Virtual volunteering is a great way for you to make an impact while allowing yourself to stay in the comfort of your own home. Professionals doing good has had the fortune of already having had a few volunteers from various parts of the world who were able to donate their time and skills to a charity in Cambodia while staying at home, and we have learned what is necessary to make it a successful collaboration. However easy it may be from a logistics perspective, volunteering from home requires much more effort in ensuring the project runs smoothly. Here are our observations and advice for potential volunteers who are considering volunteering from home.
Make sure you (really, really, really) have the time to help
It may not seem like it, but volunteering from home requires a time commitment that is similar to that of volunteering in the field. To make an actual impact to the cause you’re supporting, a time commitment of four hours per week for at least 12 weeks is required. Difference in time zones can also be a challenge, particularly if you’re trying to schedule live meetings. Make sure that you have the time to commit without overpromising. If you do come to the realisation that you have overcommitted, it’s better to apologise and close the project for when you will really have the time for it.
Have the skills that can be contributed remotely
Some types of volunteer projects can be more easily handled from remote than others, as they require much fewer personal interactions while remaining manageable as projects with clear deliverables. Dedicate the time to understand and discuss with the charity whether the skills you’re able to offer can be realistically delivered from afar, as well as whether your skills are actually what the organisation needs. For example, web editing, graphic design, copywriting, and IT development are often very much needed and can be done successfully from remote.
Be in sync with the organization you’re helping
Be ready to fully learn about the organisation you’re working for. Remember It’s not merely about getting things done. It’s important that you resonate with the organisation and its cause—the more connected you are with them, and more you’d be willing to help. Take the time to really understand them and develop a relationship with them.
Learn as much as you can about the organisation, including their values, their preferred way of working, and their organisational culture and priorities. It may take a few weeks for you and the organisation to fully learn about one another and be used to working together. It will be time well spent, as it’s important for you and the organisation to establish a good relationship.
Be open and flexible to a different working style
Expect things to work differently than they do at home. Working in the field allows you to meet your colleagues face to face, and to see firsthand how the organisation works. When you work remotely, you may have assumptions that you would work in a style or approach that is similar to that of working in the field. Be aware of this mindset and regular ask yourself what would be useful for the organisation and what you can do to help. Ask your supervisor for feedback, and ask whether you’re helping in the right way or what you could do to help in a better way. Be open to learning and adapting to different work styles, sense of time, and ways to solve problems.
Use the right technology
Other than email, there are now a lot more options to communicate with one another over long distance. Using the right tools can help you to facilitate the smooth running of your project. There are now numerous tools that allow you to set up live video meetings for free, including Skype, Appear, Whatsapp and Messenger. Real-time file sharing tools are also very useful. Google Drive and Dropbox are simple and easy-to-use applications that allow you to share documents and edit them on the fly, and Trello is a handy drag-and-drop project planning tool where everyone on a team can be assigned tasks and the progress of the project can be reviewed all members of the team. Make use of these convenient tools to keep you and your colleagues on the same page.
Bring up concerns and requirements that you have
Considering the distance and the fact that the charity may know very little about you, don’t be afraid to be vocal if something goes wrong with the project. Try to be proactive and explain what’s concerning you, while finding ways to get back on track. Similarly, if you have particular requests, such as having your work acknowledged by the managers of the organisation, don’t be afraid to let your supervisor know. A good thing to do is to organise a periodic, recurrent project review session with your supervisor, where you could openly talk about the project, as well as your feelings and expectations on it.
Be ready to roll up your sleeves
Sometimes, senior volunteers may expect to work as an advisor who provides suggestions, ideas, or coaching on what should be done, while expecting the organisation to do the operational work. Reality is, most remote volunteer projects, unless stated otherwise, require an extra pair of hands to support a workload that the organisation is not able to handle themselves. Be ready to both advise and do the actual work (or at least some of it!) that you’re advising the organisation to carry out.
Set up clear, simple and realistic objectives and goals
Before your project beings, dedicate time to have a few calls with the organisation you want to help, and discuss in depth the scope of the work you will be doing. This includes the duration of the project, your expected time commitment, expected outcomes, expected deliverables, channels of communication, and a schedule for follow-up meetings. The more you discuss and clarify your method of working together, the higher chance the project will succeed.
Many organisations are happy to have the help of volunteers, even those who are helping remotely from home! We hope that our suggestions will be helpful to you when you decide to take on a virtual volunteer project.