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How To Find A Place To Volunteer When You Have Nothing To Give

Howard Gensler  |  April 7, 2022

Technology and the pandemic have created at-home work for thousands of virtual volunteers. Here’s a rundown on where you can help.

Nonprofits around the country (and world) will always want your donations whenever you can spare them. But after more than two years of a pandemic with myriad layoffs and the ensuing Great Resignation, nonprofits also understand that not everyone is in a position to make cash contributions.

If you want to give but just don’t have the cash to spare right now, countless places are eager for your time and expertise — and thankfully there are now numerous online sites to help match you up with the perfect volunteer opportunity. The pandemic became a boom time for virtual volunteering — when the world moved to Zoom, so did options for how we can help and connect. Here’s a rundown. 

Catching New Opportunities

Catchafire, founded in 2009, matches volunteers with nonprofits for remote work based on their skills. Think of it as Tinder for do-gooders, without any possible regrets:  SWF with marketing background seeks 8 hours a week with health-care non-profit to help plan fundraising campaign.

Jamie Badia, Catchafire’s VP of Marketing, says that hundreds of volunteer jobs are often available on the site requiring all levels and all areas of skill. “We often say ‘we do volunteering differently,’” Badia says, “because we know that a lot of people do want to donate their talents or their skills and we know that there are plenty of nonprofits out there who are doing incredible work, buy that they don’t always have the financial means to have specialized teams, like a writer or an accountant.” Through Catchafire, you can donate just a single hour of your time if that’s all you have to spare, or you could opt to work on ongoing projects. 

The opportunities you find will specify their duration and complexity level, and you can select one that sounds right for you, or more. Just make sure that you’re able to complete all that you commit to — these organizations are depending on you, so don’t “swipe right” on more work than you can realistically finish on deadline. (We have enough stress at work that we don’t need to take on more when volunteering!) 

Finding The Right Option (And Future) For You 

Whenever you volunteer, your first priority is helping someone. Giving back in a way that puts others first is an incredible feeling that nothing else can replicate. But one personal advantage to volunteering that you might not have considered is that you’ve got a unique opportunity to gain experience working in a different sector. This can help you build your resume, network with new colleagues, and see if perhaps a new type of work or experience might be right for you. “We have countless stories of volunteers on Catchafire who start working on one project and then move into another,” Badia says. “It’s not uncommon for us to hear that they’ve gone on to join their board.”

In-Person vs. Online Opportunities 

If you’re sick of online everything and you’re eager to get back to more traditional in-person volunteering, then you can check out sites like The Trevor Project or Volunteer Match, which can match you with opportunities in your local community. You can search according to distance, (because #gasprices) or according to the number of hours you have to spare in a week or month. Of course you can also filter by type of opportunity. 

Just keep in mind that there might be something right in your backyard that you simply won’t find listed online. For example, if you want to help out at a food bank, a homeless shelter, or a religious organization or school, Badia recommends trying those places directly. Either call or visit their website, or stop by if you happen to be passing one day. 

And for more online opportunities, Badia recommends checking out Be My Eyes and Crisis Text Line. Crisis Text Line is a free mental health texting service for people in crisis and counselors are all trained volunteers. Be My Eyes is an app that matches blind and partially-sighted people with sighted volunteers. A live video call allows the visually-impaired person to have someone read them a label, a sign, a price tag or anything else when there’s no Braille available. 

Kicking Up Your Comfort Level

If you’ve only ever volunteered in person, at least consider giving online opportunities a shot, Badia says. Remote volunteering can give people a different level of comfort — if you do graphic design, for example, you may be much more confident designing a brochure for a home-building organization than you would actually strapping on a tool belt and helping to build a home. Remote volunteering also has the benefit of being location independent — it can be done from anywhere. (A fundraiser in Colorado can help an organization in need of funds in Alabama, for example.) 

“We have over 150 project types,” Badia says, reaching over 80,000 potential volunteer matches, “and that goes across marketing, communications, technology, finance, and professional development. We pretty much cover just about every department that you would find in corporate America.”

Catchafire got started, Badia says, because founder Rachel Chong wanted to use her finance background to help non-profits strategically with her level of expertise, which certain smaller nonprofits couldn’t afford. Over the past decade, the concept has grown and evolved, Badia says, “because more and more nonprofits rely so heavily on grant funding and there are a lot of steps a non-profit needs to take in order to get awarded a grant. Oftentimes it’s things like having proof that you have a strategic plan, have a website, and have the correct legal status.”  All these things require money and skills to do well — which is where Catchafire comes in. Smaller organizations can get the benefits of big-time talent without having to pay a big-time salary.


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