Online volunteering: an effective way to help in a digital age?

With the rise of social media and an increasingly connected world, we are also seeing the rise of online activism. Being able to stay curled up at home when it’s cold and miserable and still be doing something to help others is an incredibly attractive prospect. But is it really helpful?

There are numerous different ways to volunteer online, ranging from signing a petition for a cause through websites such as Avaaz, Change.org or GetUp! to volunteering writing or IT skills to a particular cause. It’s hard to say how much impact your signature will have on a petition, but nobody can deny that they can create change – Avaaz have successfully used their online campaigns to lobby governments and big business on 251,804,704 actions since 2007.

Another sort of online activism that receives a huge amount of attention is via Facebook. As easy as it is to ‘like’ a cause you are interested in on Facebook, studies have shown that engagement from this sort of social media is fleeting and does not lead to any sort of meaningful impact. At best, it is spreading awareness of a cause without a follow-on effect. Though that’s not a bad thing in itself, either. You liking a post by Amnesty may introduce one of your facebook friends to their great work. You never know!

There are real and long-lasting changes that can be made by online volunteers. You could volunteer through the UN Online Volunteering portal, which links volunteers up to thousands of different opportunities from hundreds of reputable not-for-profit and non-governmental organisations ranging from writing, translation and research through to training and project management.

Another cool online opportunity could be to help transcribe field notes, specimen details and dairy entries for exhibits in Australian Museums or help Operation War Diary to discover amazing stories about World War I by reading and tagging some of their 1.5 million diary pages!

Online volunteering cops a lot of flack for being a ‘soft’ option. But I think it’s safe to say that if done the right way it can and will make a difference to the global community.

Micro-volunteering – Become a Volunteer Hero, 16.4 minutes at a time…

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(image via zazzle.co.uk)

At FedUni, as part of our Leadership and Volunteering Awards Program, each year we recognise students who are ‘Volunteer Heroes’ – those who contribute over 100 hours of volunteer work to their communities, and attend at least 3 Leadership Development workshops on campus. For many people, 100 hours seems an unachievable amount of time, especially when it has to be balanced with course requirements, paid work, family and ‘me’ time. Spread over the course of a whole year, however it works out at approximately 16.4 minutes per day, or just over quarter of an hour.

(image via action.sierraclub.org)
(image via action.sierraclub.org)

As one of my New Year’s resolutions, I’m taking on the challenge of giving 100 hours back this year, and although some of that will be taken up with projects/fundraising etc, (I’m completing the Oxfam Melbourne Trailwalker this year for example), I’m definitely going to need some activities I can fit into my lunch break. Volunteering doesn’t have to be a major commitment; here are some micro-volunteering ideas to get you started…

Online Micro-Volunteering: This is one of the major emerging volunteer trends of the past few years – several websites have popped up allowing you to ‘donate’ a small amount of time for the benefit of others. asku_logoIt could be task-based – translating a press release, proof-reading, raising awareness through your social media channels for example, or virtual – answering questions, clicking links etc, which convert to charitable donations. Here are some of the websites which allow you to volunteer at your desk, or even on your phone:

www.asku.com.au
www.raise5.com
www.helpfromhome.orgBlood

Small Acts of Kindness: ‘Do a good deed every day’ is a bit of a cliché, but it works – pick up some litter around your neighbourhood or workplace, donate some old clothing to an op-shop or donate some blood! www.volunteerguide.org/minutes has some great ideas on how to make a difference in a short amount of time.

Help a mateHelp a Mate: You might not think of it as volunteering, but helping out someone in need is important, whether you know them or not! Use your specialist skills – if you know about computers, car maintenance, or cookery, why not use it to help out a friend? Alternatively, you could offer to take their children out for the afternoon so they can enjoy some free time or even just pop round for a chat and a cake with an elderly neighbour.

These are just some of the ways in which you could make a big difference in a small amount of time. If you have any other ideas or websites to add to this list, or want to share some of the things you do to help others, please don’t be shy – comment below!

– Luke