Giving Back How to Volunteer from Home

by Vanessa McGrady | April 24, 2020

Right now, countless Americans are looking to give back to their communities.

Their generosity has already been on the rise. According to a 2018 report by the Corporation for National and Community Service, philanthropy has reached unprecedented levels, with more than 77 million Americans reporting that they volunteered 6.9 billion hours.

But for those who are homebound, getting out to paint a school, distribute food or otherwise give their time just isn’t feasible. Fortunately, there are more opportunities now than ever to volunteer without even leaving home — some without even leaving your couch — that suit your schedule, interests and lifestyle.

Laura Plato is vice president of business development and marketing at VolunteerMatch. She says that volunteering from home isn’t the same as being on site, but it’s incredibly important. “You will still be able to find different levels of connection and be able to make a real difference,” Plato says.

Wondering where to start? There are lots of platforms through which to connect with causes, including organizations such as VolunteerMatch, the United Nations and the Red Cross.

When choosing a cause, Plato suggests you assess the following points: Figure out what speaks to your heart, tap into your useful skills and, if you’re still feeling unsure, think local and micro first.

“There are a lot of activities out there, like researching or encouraging others to vote, that probably align with things you’re already doing, and you can just plug in and do them for good,” she says.

Consider the following volunteer areas with a range of needs and flexibility for various schedules.

You will still be able to find different levels of connection and be able to make a real difference.
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Woman talking on mobile phone while using laptop in living room

1. Adopt a grandparent

Contact your local assisted living facility or nursing home to see how you can help those feeling isolated. Tapping your social network and posting on neighborhood message boards are other ways to reach seniors in need. Encourage them to talk about their lives — a simple, "Where are you from?" or "What's your earliest memory?" can kick off a warm conversation meaningful to both of you.

2. Hotline help

With some additional training, you can be of great comfort to those who are struggling and are in need of support. For example, the Trevor Project is a way to help guide LGBTQ youth through talk and text. The crisis intervention training is intensive, but you can also support the organization by connecting young LGBTQ people with support resources or by making a donation towards their mission. Or, volunteer your time and expertise with the Crisis Text Line (30 hours of virtual training required) to offer mental health support to people who are feeling scared and anxious.

3. Sew it up

A stitch in time can help a lot of folks. Warm Up America is looking for volunteers to knit and crochet blankets for people in need; Care Wear Volunteers asks people to sew items for hospital workers, nursing home residents, clients of social service agencies and nonprofits. Joann Fabric has a video tutorial on how to make face masks in the event of a medical crisis. You can drop the finished pieces at the stores for distribution or contact your local medical center to see if they’re accepting mask donations.

Woman Embracing Dog

4. Help some furry friends

Whether they're facing understaffing or just need extra love, animal shelters and rescue groups need foster homes for critters. If you’re unable to bring a pet into your home, you can also consider fund-raising and doing advocacy work on behalf of your local shelter along with The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society.

5. Write it down

How are your writing skills? Ask your favorite charity if they need help to create social media posts, punch up résumés, draft educational and marketing materials or write grants. You can also leverage your professional experience to give back by mentoring a student remotely through web-based platforms like iMentor.

6. Help people experiencing homelessness

One way to pitch in for this vulnerable population is to assemble hygiene kits with basic toiletries — soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste — at home. Inquire with local aid organizations that may be able to pick up and distribute them. And ask to make sure what’s helpful to include and what’s not.

Male vlogger recording music related broadcast at home

7. Share your gifts on video

Whatever your talents are, there will be someone happy to receive them. For example, beloved children's author and illustrator Mo Willems hosts online activities teaching kids how to doodle, musicians give concerts from home and fitness instructors share their gifts by teaching free yoga classes online.

8. Give from your heart

Do as you’ve always done, but now perhaps it’s time to rethink immediate needs for the most vulnerable populations. For example, No Kid Hungry, a Citi partner, works to help kids who are food-insecure to get meals, regardless if they’re in or out of school. Donations to No Kid Hungry help to provide emergency grant funds to schools and community groups across the country. Volunteer to fund-raise for an organization close to your heart through your personal network, social media and other outreach.

Even small, single acts of kindness go a long way, such as making lunch for first-responders in your neighborhood, checking in with ill or elderly neighbors or creating an online community newsletter. “If you’re feeling like you don’t have particularly relevant skills or talents, don’t worry. Chances are, you’ll be surprised by the wide range of virtual volunteering needs,” Plato says.

The amazing thing about our connected world is that you can make a huge difference for someone else without leaving your kitchen table by using a little time, creativity and generosity. And everyone can give a little of that.

Vanessa McGrady

writes about personal finance, health and feminist parenting; she is also the author of ROCK NEEDS RIVER: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption (Little A). She lives in Los Angeles with her daughter and their maltipoo.