7 Virtual Volunteer Opportunities Where You Can Make a Difference Without Leaving the House

published Mar 30, 2020
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Now that most non-essential services are closed and seeing our friends is too risky (unless via video chat), many of us have more free time on our hands than we know what to do with. If you’re tired of watching Netflix and you’ve baked more bread than you can possibly eat, you might want to take this time to give back. 

If your neighbors are well taken care of or if you can’t move around freely, don’t just assume that there’s nothing you can do to help. You might not be able to leave your house, but you can still make a difference—remotely. 

Calling all human rights activists! Amnesty Decoders need your help in sifting through photos, documents, and other information to expose global human rights violations, like oil spills in Nigeria and village attacks in remote areas of Sudan. 

Their latest project, Troll Patrol India, had hundreds of volunteers analyzing tweets sent to women involved in politics in India during the 2019 Indian General Elections. To get involved with Amnesty Decoders, all you need is a computer or phone with internet access.

Every year, natural and human-made disasters, disease epidemics, and conflicts affect millions of people around the world. Unfortunately, first responders can’t always provide the relief needed because many of the places where these disasters occur don’t exist on any map. By joining Missing Maps, a collaborative project, you can help map these vulnerable parts of the world. 

You don’t need to have any prior mapping experience to get started, nor do you need any special equipment (just a laptop). Missing Maps provides tutorials for beginners that are short and to the point so you can be tracing your first street, building, or river onto satellite imagery in less than 15 minutes. 

History and science buffs, this one’s for you. Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum and research center, could use your help in transcribing historical documents. These range from dairies and field notes to photo albums and biodiversity specimen labels. 

You can browse projects by “Museums and Archives” (like National Museum of American History or Smithsonian Libraries) or by “Themes” (for example, Women’s History, Civil War Era, or Art & Design). Joining the ranks of more than 15,000 “volunpeers” is easy. Simply select a project that interests you and get working on it — no registration necessary (although you do need to make an account if you want to review other volunteers’ transcriptions). 

Crisis Text Line, a free and confidential 24/7 messaging support service, is always looking for volunteers. Since most crisis situations happen at night (between 10 pm and 6 am ET), this volunteer opportunity would best suit night owls or early birds. To apply, you must be 18 years or older and have two references. 

As a crisis counselor, you’ll be expected to volunteer at least 4 hours per week, until you reach 200 hours (ideally, within one year). Before you can start answering texts, you’ll need to undergo a 30-hour training in crisis counseling. This (remote) training is free for volunteers, but not for Crisis Text Line, hence the 200-hour rule. In other words, crisis counseling is a big commitment (albeit an incredibly rewarding one), so make sure you have the time for it before you sign up. 

Be My Eyes is a free mobile app that pairs sighted individuals with blind or low-vision people who need help with small, everyday tasks. As a volunteer, you might be asked to distinguish colors, check product expiration dates, read instructions, find lost or dropped items, or even navigate new surroundings. 

To become part of one of the largest micro-volunteering platforms (Be My Eyes has more than 2 million volunteers), all you have to do is install the Be My Eyes app on your smartphone (available for both Android and iOS). If you’re multilingual, you can also help by translating the app into different languages. 

Want to get a taste of what life as a researcher is really like? Join millions of volunteers at Zooniverse, a people-powered research portal, to help professional researchers make new discoveries. Over the years, Zooniverse volunteers (or “Zooites”) classified almost 2 million galaxies, counted penguins in millions of photos of Antarctica, and watched more than 70,000 videos on nematode worms (which are pretty gross, by the way).

Zooniverse projects fall into a wide variety of disciplines, including the humanities, ecology, and astrophysics. But you don’t need to be a specialist in any area to participate in a project. As long as you have a laptop and a few minutes to spare, you’re pretty much good to go since all you’re doing is answering simple questions on what you see in front of you. 

If you’re fluent in more than one language, consider volunteering with Translators Without Borders, a non-profit organization that provides translation services for humanitarian non-profits, like UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and Oxfam. 

It doesn’t matter whether you want to focus on translating reports or crisis response documents — there’s a project there for everyone. At the moment, the organization is also looking for volunteers to help translate information regarding COVID-19. To start translating, register for an online account. You’ll be matched with translation tasks that most suit you. 

By volunteering with Learning Ally, you get to help make audiobooks for students with learning disabilities like dyslexia or visual impairment. To join, fill out a volunteer form, watch a short orientation video, and complete a quick quiz to see where you’d best fit in the Learning Ally mission.

There’s more than one way to get involved. For example, if you have a friendly voice, you can become a narrator and record juvenile fiction books as well as high school and college-level textbooks (note: this volunteer role requires auditions). If, on the other hand, you cringe at the sound of your own voice but love listening to audiobooks, you can listen to books recorded by others and provide feedback on things like fluency, tone, and audio quality.