Virtual Volunteering Best Practices: 4 Ways to Support Remote Employee Volunteers

Sep 12, 2023

Use the best practices listed below to determine how you might work with a partner on virtual volunteer projects. The Israeli Council for Volunteering has also published a list of guidance to share with virtual volunteers.

Virtual volunteering has likely become a mainstay within your company’s employee community engagement strategy by now. Perhaps you dabbled in it before the pandemic, but now there’s an increased demand to find ways to involve your remote and hybrid coworkers as well as those who can’t easily make it to an in-person project taking place at a location separate from your offices.

As you know, volunteering online is markedly different from participating in volunteering in the traditional sense. For example, there’s usually more flexibility in the use of a volunteer’s time, potentially a greater degree of independence and very little (if any) interaction with various nonprofit staff members or the volunteer’s own colleagues. These nuances might appeal greatly to certain segments of your employee volunteer population.

Before you recruit volunteers to help an organization remotely, discuss the project’s description and associated tasks along with outcome expectations with your nonprofit partner. You’ll also need to review any organizational policies that your company and your nonprofit partner have put in place to avoid risks and handle confidentiality of shared information (if applicable).

Considerations for Virtual Volunteering

Determine your volunteers’ readiness

  • Do they have regular, ongoing access to the internet?
  • Will the company allow them to utilize company-issued equipment to complete the volunteer assignments or sign on to the technology platform that your nonprofit partner provides?
  • Depending on the type of virtual volunteer projects you are developing, are employee volunteers comfortable working on their own, without constant or direct supervision?
  • Is this the right time for volunteers to take on a virtual project? Make sure you are aware of upcoming milestones or work cycles that might hinder participation, even though it’s virtual. Often volunteers feel great about the timeline to complete a project when they first sign up, but other professional and personal obligations can get in the way of delivering on time. The last thing you want is to leave the nonprofit with unmet needs.

Define a schedule to complete the project

  • Will you create a set time of day or week when volunteers will work on virtual assignments? Develop a timeline, however approximate, for volunteers to complete the tasks your organization has committed to do. Obviously, if this is an episodic or time-limited project, it will be a lot easier to manage its completion.

Set up a communications routine with your nonprofit partner

  • Report regularly on the progress employee volunteers are making against the tasks assigned. This is especially true if it’s a skills-based volunteer project that involves a team of volunteers representing different business functions. Review what you’ve accomplished, and what your immediate next activities will be. Ask questions! It doesn’t have to be a large, involved report; just a short, friendly update will do.

Find ways to motivate your virtual volunteers

  • Should your volunteer project timeline last over the course of several weeks, check in with your employee teams to ensure they’re focused on achieving the outcomes that were agreed upon in conversation with your nonprofit partners. Because these projects are somewhat “out of sight, out of mind,” use varying communication methods and incentives to inspire employee volunteers to follow-through until completion.

Finally, if your employee volunteers happen to be working on a skills-based project on behalf of your NGO partner, make sure you’ve built sustainability into the project’s associated tasks. You want to ensure that your employee volunteers have documented their process or can be reached if troubleshooting is required.

Remind your volunteer teams that nonprofits often work with limited resources and they may need to work within confined budgets and with the staff they have on hand. The most important part of the virtual volunteer project is ensuring that what you leave behind works — and can be sustained by your nonprofit partner.

Katy Elder
Vice President of Corporate Insights, Points of Light

Spending 20 years in the corporate social responsibility sector, Katy mixes creativity and strategy with expertise in employee engagement and corporate citizenship to develop resources and learning opportunities that advance corporate social impact.