Virtual volunteering: How to give back from home

Looking for something meaningful to do with your spare time? Give a virtual helping hand to these incredible worldwide organizations.

Volunteering can give a much-needed hand to many NGOs around the world. Image credit: filadendron/iStock
Volunteering can give a much-needed hand to many NGOs around the world. Image credit: filadendron/iStock

You’ve binge-watched all of “Tiger King” and you’ve procrasti-baked through all your flour. What’s next?

Many are putting their skills to good use in the virtual world, helping out not-for-profits and organizations who rely on an online army of volunteers to get important social work done.

Why not load up on those karma points and practice social distancing at the same time by giving a helping virtual hand to these incredible worldwide organizations.

United Nations Volunteers (UNV) – Dedicate your skills

The United Nations has put together an online platform to connect more than 10,000 online volunteers per year with government and public institutions, civil society organizations, and other UN entities. 

Call-outs for roles relating to writing, design, tech, research, management, and admin are regularly posted to the platform. All positions are defined by the number of hours volunteers can contribute per week, with some jobs only requiring a few hours.

The program works to help team up skilled volunteers with organizations at the forefront of sustainable challenges, including environmental, legal, equality, and humanitarian work.

The Smithsonian Institution – Become a digital transcriber

Would you like to transcribe the personal diaries of an art critic from the 1920s? Or perhaps training notes from the first American woman in space? 

Curators and archivists at the Smithsonian Institution, a group of museums and research centers, are constantly in search of citizen scholars to help transcribe historical documents. By becoming a citizen scholar, you can help to make log books, manuscripts, field notes, ledgers, diaries and more be more accessible to the public.

Sign up to the Smithsonian Transcription Center to see available projects to work on, either as a transcriber or reviewer.

Get the chance to read through historic texts and make it public to the world. Image credit: aeduard/iStock
Help archivists make historical texts available to the world. Image credit: aeduard/iStock

Amnesty International – Join a team of decoders

Are you passionate about human rights? Amnesty International has a dedicated platform for digital “decoders” to help the organization expose injustices around the world. 

Decoders can jump on a range of projects and do their bit to help take the workload off researchers.

Each project begins with a demonstration of the work needed and then decoders can begin to sift through thousands of images, documents, or social media posts related to the project.

Zooniverse – Put your time into some incredible projects

While machine learning is making leaps and bounds in the research sector, a person’s ability to recognize patterns means people-powered research is still in growing demand.

Zooniverse is a platform for those with a budding interest in various fields, from science to the arts. Help a University of Oxford researcher discover which antibiotics could help treat different strains of tuberculosis, digitize historical rainfall records for the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, or label NYC urban soundscapes for the Sounds of New York City project.  

Each project also has a discussion board where you can work with fellow volunteers and researchers to help make breakthrough discoveries.

Catchafire – Match your skills to projects you care about

Maybe you’d prefer to use your skillset to help organizations whose mission and values align with your own? Catchafire is a for-purpose social enterprise that helps you search for projects based on what you’re good at, the amount of time you can dedicate, or the cause you’d like to work on — environment, civil rights, disaster relief…the list is endless.

From report writing to building a marketing strategy, your well-honed skills can help organizations save time, resources, and money — at a time where we are all looking to find ways to better help and connect with each other.

Be My Eyes – Help make the world more accessible

The Be My Eyes mobile app joins more than three million volunteers to help make the world more accessible for blind or low-vision people. Volunteers simply download the app and wait for a video call from a blind or low-vision user to help them with anything they need — from checking expiry dates and reading instructions to helping navigate a new area. 

With more than three million volunteers signed up to the service and just over 200,000 users, the service is an easy way to help out by simply picking up the phone.

The service also makes clear there’s no problem if you can’t take a call, there are more than enough volunteers to step in if needed. The service operates in more than 100 countries and matches volunteers and users based on their native language.

Helping someone out is as simple as picking up a call. Image credit: fizkes/iStock
Helping someone out is as simple as picking up a call. Image credit: fizkes/iStock

Missing Maps – Learn cartography

Many affected by disasters around the world live in areas that are often “missing” from many map resources available to first responders. Missing Maps is working to change that, by mapping out areas to help humanitarian organizations make more informed decisions on relief responses.

The platform asks online volunteers to trace imagery onto OpenStreetMap, a collaborative free-edit map of the world. Once this is done, on-the-ground volunteers work to fill in more localized information, including street names, buildings, or neighborhoods.These maps are then used by organizations to better plan their responses to disasters, if and when they strike.

There’s no issue if you’ve never mapped before, the platform has extensive educational videos to walk you through the process and get you building maps in no time.


Amy Mitchell-Whittington

Amy is an Australian journalist living in Berlin. She covers a range of topics, with a special interest in tech and science.