Flexible Volunteering: How to Make a Difference... Even if You're Busy

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Volunteer opportunities are getting more flexible. That's good news for busy, talented people who want to make a difference, but who need an alternative to traditional volunteering.

Volunteer opportunities are getting more flexible. That's good news for busy, talented people who want to make a difference, but who need an alternative to traditional volunteering.

In fact, there is enormous, untapped kindness available from busy people who yearn for greater fulfillment through volunteering. However, these well-meaning people are often unable or unwilling to commit to any charitable activity that requires them to show up at a specific time, or at a specific place, or on a specific day for a specific number of weeks. For talented people with hectic and unpredictable schedules, traditional volunteering is simply impractical.

Fortunately, good alternatives now exist, courtesy of non-profit organizations such as Charity Guide and Impact Online.

The most flexible volunteering options are featured at Charity Guide, which highlights opportunities to make a difference in 15 minutes, or in a few hours, or during a volunteer vacation. CharityGuide.org is distinguished by focusing on self-directed service-projects that are entirely flexible and immediately actionable. For instance, Charity Guide shows you how to help prevent the torture of a political prisoner, in just 15 minutes: http://www.charityguide.org/charity/fifteen/torture.htm Or, Charity Guide also shows you how to help save 3 lives, in just a few hours: http://www.charityguide.org/charity/fewhours/blooddrive.htm

For its part, Impact Online (aka VolunteerMatch.org) addresses the need for flexibility through coverage of "virtual volunteer" opportunities. As a "virtual volunteer", you can enjoy the convenience of volunteering remotely, at any location of your choice. Perhaps more subtly, the tasks involved in virtual volunteering (e.g. accounting, web design, and writing) tend to fully leverage the volunteer's expertise and talents, which compares favorably to traditional volunteering where lawyers and public relations pros sometimes find themselves underemployed, sorting toys or stuffing goodie bags.

On the other hand, virtual volunteer opportunities are still "traditional" in the sense that the tasks and timing are prescribed by the non-profit organization, not the volunteer. Thus, timing of the volunteer activity may be impractical for the volunteer or disappointing to the beneficiary organization.

Much more insight on virtual volunteering can be found at ServiceLeader.org, a project of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the University of Texas at Austin.

Or to get started on making a difference, you can visit internet-based volunteer directories, such as CharityGuide.org, VolunteerMatch.org, Idealist.org, or handsonnetwork.org.

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Adam Perrone
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