The Home-based Volunteering Guide: Making Real Local Impact from Home

Thanks to technology, it’s possible to make a huge impact on the causes that mean the most to you without ever leaving your home. Virtual volunteering is a great way to lend a hand to local charities that rely on volunteer help to make a difference in the community. No matter how you want to contribute, here is all of the information you need to get started as a home-based volunteer.

Consider Your Skills

Whatever your skill set, there are opportunities for you to do good from home for a cause that’s meaningful to you. For example:

  • If you’re a great writer, you can contribute to a charitable organization’s blog or create copy for newsletters.
  • If you have a background in graphic or web design, you can make website updates or design logos.
  • If you’re a public-relations (PR) whiz, you can organize fundraising efforts or manage social media accounts.
  • If you’re crafty, you can make items to sell on sites like Etsy to raise money for charity.
  • If you have a high-quality camera, you can take and edit photos for an organization to use on its website, on its social media channels, and in its marketing campaigns.
  • If you have personal or professional experience in pet care, you can foster homeless cats, dogs, and other critters.

Think not only about what you’re good at, but what you’d actually enjoy doing with your extra time. If you devote your benevolent efforts to the same thing you spend 40 hours a week doing at work, you risk burning out. Try to find something that complements your areas of mastery but isn’t an activity you’ve already filled your schedule with.

Finally, be honest about what value you can offer. For example, if you want to help with writing blog posts but your grammar skills aren’t superb, you’ll make a more meaningful impact by finding a different way to contribute. Even though you’re donating your time, not doing something well could cost the organization in terms of time and money if they have to revise or redo any projects you worked on.

Find a Cause

Devoting your spare time to an organization that’s not financially compensating you isn’t fulfilling unless it’s something you’re truly passionate about. It’s important to think about causes close to your heart, and search for opportunities from there. Some popular areas of focus for charities include:

  • Animal rights
  • Cancer cures and prevention
  • Children’s wellness
  • Disabilities
  • Education
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Homelessness
  • Hunger
  • Illness prevention
  • Literacy
  • Mental health
  • Pets
  • Physical health and obesity
  • Poverty
  • Public safety
  • Unemployment
  • Veterans and military families
  • Wildlife
  • Workers’ rights

Look for Local Opportunities

Since you’ll be working from home while doing your volunteer work, you’re not limited as to the location of charities you’re interested in working with, but consider reaching out to local orgs. Donating your time and money to an organization of any size and scope is a wonderful and meaningful gesture. However, small, locally-based charities don’t get as much exposure as national nonprofits, so they’re often more in need of help and resources than large nonprofits that serve multiple areas. Once you’ve chosen your cause, start by looking for opportunities based in your area. A quick Google search should offer you a list of potential programs, or check your local government’s website for ideas.

Keep in mind that while charities that raise hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in donations each year are registered with the IRS as tax-exempt nonprofits — often 501(c) or 501(c)(3) — many local orgs aren’t. If you find a small charity you want to partner with, don’t be alarmed if it isn’t registered as a nonprofit. It’s expensive to set up this type of entity, and some organizations don’t have the monetary or legal resources to do it, so it’s structure shouldn’t be a red flag if you’re confident about the work it’s doing and how its funds are being used. While its budget may not be public information, you should be able to do a little research about its reputation to ensure it’s a charity you want to align yourself with.

Pitch Your Volunteerism Idea

Once you’ve decided which organization you want to work with, check for volunteering opportunities on their website. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, don’t worry — a lot of nonprofits don’t have the time or resources to update their websites on a regular basis, and many volunteer organizers simply don’t think to ask for help with the service you’re hoping to provide.

If there’s no information about available opportunities in your wheelhouse, look for information for the organization’s volunteer coordinator so you can email them about how you’d like to help. Try to keep your message short (these folks are busy, after all!), but be very clear about the free service you’d like to provide, and ask about next steps for getting started. If you don’t hear back by email or phone after three or four days, send a follow-up email. It’s tempting to call when you’re excited to get going, but phone calls can be disruptive to a person’s day, especially if they haven’t read your email and won’t be familiar with your reason for calling. 

If you don’t hear back after a week, send one last follow-up email that reiterates your interest and invites them to contact you if they’re interested in your free services. Then, start exploring other opportunities with other organizations.

Also keep in mind that there may not be a need for new volunteers or someone with your skills. In that case, be sure to thank the coordinator for their time, and if you’d like to be considered for future volunteer opportunities, say so. There could be a volunteering or staffing changeup down the line that creates a need for someone with your expertise, but in the meantime, you can pursue working with a different org.

Whatever your passions and skills, home-based volunteer work is a great way to make a difference in your local community. As a bonus, it will also be a great addition to your resume. Pinpoint the exact type of contribution that feels meaningful to you and would add value to a local nonprofit, choose a cause close to your heart, and look for the charitable opportunity that’s right for you.