It’s an unprecedented time, and it’s shaken us all to the core. Even beyond grappling with the crisis that is COVID-19 and staying safe with shelter-in-place orders, many of us are dealing with loss of jobs, pay reductions, or fears of losing our jobs in the near future.
This year, I wanted to start volunteering in a longer-term role to improve my skills, help out an organization I love, and feel value in a way only volunteering can make me feel. Because I’m on reduced hours with my job, I decided now would be a great time to start.
If you’ve lost your job, gotten your hours reduced, or just have the desire (and capacity) to do something meaningful to contribute to your community, here is a guide to finding a remote volunteer opportunity during the coronavirus pandemic.
Spend a little time figuring out what you want to do, why you want to do it, and what capacity you have to volunteer.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- What skills do I have?
- What skills would I like to develop?
- Why do I want to volunteer?
- How much time do I have to volunteer?
Some ideas for what you can volunteer doing: writing blog posts, preparing a social media plan, writing grants, checking in on constituents.
Brainstorm the ways you want to volunteer and what you can contribute to an organization as a volunteer.
Brainstorm where you would want to volunteer.
Do you want to work on solving the climate crisis? Are you passionate about animals? Do you want to make a difference in healthcare? Spend a little time thinking of the topic(s) you’re most passionate about. Then, brainstorm organizations you could volunteer with now. Think about the organizations you currently follow, search social media for ideas, ask friends for their favorites, or Google ideas. Make a list of organizations you’d have fun helping.
Look into the organizations on your list.
Find out if the organizations on your list are operating and accepting volunteers. Does the organization look like its employees are currently working full-time? Are there any updates on the website? Who would be the best contact to reach out to?
This is the time where you may need to refine your list based on what you find. Some organizations may not be in the position to take volunteers at this time–if you see employees aren’t working at the moment, it may be best to approach a different organization.
Another note: in general, it’s easier to get in and volunteer in a meaningful way with smaller nonprofits and local chapters of organizations you love. Example: 350.org is a great organization. But, if you want to volunteer, it’s better to find your local chapter and reach out to them.
In finding who to contact, see what the website says. Do they recommend starting with the volunteer coordinator or can you find a contact for the department/job function you’d want to volunteer with? Get name and email address for the best contact person at each organization.
Look into volunteer options beyond the organizations on your list.
Look up volunteer opportunities on VolunteerMatch, idealist.org, and by Googling volunteer opportunities. Sometimes we don’t even realize how many great organizations are out there, so this is great way to discover new organizations. It’s also a great way to see the organizations who are actively looking for longer-term volunteers, because then you know they need help when reaching out!
Reach out to your first choice (and maybe second choice) organization.
Once you’ve found your contact name and email, it’s time to reach out!
Here’s a sample email:
Hope you’re staying safe.
I’m a big fan of ORGANIZATION NAME, and SOMETHING PERSONALIZED*. I’ve been wanting to find a long-term volunteer opportunity, and I wanted to reach out to see if I could volunteer with you remotely. I have INSERT RELEVANT BACKGROUND. I would love to help doing X.
Let me know what the next steps would be to get started. I’d love to schedule a phone call to connect and see what/how you’d need help from a volunteer.
*Something personal ideas: I have been to many of your cleanup events. I have followed you for years. I have been a donor in the past. I have called my representatives many times with your prompts.
Follow Up (If Needed).
If you don’t hear back in more than a week, reach out with a quick note to check in. It feels like the coronavirus situation is changing constantly and this means things are probably quickly changing for the organization you’re reaching out to. They may not have had time to respond to your email, but it’s worth checking in one more time because they might love the extra help.
A quick note can look something like this:
I wanted to follow up with you on potentially volunteering with ORGANIZATION NAME. I know things are very hectic and situations may be changing, so let me know if I should email someone else at the organization about volunteering or if timing may need to wait.
Then, if you don’t hear back or they don’t need help right now, you can move on to another organization on your list. Or, they’ll let you know they would love the help and you can move forward.
My recent experience reaching out to organizations
Background: I wanted to volunteer somewhere doing grant writing after doing some grant writing at my current job. I wanted to learn under someone, so I could build my skills faster and hopefully get paid to do it in the future. With everything going on, I wondered if I would get the opportunity to volunteer right now.
I reached out to one organization I worked with in the past. I didn’t know the current development person, but I still had friends at the organization so I asked to get connected. The connection made it really easy for me to get in to volunteer on exactly what I wanted to do, and I’ve already started volunteering five hours a week for the organization. Sometimes you may need to do some tasks beyond your ideal task list in order to get started and show you can do quality work. Do what you need to do, because once you get in and show them how awesome you are, more opportunities will open up to get the exact experience you’re looking for.
I also searched idealist.org, VolunteerMatch, and Googled “grant writing volunteer San Diego” in order to find some meaningful opportunities with organizations looking for volunteer grant writers. I found an opportunity on VolunteerMatch and messaged the organization with a simple message saying I was interested in volunteering and a couple bullet points about my experience. Within a few days, I got a response, did a phone meeting with the main contact, and now I’m on my way to becoming a full-fledge volunteer for a couple hours a week.
In confusing and crazy times like this, it can be hard to muster the energy to function on our basic daily tasks, let alone more. If you have the capacity, try to volunteer in some way. Volunteering can help combat loneliness, provide meaning and value to our life, and make us feel like we’re making a difference. It may be exactly what you’re looking for to lift your spirits and feel like you’re contributing. If you can, do it.