At a glance
Updated 11 July 2023
Internet and smartphones have opened up the world for professionals looking to use their business skills to dramatically improve circumstances for others.
Virtual volunteering means people can give their time and expertise when, where and for however long it suits them.
Street children in Uganda, businesswomen in Afghanistan and policymakers in Paraguay are among those benefiting from knowledge shared by businesspeople around the world.
But while the professionals are willing, many not-for-profits are yet to catch up with the potential resource pool brought about by the rapid growth in online volunteering.
Former Volunteering Tasmania CEO Adrienne Picone (Picone is no longer with Volunteering Tasmania since retiring in 2020) says it is time for not-for-profits to expand their thinking about how they can partner with the business world beyond the traditional methods of sponsorship or donations.
“These people are resources that could contribute so much to the not-for-profit world,” says Picone.
In July 2015, Volunteering Australia announced a new, broader definition of volunteering to include, for the first time, online volunteers – recognition of the role they contribute to society and the rise of this form of giving back.
Picone believes online volunteerism is a huge opportunity yet to develop its full potential, but she notes it will bring with it new challenges in terms of meeting national standards, workplace health and safety and reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses, as well as new ways of recruitment and management.
Who needs virtual volunteers?
Here are some of the not-for-profit organisations using online volunteering to help their cause.
What: Business professionals work with promising entrepreneurs in violence-affected communities, to scale their business, create employment and expand the economic power of women.
Focus: Improve community stability by reducing the poverty, unemployment and desperation that so often seeds violence.
Where: Afghanistan, Guatemala, El Salvador
Skills needed: Mentors are required across all industries except farming. Bpeace is seeking functional skills such as sales, finance, customer service, operations, new market development, marketing as well as industry-specific skills.
Cherie Blair Foundation for Women
What: Supporting women entrepreneurs in developing and emerging economies with business skills, technology, networks and access to capital.
Aim: To have a world where women have equal opportunities and the capability, confidence and capital to establish and grow businesses, resulting in a brighter future for the women and their communities. It has particular emphasis on increasing women’s access to finance and financial institutions and developing their financial literacy.
Skills needed: The Cherie Blair Foundation’s Women in Business Mentoring Program needs male and female volunteers with expertise in marketing/branding/communications; finance/accounting; product development/strategy and planning; sales; and accessing capital.
Requirements: Mentors must have a minimum seven years’ working experience, volunteer two hours a month for 12 months and undertake a short online training course.
Save the Children Australia
What: Save the Children is one of Australia’s largest aid and development agencies dedicated to protecting children in Australia and around the world from harm.
Focus: Emergency programs in times of natural disasters, as well as long-term development programs, including providing children with access to quality education and health.
Skills needed: Proofreading, research, database development and marketing skills; however, a wide range of business functions and programs receive input from skilled professionals. The charity can match or create a project to enable virtual volunteers to make a difference to vulnerable children.
Training: Training and induction given.
Starlight Children’s Foundation
What: The broadest-reaching children’s charity in Australia, the Starlight Children’s Foundation provides a Starlight Express Room in every children’s hospital in the country and also has wish granting, Livewire and Indigenous Outreach programs operating nationally.
Focus: To brighten the lives of seriously ill children, teenagers and their families by replacing pain, fear and stress with fun, joy and laughter.
Skills needed: Virtual volunteers have been used through Deloitte Australia’s skilled network to review HR policies, complete surveys and review advertising templates, as well as when quick help is needed remotely or to leverage skills not available in-house. Keen to hear from people with skills to volunteer.
Accounting For International Development
What: AfID provides volunteer accountants and finance professionals to over 350 charities and not-for-profit organisations across more than 50 countries. The aim is to help these groups build up their financial management, reporting capacity and confidence to deliver more effective and sustainable programs.
Focus: Grassroot community-based organisations, such as child centres, hospitals, micro-finance organisations, schools, women’s empowerment programs and conservation projects.
Skills needed: All level of financial management skills, from basic bookkeeping and cash management to more complex tasks. The challenge for the volunteer is to communicate their skills and knowledge and to implement changes that local staff will be able to continue on their own.
Training: Offers workshops to discuss case studies that may be encountered.
Australian Conservation Foundation
What: A leading environmental group that works with businesses, government and communities to advance environmental issues in Australia.
Focus: River protection, climate change, renewable energy.
Skills needed: Australian Conservation Foundation doesn’t have a structured online volunteering program but keen to make use of professional skills, such as writers, technology experts, politically savvy brains, researchers, data analysts and citizen scientists to monitor trends/changes in local habitats, as well as social engagement.
Virtual volunteer marketplaces
These are web networks where charities, not-for-profits and local community groups are connected with volunteers who have the knowledge or skills they need.
What: A hub for people who want to engage with Australia’s not-for-profit organisations and community. Driven by technology to grow an increase in philanthropy and community engagement.
Mission: To promote a robust and engaged civil society by giving a voice, support and encouragement to organisations that do this.
What: The world’s largest volunteer engagement network, connecting millions of volunteers with more than 100,000 active not-for-profits around the world.
Mission: To strengthen communities by making it easier for good people and good causes to connect.
What: A not-for-profit global marketplace making business talent from 23 nations available to organisations striving to improve society.
Mission: To drive social change by leading, mobilising and engaging professionals in pro bono service. It is founded on the view that when people integrate their personality and values into their work, they have the greatest impact and are most fulfilled.
What: An online micro-volunteering network enabling volunteers to make a difference by doing what they are good at in a short space of time. It has opportunities for people to volunteer for small projects taking less than an hour at their computer, essentially breaking down projects into bite-sized pieces that can be shared via crowd-sourcing methods.
Mission: To give not-for-profits skilled assistance and to give skilled professionals an opportunity to volunteer in a way that fits into their own schedules from their own home or office.
What: An online volunteering community that links virtual volunteers with villages in Africa, Asia and Latin America seeking solutions to local issues.
Focus: Small community projects. Driven by locals or community leaders in the villages who start an online forum where ideas are shared.
Skills needed: Everything, including business-plan writing, income generation, project management, database creation, strategic planning, operations.