Updated: May 14
Amazing people are continuing to deliver emergency front-line services amidst the Coronavirus pandemic but those of us stuck at home need not feel powerless. Volunteering certainly doesn’t need to stop. On the contrary, there is a lot more that we can do.
As far as I can see, there are four main interconnected themes for remote volunteering in these crazy times.
I. Supporting isolated people
II. Supporting people looking for work and entrepreneurs
III. Being kind and considering mental health
IV. Involving your whole team
Before I begin, please can I point you to the Covid-19 statement by London Funders, including businesses like Allen & Overy, which re-assures organisations that they already support that they are still committed to them. While we are all adapting activities, these funders are promising to be flexible and listen to their charity partners at this crucial time. The organisations you support will be worried about all sorts of things, so I urge you to have a chat with them to see what they actually need, and be patient as we figure all this out together.
I. Supporting isolated people
Physical distancing is the most responsible course of action, but we still live in a society and we still need each other. Let’s follow the Government’s advice and do our best at connecting with others through other means.
· Telephone Volunteering
NHS is looking for an army of volunteers. While many tasks involve going out and transporting supplies for example, there is a telephone opportunity. It's called Check-in and Chat volunteer: this role provides short-term telephone support to individuals who are at risk of loneliness as a consequence of self-isolation. (Update: over 750,000 already signed up!)
Independent Age provide advice and support for older people.
Telephone volunteering is home based and is as easy as having a 30-minute to an hour chat with an old person, weekly or fortnightly.
· Digital volunteering
Alex Smith of the Cares Family said:
‘At The Cares Family we’ve invited older and younger people to share messages, videos, poems, stories, drawings, as well as book and film recommendations, digitally. We’re also encouraging people to spend more time on the phone while they are physically apart.
A relative in Italy who’s already been at home for a week told me about the re-found joys and laughter through chatting to old friends on the phone. It offered me a little hope.’
Their website requires some navigation, so you still have to click through to the physical location of the group, South London for example. You can then find digital volunteering opportunities there.
Barack Obama shared a link to this project! Not the South London page, that would be too awesome.
· Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK
You probably already know about this - it is a network of over 900 local groups that support each other. They are looking for people to help with online coordination as well. At all times, please follow the official advice and stay safe.
· Legal volunteering
Isolation is particularly dangerous for people who are already in danger. Rights of Women provide telephone advice lines to women on family law and sexual harassment. Female lawyers can give some legal clarity to people in such situations.
If you know of non-legal remote opportunities to help people who are in difficult situations in their homes, please let me know and I will add it here.
There are many organisations that provide remote legal volunteering opportunities, mainly advising not-for-profits, rather than individuals, but charities need help now too.
I am sure that your local law centre and community centre are all working hard to adapt their services to better use digital technology so do stay in touch with them if you can.
· Volunteering via an app
Be My Eyes offer an innovative way to volunteer that can make a huge difference, particularly if carers are away. They support blind people with checking expiry dates and other movements via an app.
· Writing, drawing or researching
Flamingo Chicks provide online dance classes, story telling and other activities to children with and without disabilities and those who suffer from illnesses such as cancer - they are truly an inclusive community. They are looking for volunteers who can help with research and creative activities. After using their services,
72% of parents and carers say they are now better able to cope with the demands of caring for a disabled child.
At this time of isolation, when usual support networks might be more difficult to access, this help must be even more important.
· Virtually catching up with friends and family (immediate and beyond)
I am mapping out who in my network would appreciate a conversation. This does require some thinking and planning. For me, for example, it included my friend’s mum who is currently unwell. A quick call or a text message makes all the difference – just to remind people that they are not alone.
On a corporate level, you could set up a forum where people share how they are already helping their communities and their families. This can offer support, praise, encouragement, and advice on how to do so safely.
II. Supporting people looking for work and entrepreneurs
Small businesses will struggle, and they need your help and your skills more than ever. Also, after we’ve figured out how to survive, we will need to get our economy back on track. For that we will need everyone to be more skilled to move us forward. Your team might be able to help now.
· Mentoring entrepreneurs online
Hatch Enterprise have supported 2,500 entrepreneurs. Mentoring sessions are already online so they are well set-up to provide such opportunities!
· Mentoring young people online
Princes Trust lets you support a young person online who is looking for work or starting their own business.
Brightside offer a specific online mentoring project that focuses on young people’s aspirations and skills to work.
· Helping people in disadvantage find jobs
Radical Recruit help people who have experienced care, poverty, prison, and other challenges to find work. They also help employers to find hidden talent and really improve their diversity. Many of the ‘Radicals’ have been looking for work in hospitality – now they might need to change strategy.
Radical’s volunteering opportunities involve reviewing CVs and help with interview practice. I volunteer with them and they are excellent. As is the case for many organisations, they are in the process of figuring out how to enable remote volunteering but if it’s something you are interested in, I would drop them a line now.
· Giving to people directly
Look out for any crowdfunding giving opportunities where people (self-employed, for example) might have fallen through the gaps of provision provided by governments and charities. If you as an individual choose this option, try to do so as well as donating to charities, not instead.
I am still looking for ways to help small businesses virtually – the obvious one is: if you have money, consider spending it – online, safely – so the economy keeps going.
One small business I want to feature is Oddity Events – an award-winning event planning business that as you can imagine was hit by current, well, events. However, their Founder Lizzy Eaton is as entrepreneurial as ever and is now offering guidance on how to organise virtual events. Check out her blog here.
III. Supporting mental health
· Supporting others by texting
‘Give us a shout’ is a relatively new way to support people through crisis and in the UK. it was launched by Kate, Wills and Harry (before their own crisis).
The volunteers are supported by clinically-trained supervisors. They need to be over 18, complete 25 hours of online training and commit to between two and four hours volunteering each week.
· Sharing stories about mental health
Mind believe that sharing and learning about real mental health stories helps us feel less alone so they set up a project just for that.
They offer a lot of other help and information on mental health, including resources on mental health at work.
· Being kind (er)
Lots of people are on the edge, many of your own team might be extremely worried now.
I am going to have virtual lunches with my business friends. Some companies have already launched regular ‘wellness chats’. We all need a little more kindness and empathy. We won’t be able to solve everyone’s problems but if we can give our colleagues a chance to be heard, without judgement, that can go a long way.
Samaritans offer in-house courses on building resilience and well-being at work. It is important that on corporate level, mental health support is provided and is easily accessible for all employees.
IV. Involving the whole team
Although of course we want to be as focused on helping people through our current crisis as possible, there is still a whole world of other volunteering opportunities that people might (understandably) prefer. Any kind of volunteering is good for the soul.
Don't forget your furloughed employees! They might be struggling in isolation. Furthermore, they are legally allowed to volunteer and it would be a great shame for the world to miss out on their skills and expertise at a time when it's needed more than ever.
· Finally becoming a trustee
Many of us say that one day we will become trustees but we just don’t have an opportunity.
Reach volunteering have a database for remote volunteering trustee positions for all sorts of organisations, from North London’s leading opera company dedicated to advancing young singers, to international development charities.
They are looking for a broad range of skills: for people who are good at finance, comms, employment law, project management, IT. Whatever your team’s expertise is, they will be able to use their skills for good.
· From reviewing an employee handbook, to website design
‘Catch a fire’ – is a bit of an unfortunate name, but their very raison d’être is to provide virtual volunteering opportunities . They seem to be States-based but definitely worth looking into.
Kindlink are using their tech to provide more active opportunities to help. One of them is to help a charity write much-needed funding applications.
· Researching and transcribing
Zooniverse gives people of all ages and backgrounds the chance to participate in real research projects. One project is transcribing a collection of handwritten correspondence between anti-slavery activists in the 19th century into texts that can be more easily read and researched by students, teachers, historians, and big data applications.
· Inspiring others
Inspiring Girls encourage people at any levels of their career to submit a video to inspire girls from all over the world to explore diverse careers.
A closing statement
When it comes to volunteering we think of our colleagues, our neighbours and our communities. Let’s not forget others who might struggle at this time - your sub-contractors, cleaning staff, for example. If your offices don’t need cleaning, will they still get paid?
Guinness has pledged €1.5 million fund to support bar staff and vulnerable people.
John Lewis has set up a hardship fund for their partners affected by the pandemic.
If you can, consider what you can do voluntarily, beyond your legal obligations, to those in your wider team who might need assistance.
This blog is a collective effort and is under continuous review. Thanks to everyone who has contributed already. Please feel free to suggest your ideas and share this blog with others.
Thank you for reading and stay safe!