The Field Guide to Community Service
“Only a life lived for others is worth living.”
— Albert Einstein
We just added a chapter on virtual volunteering because we are living through a global pandemic and realize that people are more motivated than ever to make a difference — even if it's in their pajamas from home.
Amnesty Int’l has a program — Amnesty Decoders — that allows volunteers around the world to use their computers or phones to help researchers sift through pictures, information and documents. Project examples include: documenting oil spills, Syrian bomb strikes and online abuse of female politicians in India.
Catchafire is a community of individuals seeking to support and strengthen the social good sector. They do this by matching professionals who want to donate their time and talent with nonprofits who need those skills. Choose your project duration (one hour to several weeks) and choose projects from building a website to being a public speaking coach and creating animations.
The Confetti Foundation brings birthday smiles to children who have to spend their birthday in a hospital, pediatric oncology clinic or a hospice facility. The foundation was started with the hope that families will be able to shift their focus from their child’s sickness for just 30 minutes and celebrate. Although the party is not a cure, it will be a welcome distraction and a good reminder that every child deserves to be celebrated. One way you can help from home is to make birthday cards or birthday banners that are given to these children.
Crisis Text Line is a free, 24/7 text line for people in crisis in the United States. The service is powered by volunteer Crisis Counselors who work remotely — anywhere with a computer and secure internet connection works. Crisis Counselors answer texts from people in crisis, bringing them from a hot moment to a cool calm through active listening, collaborative problem solving and safety planning. Volunteers must commit to a 30 hour training program and four hours of counseling per week, until 200 hours are reached.
DoSomething empowers young people to enact social change both online and off. Using a digital platform, DoSomething members join volunteer, social change and civic action campaigns to make a real-world impact on causes they care about. Challenges include: voter registration, playlists for shorter showers and you can even win a $1,000 scholarship by sharing your ideas for managing stress during the lockdown.
eBird is the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by eBirders around the world. If you care about birds and the environment, this is a powerful way to help protect both as your sightings contribute to hundreds of conservation decisions and peer-reviewed papers, thousands of student projects and help inform bird research worldwide.
ElderWisdomCircle pairs online advice seekers in their teens, 20s and 30s with a nationwide network of Cyber-Grandparents, ages 60 to 105, who share their knowledge and accumulated wisdom. You can sign up to help or contribute questions that might help others get through challenging times. Check out their website for some fascinating questions and inspiring answers on everything from “Are we all alone (in the quarantine)?” to “I miss my ex.”
Sharing Smiles, an initiative of Empowering the Ages, connects adults to youth through two different programs – one connecting groups of adults and youth and the other connecting individuals. With each program, people can find pen pals, write joint stories, create poetry, share artwork, inspire with motivational quotes, and creatively share our individual strengths. It’s looking for people aged 50+ to share resources, mentorship and offer their kind-hearted support and let young people know that they care about their future.
The Jared Box Project works to lift the spirits of children in the hospital. Boxes filled with the "gift of play" are given to young patients in emergency rooms, hospital rooms, surgical centers and clinics. The boxes symbolize the importance of play and are filled with well wishes, hope and love. It’s easy, meaningful and fun to put together a box — directions on are their website.
Learn to Be connects online tutors with under-served students to provide 1:1 tutoring in math, science, reading and writing. All you need is a laptop or desktop (with camera and mic) and some basic knowledge. Within a week you could be matched with a student and start to change a life with just one hour of tutoring a week.
Operation Paperback sends paperback books to American troops, veterans and military families overseas. Volunteers register online and once you are approved, you can log into the Volunteer's Corner and input the genres you have on hand and their system will generate a customized address list of troops and veterans. Click here for more information.
Project Gutenberg is a library of more than 60,000 free eBooks. You can volunteer to help proofread an eBook, procure eligible paper books or burn CDs and DVDs for people without Internet access. The first step to producing a new eBook is to find a paper book whose copyright has expired. If the book was printed before 1923, its American copyright has almost certainly expired. They’ll help you verify that and get started.
7 Cups is an on-demand emotional health service and online therapy provider. 7 Cups needs volunteers to become listeners, who don’t judge or try to solve problems but rather just listen and give people the space they need to clear their heads and think through their issues. They’ll even train you in active listening, a wonderful life skill, no matter what age you are.
Smithsonian Digital Volunteers
Smithsonian has “Digital Volunteers” who can take on important assignments to expand access to the Smithsonian’s massive collections, and can participate in a variety of research programs. Citizen scholars are invited to transcribe historic documents including diaries and working papers of prominent Americans — from field notebooks surveying snakes and reptiles in South Dakota in 1894 to the diaries of Leo Baekeland, the American chemist and founder of the modern plastics industry. Some roles require special knowledge or skill, but many do not.
Soldiers' Angels has thousands of virtual volunteers or “Team Angels” from around the world who work to provide support for deployed service members, military families, wounded heroes and veterans of all eras. These Angels provide a wide variety of unique items and services for our troops and veterans ranging from home-baked care packages, cards and letters, and hand-crafted items for hospitalized veterans and new military babies.
Solely Sunshine is a virtual letter writing platform that offers letters of encouragement to people with a variety of mental health conditions. Volunteers can send a letter through Solely Sunshine's website or write letters and mail them to Solely Sunshine, which will be sure to mail it to mental health facilities across the world.
Soles4Souls turns unwanted shoes and clothing into opportunity by keeping them from going to waste and putting them to good use — providing relief, creating jobs and empowering people to break the cycle of poverty. You can clean out your closets of gently used shoes and clothing and mail (for free!) to Soles4Shoes or find a nearby drop-off location.
Translators without Borders depends on volunteers to translate millions of words and help run the organization. If you are fluent in at least one language other than your native language, you can volunteer to be a translator volunteer. They also have other volunteer opportunities including graphic or web page designers, project management and fundraising. One translator, who works with refugees, says that providing accurate information is vital to their future, and another says, “The sense that people are genuinely helped by my translation makes me happy.”
The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. Online volunteering allows organizations and volunteers to team up to address sustainable development challenges — anywhere in the world, from any device. Opportunities include editing Covid response information (including Wordpress, GIFs and videos) and animating digital advocacy websites.
Words Alive works to open opportunities for life success by inspiring a commitment to reading. It is based in San Diego but since COVID-19, they have launched many opportunities for people to volunteer virtually, including Kids Reading to Kids, Virtual Book Drive and Social Media Squad among other interesting opportunities.
Youngzine is a unique website where children can learn about current news and events shaping their world, in a simple, engaging and interactive manner. The volunteer-led organization relies on students for this virtual volunteering opportunity, which requires at least a six-month commitment of three to four hours per week. They’re specifically looking for a development manager, a social media lead and an education consultant.
The Zooniverse is a platform for people-powered research. This research is made possible by volunteers — more than a million people around the world — who come together to assist professional researchers. Projects include: transcribing jungle weather reports to help monitor climate change, fossil analysis and analyzing historic antislavery documents.
SILICON VALLEY STRONG
If you live in Silicon Valley and want to give back, please check out Silicon Valley Strong. They can help you:
Support distance learning through the Digital Inclusion Fund
Donate medical supplies or services
Connect over the phone with isolated residents
Write a job recommendation for someone
Sign up your restaurant to help