Having a global impact doesn’t mean you have to leave your own home. In fact, with the advent of new digital learning tools, it’s now possible to support an international cause from the comfort of your living room by becoming a virtual volunteer.
Virtual volunteering abroad, or volunteering online, can take many forms: volunteering with children, offering your marketing or web development skills, or perhaps working in global health—the possibilities are endless. And the benefits are also noteworthy. Unlike in traditional volunteer programs, virtual volunteering allows you to maintain maximum flexibility with just an internet connection and a computer. You can help others and lift up communities with your skills from any point in the globe. Plus, there's no need to coordinate your online volunteer efforts with spring break or vacation days, and it also saves you money on airfare and travel expenses.
So whether you’re looking to learn about a new part of the globe or you’re inspired by a worthy cause or project, there are a number of reasons why volunteering online could be right for you. Read on to learn about virtual volunteer opportunities, how to have a positive impact, and how to start your search for the right program.
If you have a job or hobby that you do digitally on a day to day basis, there's a pretty big chance that someone domestically or abroad is in need of that skill. Online volunteering opportunities include writing, researching, social media, videography, data analysis, graphic design, translating, administration, business mentoring, and the list goes on.
Here are three types of virtual volunteer opportunities you can get involved with right now:
Education and youth services
Being able to volunteer virtually means that it’s possible to have a huge impact on historically underserved communities around the world. Whether you hope to work in literacy, language development, health education, or youth mentorship, there are a number of ways to support community education projects online.
These programs can give you classroom experience (albeit a virtual classroom), and you also may have the opportunity to work on your own language acquisition. And almost certainly you can expect to build lasting international connections with the business or organization. Whatever your reasons, virtual volunteer projects in education are unique opportunities to gain experience while simultaneously serving international communities.
These days, it’s easy to see how interconnected the world is when it comes to health and disease prevention. Whether you're working to support the needs of a local community or learning about public health in a larger scope, volunteering online in the healthcare field can be a rewarding experience for you and patients alike.
Many virtual volunteer programs will aim to give you a well-rounded experience that includes clinical work, conversations with experts, and engagement with the local community and your fellow volunteers. The Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children, for example, offers placements that range from health education to community development.
Business or brand development
If you have experience in marketing, web development, branding, or design, then you are sure to find many cool organizations that would love your help. NGOs and nonprofits around the world seek out business-savvy volunteers to help them make a larger impact and reach audiences who can offer support. Virtual volunteering can be especially relevant in these fields since most of this work can be done digitally.
As always, volunteering is a win-win, since not only will you help traditionally underserved communities, but you can also build your portfolio and strengthen your resume. Some programs make sure to put professional development at the center of your experience.
Planning your experience
While volunteering online may seem like an unusual choice, it’s actually a great opportunity to have a positive impact in our global community without breaking the bank. There are several things to keep in mind when deciding to volunteer such as your desired impact, budget, and expectations.
Here are some unique aspects of virtual volunteering to consider before planning your experience:
The ethical impact of volunteering online
While volunteering is generally good, it can become a bit complicated when intertwined with tourism. Voluntourism, the trend of combining a volunteer trip with tourism, can be rewarding and impactful, but it can also leave communities without the long-lasting support they need. Virtual volunteering helps to eliminate this ethical quandary since projects aren’t limited to weeks, but can span months and even years.
It’s still important to make sure that program fees (if any) are being used to support the community and project. Generally, though, there are fewer costs involved with online volunteering, so you can feel more confident that your impact is positive and that your support will have a lasting effect on a community.
Regardless, it’s important to make sure that you’re supporting a project and program that is responsible. You can read more about choosing a volunteer program.
The ability to maintain long-term connections
Making friends abroad takes on a whole new meaning when you are already digitally bonded! It can be easier to make and retain friends over the long-term when you are already used to connecting online. And especially for friends that you’ll make in your local community, it can be very meaningful to have the tools to stay connected even after your virtual project is completed.
The environmental Impact
With carbon emissions on all of our minds, it’s important to note that virtual volunteering means no flights and a lesser environmental impact. It’s basically traveling, but without the carbon footprint!
The costs of online volunteering
Last, but definitely not least on our list of reasons to virtually volunteer abroad is the reduced costs in comparison to in-person programs. Not only are program fees on the lower end (fees for online volunteering can vary widely but can be as low as $250/week or even free!), but you also don’t have to factor in travel expenses like airfare, accommodation, meals, or vaccines. Plus, you won’t have to give up your other commitments, such as a part-time job!
Need to know
Before committing to an online volunteer opportunity, make sure it suits your goals and abilities. Consider if there a language requirement or if the program coordinator is able to provide you with a reference if need be. Will your schedule match their time commitment needs?
Even though virtual volunteering might seem less formal than on-site programs, it’s important to treat the experience as you would one in another country.
Ask questions and be professional. And most importantly, make friends! Connecting with a local community can be the most impactful part of any volunteer experience, so even though you may be thousands of miles away, rely on technology to form lasting bonds with the folks you are working with and serving.
Online Volunteer Programs
United Planet Service Scholarships
Several scholarships are available for those looking to volunteer for a short or long-term period abroad with the non-profit organization United Planet, who work with communities in over 35 countries around the world.
GoEco Volunteer Scholarships
To assist prospective volunteers in taking part in one of their programs, GoEco, an eco-tourism company, awards one flight voucher of $1,000 and waived fees for a two-week program, plus travel insurance to successful beneficiaries of their scholarships.
How can I volunteer without leaving home?
There are many organizations that offer volunteering opportunities online. Think about what skill you might have to contribute and look to see if you can match it to an organization in need -- it can be in any industry from education to healthcare to business.
Does volunteering help you get a job?
Yes, volunteering can absolutely help you get a job. Virtual volunteering not only helps communities in need, but also can help you build the necessary skills to build your portfolio and your resume.