Volunteering From Home

9 January 2017

We recently spotted Vicki Sellick’s article The Rise of the Armchair Volunteer which suggests that in 2017 people will increasingly volunteer from home.

In our work with volunteering organisations here in Scotland, we often talk about the need to offer more flexible opportunities and one option is remote or home-based volunteering. This is a different model for organisations to consider, but can have real benefits and help make volunteering more accessible.

I live in Edinburgh and currently volunteer from home for two different organisations.

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One a local sports club in Glasgow and the other an international humanitarian organisation in the USA, with staff and volunteers across the world. Both roles involve admin, data management and reporting, tasks that would traditionally be done in an office environment during working hours, but which can easily be done anywhere with a computer and an internet connection.

By volunteering from home I can take part in volunteering that would otherwise be impossible because I work full-time.

I have the flexibility to volunteer when it suits me; when dinner’s in the oven, at the weekend when I’m still in pyjamas and even on the train during my commute to Stirling. It feels like really good use of time. Although some of my tasks are very quick, others take a bit longer, so while there’s no fixed time commitment each week, I have set tasks that determine how much time I give. I’m using my professional skills including IT and foreign languages, whilst also learning really relevant new skills such as how to communicate effectively online. Volunteering from home feels like an important model for engaging volunteers and meeting individual motivations in new ways.

Of course there are challenges to volunteering from home.

You need IT equipment and an internet connection, and I’ve now got a number of separate email addresses to check on a regular basis. Sometimes I don’t want to sit in front of a computer writing emails or updating spreadsheets after a day in the office. And there’s the challenge of data protection and document storage, which is something I’m working through to find the most effective and secure way of sharing information.

One of the main challenges for me is the lack of contact with fellow volunteers and staff.  For the Glasgow-based sports club I attend club events, like the Christmas party, and I also volunteer as a competition judge so I get to see everyone a few times a year. For the international organisation, however, I’m unlikely to ever meet anyone in person. Skype is good for putting faces to names and creating a connection, but it can sometimes feel quite isolated knowing that I don’t have any colleagues even in the same time zone as me! As with all volunteering, effective communication is crucial and I think this needs to be a key focus for remote volunteering to make sure there’s regular contact and appropriate support even when all communication happens from a distance. 

So from my own experience, here are some top tips for organisations that offer home-based volunteering:

  • Develop a thorough induction to the organisation so volunteers know what they’re responsible for and how that contributes to the organisation. Include information about everyone else in the organisation too; who they are, where they are and what they do.
  • Agree the best way to communicate with each individual and get in touch regularly to find out how they’re getting on. This needs to be proactive as your paths won’t cross in person.
  • Provide an organisational email address and use a cloud-based system such as Google Docs or OneDrive for sharing documents. This will help people to keep their volunteering separate to their personal emails and documents.
  • If possible, highlight opportunities to meet in person and any events volunteers can attend – but be aware not everyone will want to or be able to join you.
  • Think about new ways to reward and recognise your volunteers. It’s easy to say thank you in an email, but what else can you do?
  • Share your experience with other organisations – we’re always looking for case studies at Volunteer Scotland, so please contact us if you’ve got examples to share!

An article about managing remote volunteers was recently published on e-volunteerism.com (available to subscribers only)

There’s also some information about managing micro-volunteering opportunities on the Volunteer Scotland website. 

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