| Online volunteering or virtual
volunteering means unpaid service that is given via the
Internet or other technology network, either via a computer or via
a handheld device (smart phone, cell phone, PDA, etc.). It is also
sometimes called microvolunteering
or crowdsourcing, when
the tasks require just a few minutes of work.
Volunteer or community service means actions, activity, engagement -- doing something that needs to be done and that helps the community or a cause.
People engaged in virtual volunteering undertake a variety of activities, such as:
It is so easy to say yes to volunteering via the Internet that many people sign up to do so before really considering their schedule. Most volunteers who take this approach end up never having that spare time originally envisioned and do not complete an assignments they committed to doing, leaving the organization scrambling to get the work done by others. Saying yes to virtual volunteering but then not completing an assignment also affects the organization's view of online volunteers: staff may decide online volunteers are not trustworthy nor reliable, and challenge or even halt attempts to expand virtual volunteering at an organization.
Most volunteering that you can do from your home or a school computer, or even a handheld device like a smart phone, requires a certain degree of expertise, such as designing flyers, maintaining a web site, translating text, editing video, designing a database, writing press releases or funding proposals, managing online social networking activities, writing code for software, etc. (Wikipedia has a long list of what online volunteers do, and volunteers do these tasks for thousands and thousands of organizations). Even if you have the expertise necessary to volunteer online, in some cases, you may have to go onsite somewhere to meet face-to-face with a representative of the organization you want to help, to introduce yourself, to go through their orientation, to meet staff, and maybe even to convince them to allow you to volunteer online.
Below is a list of organizations that recruit online volunteers specifically, some even exclusively, and you do not have to go onsite to volunteer online with any of them. Some of the sites are individual nonprofit organizations or university-based programs, and you will assist that particular program. Other sites are volunteer recruitment sites that allow organizations to post virtual volunteering assignments.
These organizations listed on this page will not track your volunteer hours. Also, you will have to ask, before you volunteer, if the organization will provide a signed document that confirms your volunteer hours.
What is NOT below is a list of every organization involving online volunteers! There are many thousands of organizations involving online volunteers. There is no database of every organization that involves online volunteers. The majority of online volunteers assist traditional organizations, from their local council office or service unit of the Girl Scouts of the USA to the local library. Animal shelters, homeless shelters, communities of faith (churches, mosques, temples), community gardens, community theaters, nonprofit zoos, YWCAs and on and on involve online volunteers, to create web pages, to write articles for a newsletter, to test an online tool, to translate text from one language to another, to moderate or facilitate an online discussion group, to research a subject online and gather information, to make regular posts to Facebook, to Tweet regularly, and on and on.
Do not limit your search for online volunteering to the list below. Ask at organizations in your geographic area if you can offer your services as an online volunteer creating web pages, creating a database, writing an article for a newsletter, moderating or facilitating an online discussion group, translating text from one language to another (both of which you are a native speaker of), researching a subject online and gathering information, or whatever you have expertise in doing. Many organizations in your geographic area would be happy to involve you as an online volunteer, but they may want to meet you face-to-face first, have you go through their onsite training, etc., first.
Note: the vast majority of these online volunteering opportunities are FREE - meaning you do not have to pay anything at all to participate - there are no costs other than in terms of your time. However, a few organizations do require you to join the organization as a member, and that membership may include a fee.
Finding Online Volunteering / Online Microvolunteering
Ancestry.com's World Archives Program (AWAP) provides free software to its volunteers to access already-scanned images and transcribe them into a common, publicly-searchable database. "The Ancestry World Archives Project is thousands of volunteers from around the world with a passion for genealogy and a desire to help others discover their roots." This is one of several citizen archivist projects for online volunteers listed on this page.
betterplace.org 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). It's similar to NetSquared (see below). Also available in German (Deutsch).
BookShare.Org offers thousands of books to people with reading disabilities. As an online volunteer you can either scan books to be added to the collection or edit books that have been scanned.
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). You will need a particular area of expertise regarding business development or project management, or know where to recruit American-based businesses who will host entrepreneurs who travel to the USA for the program, and pay the annual membership fee, in order to volunteer with BPEACE online.
Volunteer-run communications agency BrightOne has a web app enabling charities in England to post online microvolunteering tasks (that can be completed in around an hour or two online) for volunteers to complete online. Both charities and volunteers must register on the site to participate.
Carnamah Historical Society virtual volunteering initiative (Australia) - Online volunteers help with transcription and indexing projects to make historical records more discoverable and searchable.
Create the Good is an initiative by AARP to help its members get connected with nonprofits and causes. Anyone can use the site to find virtual volunteering activities in support of a variety of organizations. Go to the Volunteer Search portion of the site and click "refine search." Put the word virtual or the word online in the keyword search, chose any for distance and date, and leave your postal code blank. Then choose search.
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. To be involved as an online volunteer, you need to be an experienced, credible IT expert and you need to establish a relationship with this organization BEFORE a crisis. If you cannot figure out how to contribute as an online volunteer after visiting the web site, you probably don't have the level tech skills needed for this organization's initiatives. To see what kinds of online volunteering opportunities offered through Crisis Commons, join their GoogleGroup.
Distributed Proofreaders. These online volunteers turn public domain books into online books, mostly for Project Gutenberg. Many volunteers work on a book at the same time. Volunteers proofread each others' work.
ebird database, supporting the National Audubon Society. You go "birding" or bird-watching, observing birds with your eye or binoculars, and then enter into the database when, where, and how you went birding, completing a checklist of all the birds seen and heard during the outing.
Electronic Emissary, one of the best known and most respected online tutoring programs, where adult volunteers help students in a variety of complex academic-based projects. The Emissary prefers professionals or retired professionals as online volunteers, because this is a academically-focused tutoring program, not a feel-good mentoring program. NOTE: this site is, as of September 2013, down.
Endapt, Electronic Networking to Develop Accomplished Professional Teachers. For professional teachers only. Are you an experienced, successful teacher working in a U.S. elementary, middle, and/or secondary school? Would you like to directly and positively influence and support the next generation of teachers? New teachers using ENDAPT need your assistance and advice! If you are willing to communicate via e-mail regularly and long-term with a new teacher who is working with content, pedagogical issues, and grade levels similar to yours, you can volunteer online.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Volunteer Monitoring Program - this is a mix of online and remote volunteering. Volunteers collect data from the environments around them at their homes or work and submit the information online to the EPA.
Epilepsy Foundation Virtual Volunteering. These opportunities are for people who know how to post on online message boards, blog, communicate through social networking tools, write, and type, and who like to read. You must make a two-hour commitment for one month.
FLOSS Manuals Online volunteers produce free manuals about Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in their own language. "Today we have more than 120 books in more than 30 languages and more than 3,000 contributors over 5 independent language communities (French, English, Farsi, Dutch, Finnish)."
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." To be involved as an online volunteer, you need to be an experienced, credible IT expert and you need to establish a relationship with this organization BEFORE a crisis. If you can't figure out how to contribute as an online volunteer after visiting the web site, you probably don't have the level IT skills needed for this organization's initiatives.
Oportunidades de voluntariado virtual de hacesfalta.org. La mayoría de oportunidades está en España, pero algunos están en otros países. Note that this is the first European volunteer site to talk about virtual volunteering.
Help From Home has a mix of volunteering activities you can do from home, both online and without a computer.
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.
IMAlive, a live online crisis network and a project by the Kristin Brooks Hope Center, To Write Love On Her Arms and PostSecret. Online volunteers must be at least 18 years old (16 with parents notarized consent), complete at least 20 hours training and a series of tests and screenings, and willing to commit to responding four hours a week for one year, or eight hours a week for six months. They also must pay, or fundraise, a fee to cover training and support costs. Follow on Twitter: @IMAlive
icouldbe.org is meant to connect the energy and expertise of mentors from various professions with the most vulnerable students in the US educational system - those that are most at-risk or most in need. However, note that you will receive very little training as a mentor in this program, and when the author of the page you are reading now participated in the program, not one of her emails sent to the organization seeking guidance was ever answered.
Idealist/Action Without Borders has many volunteer tasks listed on its site that can be completed online. To find them, do keyword searchings using online and virtual on the Idealist site. You will have to read each assignment carefully to ensure it is actually virtual (many that will come up in your search are not).
Infinite Family, an online mentoring program matching adults and families in the USA with at-risk, impoverished children in South Africa.
Internet Archive's Wayback Machine welcomes your submission of digital artifacts - old versions of web sites, copyright-free text, software and recordings, even movies. If a copyright has not expired, permission from the author must be provided as well.
Koodonation, part of Sparked / Extraordinaries, hosts a database of online microvolunteering assignments (tasks that can be completed in around an hour or two online) in support of different nonprofit organizations. Both nonprofits and volunteers must register on the site to view microvolunteering assignments.
Learning Ally, formerly Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic. Many audiobooks are created with text-to-speech software that scans text from computer files and uses synthesized human voices to read the text aloud. However, illustrations or figures used throughout the books are not included. Online volunteers type those figure descriptions into the text, enabling students to receive ALL book material, not just the text.
LibriVox is a nonprofit that coordinates online volunteers to record audio versions of public domain books. You need to have software already that allows you to make such recordings (LibriVox does not provide such).
LifeWorks E-mentoring is an National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored mentoring program for high school and college students who are interested in behavioral and social science, biomedical research, and healthcare careers. Through this program, students are linked via e-mail communication with e-mentors who provide them with relevant information, guidance and support. A continuous mentoring commitment of at least eight months is expected from all participants. Undergraduate and graduate students, university professors, postdoctoral fellows, independent researchers, and healthcare personnel are encouraged to consider volunteering to serve as mentors in this program. As part of the registration process, all prospective mentors are screened against the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender database of the United States Department of Justice. NIH will also contact the designated personal reference to request information about your character and academic/employment history.
Map Rectifier Project by the New York Public Library. This geo-rectification toolkit creates layered digital maps utilizing all of the information available about a certain geography from sources as varied as Google's satellite imagery and fire insurance land maps that are two centuries old. Citizen geo-rectifiers index information that records how many floors a building once had or what a street was named at different points in time, and the resulting layered digital map shows the aggregate results.
MentorPlace, a volunteer program that brings employees of IBM and students together in online relationships focused on academics. You must be an IBM employee to participate.
matches small business owners with business mentors. If you want
to be a volunteer mentor, you should have three years of
business ownership experience, or five years of management
experience, or several years of professional experience in a
specialized skill, such as marketing, web site development,
accounting, financial planning, etc. The program is part of MercyCorps.
Mozilla/Firefox. Did you know that this web browser is produced by a nonprofit organization? "We believe in the power and potential of the Internet and want to see it thrive for everyone, everywhere." Mozilla involves hundreds of online volunteers, and "You don't have to be a C++ guru (or even know what that means!)" to contribute as an online volunteer.
Nabuur, which recruits online volunteers to support organizations working in or for the developing world.
National Archives (USA) Flickr site, where you can help to tag historical photographs and documents that have been scanned and uploaded, so that they are easier to be found by students, scholars and others.
NetMentors, focused on career-development eMentoring for teens.
The National Map Corps (TNM Corps), part of the U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). USA citizens collect data on structures and use it to add new features, remove obsolete points and correct data for The National Map database. Structures include schools, colleges and universities, fire stations, law enforcement centers, prisons, state government offices, hospitals and clinics, cemeteries, and post offices.
an initiative of TechSoup,
is a place where nonprofits, corporations, government agencies,
NGOs and individuals 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. You can build relationships with proposed
projects through your suggestions to such, and this can lead to
an ongoing volunteering relationship.
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.
NOAA weather volunteers. Volunteers serve as storm spotters and daily weather observers. They record their weather observations online. You can join a national network of Cooperative Observer Program (COOP) volunteers.
North American Bird Phenology Program by the US Geological Survey. This program makes scans of bird migration research notes available to its indexers. The notes consist of six million migration card observations that were created from 1880 to 1970 all across North America, tracking data about bird appearances in various locales in a historic attempt to map migration patterns (and which are of a resurging interest now for the purposes of, among other things, studying climate change). In the past three years, 2000 indexing volunteers have already successfully transcribed 500,000 records.
The OpenMRS community is a worldwide network of volunteers from many different backgrounds including technology, health care, and international development. Together, they are working to build the world's largest and most flexible technology platform to support delivery of health care in some of the most challenging environments on the planet. "No matter what your background or interest, we'd love to have you help us save lives with Health IT."
a free editable map of the whole world. It is made by online
volunteers. Anyone can contribute to its geographical database.
However, note that the project will not record your hours of
service nor provide any documentation to a school, class,
probation officer, court, etc. re: your record of online
PartnerUp is an online community focused on the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. You can volunteer your business expertise to answer questions online from small business owners, entrepreneurs, independent contractors. Online volunteers provide expertise in agriculture and farming, businesses related to arts and entertainment, banking, financial services and insurance, international trade, manufacturing, mining, industry-specific marketing and advertising, real estate, restaurants, transportation, waste management and more. It's a part of SCORE, a nonprofit helping small businesses "get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship."
Pearls of Africa works to inform, involve and inspire people with disabilities throughout Africa. Most of the volunteers it involves are online.
Perverted Justice involves far more online volunteers than onsite volunteers, mostly as forum / Virtual Office contributors and moderators, providing links to resources, news stories and other information relating to Perverted Justice's mission of investigating, identifying, and publicizing adults who solicit online sexual conversations with adults posing as children or underage teenagers. Volunteers must be over 18. Volunteers who prove themselves as reliable and committed on the forum/Virtual Office after several months become eligible for the Junior Contributor training program and higher-responsibility roles with the organization.
Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection - Online volunteers. These online volunteers help humanitarian workers with database, transcription and translation projects. You must be accepted as a member of PHAP to participate as an online volunteer (your application for membership must be approved and you must pay an annual membership fee).
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE and the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline. Online volunteers who staff the online hotline have to complete a training course facilitated by RAINN, complete a background check, and be on time for shifts.
Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), "Hacking for Humanity," is a "community of developers, geeks and tech-savvy do-gooders around the world, working to develop software solutions that respond to the challenges facing humanity today." RHoK brings software engineers together with disaster risk management experts to identify critical global challenges, and develop software to respond to them. Representatives from the group works to identify problems that can be addressed by software programmers and become RHoK's Featured Hacks - the hacking challenges thrown out to the developer community at the next RHoK hackathon.
Sidelines, a USA-based non-profit organization providing international support for women and their families experiencing complicated pregnancies and premature births. Must of this support is provided by online volunteers who have experienced complicated pregnancies and premature births themselves.
Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens is an online database of thousands of images in the Smithsonian's Collections Search Center. By correctly tagging an image regarding the types of plants in the image, the structures, objects, people, or any details you notice, you help make that image more useful to professional catalogers in museums, archives and libraries. Also see the Smithsonian Mystery Gardens project. Neither of these projects will record your hours of service nor provide any documentation to a school, class, probation officer, court, etc. re: your record of online service.
TechSoup has a series
of discussion groups where nonprofits ask questions about
technology. You can log into the community at any time and try
to help nonprofits and volunteers with questions about software,
databases and more. However, note that, unless you assume a
leadership role with TechSoup, such as being in charge of an
entire branch on the TechSoup community forum, the project will
not record your hours of service nor provide any documentation
to a school, class, probation officer, court, etc. re: your
record of online service. TechSoup also needs people to transcribe
its most popular archived webinars (requires that you
listen to the pre-recorded webinar and type what is said,
re-listening as you need to in order to capture what is being
Translators Without Borders, for volunteers who want to translate texts for NGOs and nonprofits (note that these kinds of volunteering opportunities are available at many of the other sites listed on this page).
Trevor Project operates TrevorSpace, an online, social networking community for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth ages 13 through 24, and their friends and allies. Online volunteers monitor the TrevorSpace site in an effort to maintain a safe space for young LGBTQ people online. Trainings for online volunteers are provided quarterly. Online volunteers are also needed on a one-time or continual basis to write program content for TrevorSpace.
United Nations Online Volunteering Service lists at least a few hundred online volunteering opportunities at any given time, at organizations working in or for the developing world (not just UN agencies). This is the largest database anywhere of online volunteering opportunities.
Voluntarios en la red; online volunteering in support of Mexico-based organizations.
VolunteerMatch has many of the volunteer tasks listed on its site tagged as virtual volunteering. However, read each assignment that interests you carefully, as many assignments (often most) are not virtual (many are mistagged).
Wikipedia, the largest online volunteering initiative in the world. To volunteer, you simply find an article you have some knowledge of and add information to the entry. Note that Wikipedia now strongly encourages all additions to any entry be attributed to a verifiable source. However, note that the project will not record your hours of service nor provide any documentation to a school, class, probation officer, court, etc. re: your record of online service. Available in Spanish, French, German, Polish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese and more!
WomenOnCall.Org has volunteer tasks listed on its site for a variety of organizations that are tagged as virtual volunteering or online volunteering. This site is to connect women volunteers with nonprofit organizations.
Zooniverse, home to the internet's largest citizen science projects. One of the most popular is the Old Weather project, where online volunteers transcribe hand-written weather observations made by Royal Navy ships around the time of World War I; using old weather observations can help predict our climate's future.
Do NOT limit your search for online volunteering to the list on this page; ask at nonprofit organizations and government programs in your geographic area if you can offer your services as an online volunteer, creating web pages, creating a database, writing an article for a newsletter, moderating or facilitating an online discussion group, translating text from one language to another (both of which you are a native speaker of), researching a subject online and gathering information, or whatever you have expertise in doing. Don't send an email and say, "I want to microvolunteer." Instead, say what it is you want to do: "I can help you with your web site, I can translate your newsletter, I can research subjects online," etc. Walking in and talking with someone, or calling, might be better than just sending an email, even if most of your work will be online.
For instance, there may be troops of Girl Scouts in your area that need help with designing fliers, moderating online discussion groups, writing press releases and sending them to the local press, update a web site and helping to maintain Facebook activities. Contact a local organization and ask how you can help with these kinds of tasks with local service units or troops - and be prepared to pay to join the organization as a member (very affordable) before you begin volunteering.
If you are in Europe, this wiki, produced in 2013, has a list of more than 60 organizations involving online volunteers in EU countries. Countries represented include Spain (España), the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany (Deutschland), Poland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, France, and more.
Other Home-Based Volunteering
Below are home-based volunteering tasks you can do that do NOT involve using the Internet or computers to deliver your services (though you need to use the Internet to sign up to help).
These are assignments for people who sew, knit, or crochet, and for those who want to make greeting cards for ill children or to USA military personnel
Mother Bear Project, provides crocheted and knit bears to children with HIV/AIDS
Shawl Ministry (faith-based Christian volunteering)
Project Linus, making blankets and crafts for sick children
Quilts of Valor (QOVs), making quilts for soldiers.
Adopt a Soldier, allows volunteers to send letters and items to soldiers.
Some courts and schools will NOT count online volunteering or home-based volunteering as part of your community service. You must get permission from them first before you embark on online volunteering or home-based volunteering to meet your community service obligation. It is your responsibility to understand the court's or school's or university's requirements for documenting your community service.
An organization has every right to fire you / let you go as a volunteer, no matter how urgently you need to complete your community service. They are under no obligation to keep you -- especially if you have missed shifts, violated policies, etc.
If you found this page helpful, let others know:
How to Find Volunteering Opportunities, a resource for adults who want to volunteer
Using Your Business Skills for Good - Volunteering Your Business Management Skills, to help people starting or running small businesses / micro enterprises, to help people building businesses in high-poverty areas, and to help people entering or re-entering the work force.
How to Make a Difference Internationally/Globally/in Another Country Without Going Abroad
You are NOT too young to volunteer! Ways you can volunteer, no matter how young you are
Details on how to quickly fill a community service obligation from a court or school.
Ideas for Leadership
Donating Things Instead of Cash or Time (In-Kind Contributions)
Ideas for Funding Your Volunteering Abroad Trip.
Details on volunteering abroad (volunteering internationally).
How to Get a Job with the United Nations or Other International Humanitarian or Development Organization
Careers Working With Animals (for the benefit of animals)
Helping People Address Their
Problems with Plastic
Credits & Copyright
© 2010-12 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.
Please contact me for permission to reprint, present or distribute these materials.