network of volunteer opportunities and nonprofit services in communities all around the world. They saw the value in having one directory that would make all the nonprofit resources easily accessible to the millions of people that were already online.

Their stated mission is to “connect people, organizations and resources to help build a world where all people can live free and dignified lives. They are guided by their desire to “find practical solutions to social and environmental problems in a spirit of generosity and mutual respect”.

On IdeaList you can search for resources by topic, geographic location, or the name of an organization. If you’ve always dreamed of making a difference in Africa, now you can by searching IdeaList and finding the perfect organization and opportunity for you.

You may discover that virtual volunteering would suit your lifestyle. With virtual volunteering you get to do your volunteer work from your own computer when you choose. Some of the typical virtual volunteer job opportunities that are available include:
• Web development
• Translations
• Press release
• Proofreading
• Writing
• Graphic design
• Research
• Creating online forums
• Writing emails
• Sponsor support
• Database management

Developing countries have a great need to build strong communities in order to deal with the challenges of poverty, disease, chaotic environment. At the same time, an underdeveloped country may lack the local resource necessary too create strong communities. By searching through IdeaList and becoming a virtual volunteer you will be part of a growing online community of people making a difference in the world.

Networking for Social Action

Although networking is commonly thought of primarily as a tool for bringing in business and finding a job, social activists, politicians and not-for-profit organizations focused on humanitarian efforts have always had networking at the core of their existence.

Networking satisfies a basic human need to feel a sense of belonging, to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to have a venue for contributing to others and to experience the satisfaction of making a difference. These basic human needs are all addressed with the true spirit of networking which is about building relationships to create value. This makes networking and social action natural, powerful partners.

In the past people with this type of mission, calling and passion have had to be vigilant in finding ways to connect with other individuals and groups where they could partner and combine resources to fulfill their visions. Now the internet is providing easy access and information that can make it so much easier for people to find ways to connect, communicate and make a difference. You have a global network of like-minded enthusiasts available to connect, share resources and influence the quality of life and future of our planet.

If used for a greater good, technology could turn out to be the critical factor that brings people together universally and globally to resolve and accept our differences bring us together with a great sense of being a global community.

Here are ten ways to utilize the internet to network and make a difference in the world:

1. Clearly identify your passion, desire and arena in which you desire to make a difference. You may choose to volunteer in an area that best utilizes a skill/talent that you already developed or you may choose to do something that requires something new of you and gives you a certain amount of adventure, variety and/or balance in life. Ask yourself what you feel is totally unacceptable in the world. What touches your heart? What do you feel passionate about?

2. Search for sites and organizations that are aligned with the focus of your social action. Go to a search engine such as Google.com and enter the keywords that represent the type of project/cause that you desire to support. Through the process of reviewing sites representing your chosen cause you will find information that can assist you in further defining how you want to get involved. Other sites available to assist you in your search for suitable organizations for your interest include
Idealist.org and GuideStar.org.

3. Sign up for appropriate online communities, blogs and usergroups. Once you find groups of like-minded people on the internet you can begin to participate. As Scott Allen recommends, take it slow and easy. Pick one or two groups to being with and begin by reviewing the information that people are displaying and the discussions that are in progress. Take time to see how people are responding, whether people are responding (are participants active), to find out if the discussions are in sync with topics and ideas that appeal to you. Once you have a clear sense of the alignment that you have with the people and focus of the site, then is a good time to “stick your toe in the water” by adding your comments and questions.

4. Research various projects that you might consider supporting. Read about the organizations you are interested in and also network with the people you know. Ask the people that you know and respect for their experiences and suggestions. Find out what types of causes, organizations and project people whom you know and respect are supporting. Ask them for their opinion about projects that you are considering.

5. Send emails requesting information regarding activities, events and projects. Ask for information. Gather information by requesting the information you need to make the best choices regarding your volunteer interests.

6. Send emails making requests for what you need to fulfill your projects. Utilize your own network of contacts to get others involved and get the help that you need to support your volunteer projects. Sometimes people are just waiting to be asked. Even people who would not typically volunteer their time or services may find themselves interested when someone else shows an interest in their participation.

7. Send emails offering your support and services. Let people know what you have to offer and how you want to contribute.

8. Send emails letting others know about opportunities that people can support. Pass along information to others in your network about events and opportunities. You never know when someone you know may be interested in getting involved in some social cause and you may be the stepping stone for them.

9. Create your own website promoting your cause and giving people a way to connect. The web is an easy platform for business, personal issues and social causes. If you have a personal website, be sure to include information about your involvement in social cause. Provide links to sites that give more information about the social cause that you support.

10. Create links on your website to other sites that further social action. On my business website, www.DonnaFisher.com, I have a Links page that includes business links, friend’s link and links of organizations that I believe in that are doing social good.