There are a lot of questions we’ve been asking in light of COVID-19. How did this happen? How can we prevent it in the future? What do we do next?
But one of the most searched questions on Google isn’t any of those. It’s “How can I help?”
In fact, according to Google Trends, this search has spiked since late March – with more people typing the phrase in the past few months than any other point since 2004, according to Axios’ Stef Kight.
As head of the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, this makes total sense to me. When people are in need, our human instinct is to want to help. This aspect of our human nature renews my hope in a time where, for some, hope can feel hard to find.
But with so many of us now bound to our homes, what happens when the way people volunteer changes?
Prior to the pandemic, three out of five nonprofits relied heavily on volunteers to deliver on their mission, primarily in person. Now those volunteers are being called on to stay at home, while the needs of the populations served by the nonprofits are higher than ever before.
The volunteer sector has faced major disruptors in the past few years, but this may be the biggest. Last year, 63 million Americans volunteered eight billion hours of service, according to Independent Sector. If we apply the ratio of one volunteer impacting six lives to the 63 million volunteers, just a 10 percent decrease in volunteers would directly impact 38 million of our most valuable neighbors.
So, the volunteer sector must pivot and innovate – like manufacturers who now find themselves making ventilators instead of their product line.
Even though how we volunteer is changing, people who volunteer are always needed. Lucky for us, the value and values of helping one another, particularly in times of need, transcends time and place, and remain constant. Here are four ways you can get involved:
1. Volunteer virtually.
There is so much to be done – and you can do it from home. Points of Light’s website has resources to connect you with virtual volunteer opportunities, to DIY at home projects, resources for volunteer safety if you’re on the front lines, or connect you with the Points of Light Global Network affiliate in your community.
Organizations are pivoting how volunteers engage and there are so many options. Project Sunshine volunteers are bringing joy to pediatric patients around the world; Spark the Change Colorado is hosting Kindness Connection Calls, a virtual mental health hotline; and you can learn how to buy your neighbor lunch with Volunteer Arlington.
2. Recognize volunteers.
Each day, Points of Light recognizes an ordinary person doing extraordinary things in their community with the Daily Point of Light Award. Nominate someone you know who does amazing volunteer work. At the same time, so many people are doing more for each other in the simple moments. You can share these amazing moments on social media, thanking them for all they do, using #LocalLight. If you have the means, consider donating lunch, purchasing gift cards or sending thank you cards as a mean of celebrating volunteers who are keeping things running.
3. Reconnect to your professional network.
Just because we’re working from home, doesn’t mean our companies and organizations can’t find ways to give back collectively. Whether it’s skills-based volunteering or a corporate donation, we’re stronger together. Ask your employer about matching donations – many companies will match your contribution to a nonprofit, and a number of them are increasing the match amount for COVID-19 responses.
Also, think about what special skill, knowledge or equipment your company or business can over. Can your kitchen be re-deployed to feed those in need? Can the skills of your customer service reps or tech support be used to call on senior citizens or help parents struggling to manage online learning? Even the donation of a few old, but functioning, laptops can help bridge the digital divide for the children now trying to continue education remotely.
4. Check in and support.
Nonprofits who offer food delivery also use the delivery as an opportunity to check on people – whether it’s through handmade cards, a phone call or text with delivery. People are leaning on vast social networks to have friends, or friends of friends, check on and support elders and the vulnerable populations in different cities. Let’s call upon each other to help those in need pick up prescriptions or deliver supplies.
Natalye Paquin is president and CEO of Points of Light, a global nonprofit dedicated to accelerating people-powered change. She is a visionary and results-oriented leader, having played transformative roles in leading nonprofit organizations including Girl Scouts of the USA, Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Prior to that, she spent 15 years in the educator sector in legal and executive leadership roles. She began her career in private practice as a litigation attorney.