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6 min read

4 Ways to Shape Your Volunteering in Uncertain Times

March 6, 2020

Woman in the city

With the COVID-19 outbreak topping the headlines, and cases surpassing 100,000 globally, personal preparedness and precaution is top of mind for many of us at home, and at work.

And as thousands of U.S. citizens are now being asked by their local governments to self-quarantine, at VolunteerMatch, we’re also receiving numerous enquiries from companies and individuals who want to know how they can lend a helping hand in their communities. 

These requests to volunteer are no surprise to us: during times of great uncertainty, we are often deluged with even more enquiries than usual by people wanting to help -- even when helping might put them personally at risk.

It’s that spirit that makes us human. It’s that spirit that will keep us connected and thriving even during the worst of times. And, that desire to help no matter the odds truly matters. Because while Coronavirus dominates much of our newsfeed right now, there remain numerous causes that demand the power of our collective assistance -- from urgent disasters including deadly tornadoes in Nashville, flooding in Peru and heavy rains in Brazil, to ongoing crises including persistent homelessness  and food insecurity across the United States. The issues that challenge our planet are too great for any one of us to take on alone.

Here are some ideas we’ve collected to help if you’re curious about how you can help the most vulnerable populations:

1 -- Be Alert for Best Practices. Responding to community needs is often nuanced and complex. And during a time when your personal health or safety could be compromised, it can be even more so. If you’re looking to volunteer at work, or to organize efforts for a work team, start by taking a look at your organization’s core competencies and consider a cross-functional approach to address the needs of your employees and the people you want to serve. Stay alert to resources from the Occupational Safety andHealth Administration (OHSA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure you and your colleagues are equipped with the latest information. This podcast from The Conference Board features an expert discussion and highlights how corporate social responsibility leaders worldwide are bringing resources to respond to this health crisis. Using some of these tips can help you develop response strategies and what organizations can do to support those impacted by the virus.

2 -- Support Your Local Nonprofits. You may be evaluating your typical and ongoing volunteering activities and considering if, and how, you can best continue to lend your support while keeping yourself, your family and your colleagues healthy. We’ve had enquiries from volunteers hoping to support communities who are particularly vulnerable to the spread of disease including those with pre-existing health conditions, people who are homeless, and our elders. Times like this do require preparation and special protocols from all of us, including our community partners running housing and nutrition support services, who may also have an increased need for increasingly hard-to-find supplies. We know that local nonprofits are the ones best suited to support their communities for the long-haul. Consider hosting a food drive for your local food bank or a clothing drive for your local shelter, or contributing to a Relief Fund like this one from Global Giving, which allows you to support local causes globally.

3 -- Become a Virtual Volunteer. Right now, there are over 600,000 virtual volunteering opportunities available on VolunteerMatch that offer the chance to stay involved in causes that want your support. From mentoring a small business, to helping reduce isolation for an elder over the phone, to offering your civil engineering skills to create a sustainable community, virtual volunteering takes many forms. And, if your passion is to help those most vulnerable to this immediate crisis, you can find specific opportunities to lend your skills, for example, by becoming an online tutor for a child experiencing homelessness, or performing research and writing grants for organizations that take on community safety and health year-round. Giving of your time virtually can be a great way to ensure consistency and continuity of volunteer resources for nonprofits, as it’s so easily done from the comfort of your own office or home.

4 -- Embrace Inclusive Behaviors and Mindsets. Being prepared for everything that happens in our world is virtually impossible. But, with some creative thinking and planning, we can continue to be of service and help those most vulnerable in our communities, even when we may ourselves be stressed or worried. Often, the most powerful act of service is a simple and deeply personal one. One of the most fundamental things we can encourage all would-be volunteers to do in order to be of service right now is to be proactive in our support of this public health crisis by actively committing to behaviors that do not, even unintentionally, marginalize or stigmatize our colleagues, friends and neighbors. 

With conference organizers cancelling group events, companies encouraging workers to stay away from the workplace, and broad restrictions being placed on travel and travelers -- all of which are bound to engender fear and doubt -- our commitment to serve our fellow humans starts first in our heart, and must be enforced by our minds. Discernment and a commitment to compassionate care is key to seeing us through uncertain times such as these.   

Laura Plato

Written by Laura Plato