Nonprofits are casting a wide net for virtual volunteers amid pandemic

April 17, 2020

We’ve created a virtual employee volunteer network and adjusted its community giving programs.

From staffing crisis lines to voicing audiobooks to writing pen pals, nonprofits are seeking a wide range of volunteers – many of whom can be virtual – to help their communities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the crisis unfolded, leading online volunteer network VolunteerMatch updated its national database of volunteer opportunities to surface those that are directly related to relief efforts and those that can be done remotely. There are currently more than 200,000 such opportunities available.

“Our causes need help more than ever,” said Laura Plato of VolunteerMatch. “If you have the mindshare, this can be a good time to think about how you connect with your community.”

Plato said that the virtual opportunities in the database cover a vast range of causes, skill sets and experience levels – for example: creating distribution networks for donated supplies; digitizing existing services by developing apps or websites; teaching youth hip-hop dance via video meetings; and much more, in addition to thousands of non-virtual opportunities, such as delivering meals on behalf of food banks, for those who are able to volunteer in person.

Her colleague Ben Chutz pointed out that with virtual volunteering, nonprofits “are able to cast a wider net” by expanding outside of their immediate geographic community.  

To that point, U.S. Bank recently launched an internal virtual volunteer network to help employees connect their skills and passions with nonprofits across the country. Last year, its employees spent 334,000 hours volunteering in their communities. 

Brittny Ferguson, a U.S. Bank branch manager in San Diego, accounted for 209 of those volunteer hours, many of which were spent teaching financial education to students through Junior Achievement (where, in a photo taken last year, she is shown volunteering below). With students out of school, though, she has shifted her volunteering focus to an area of need – assembling face masks for first responders. 

“There are ways that we can give back and still be safe,” said Ferguson. “I have been on both ends of the spectrum and understand what it is like to need help. [Through volunteering], we have an opportunity to give someone a little light in the midst of something that feels so dark.”

Financial education remains near and dear to her, too. With many schools across the country closed and students now at home with parents, Ferguson said it can be an opportunity to teach kids about money in a natural way. 

“Talk about the reality of what is going on,” said Ferguson, who has a teenage daughter, “That may mean a conversation about living within means and prioritizing needs over wants. Or, even about how you may be feeling insecure financially during this unprecedented time of uncertainty.”

In addition to individuals and families, financial uncertainty is hitting nonprofits. Chutz, of VolunteerMatch, emphasized their need for financial support, citing a recent New York Times article about the perilous situation facing especially the smaller organizations. VolunteerMatch has moved quickly to set up the infrastructure to stay attuned, such as by facilitating an ongoing discussion among 200 nonprofit and corporate leaders on Slack.

We adapted our community giving programs in response to changing needs of nonprofits as well, said Chief Social Responsibility Officer Reba Dominski. In addition to establishing the virtual volunteer network, we reallocated the remainder of our grant budget for the year toward general operating expenses, if needed, rather than earmarking grants for specific programming. We also doubled our matching gift level for employee donations. 

“We know how many nonprofits are struggling and we want to make sure that our partners know that we trust them to use our grant dollars in whatever way is needed to sustain the life-changing work they do in our communities every day,” said Dominski.

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