Revised with new information June 2, 2014

Incorporating virtual volunteering
into a corporate employee volunteer program
(a resource for businesses / for-profit companies)
Many businesses encourage their employees to volunteer to help nonprofits and schools. Why? Because businesses know that employees that engage with causes they believe in are more productive in the work place.

Encouraging employees to volunteer for nonprofits and schools comes in different forms; I break it down in these three categories:
  • Encouraging employees to volunteer outside of work hours (before or after work, on weekends, or over their lunch breaks) at any organization they want to support
  • Allowing employees to take unpaid time off, with approval from the employer, to volunteer at nonprofits or schools
  • Allowing employees to take a set amount of paid time off, with approval from the employer, to volunteer at nonprofits or schools
Virtual volunteering - volunteers providing service via a computer, smart phone, tablet or other networked advice - presents a great opportunity for companies to expand their employee philanthropic offerings. Through virtual volunteering, some employees will choose to help organizations online that they are already helping onsite. Other employees who are unable to volunteer onsite at a nonprofit or school will choose to volunteer online because of the convenience. Here is a long list of what virtual volunteering looks like.

Companies are already allowing employees to volunteer online from the work place, either on breaks (off-the-clock) or as part of an official time-off-to-volunteer policies. One of the first was Hewlett-Packard, which established an online mentoring program back in the 1990s, one of the first ever, that brought together employees of HP together with high school students (this program has now been split apart: the student mentoring component is now its own, independet nonprofit; the HP employee mentor component is now focused on aspiring entrepreneurs around the world).

Two companies that are talking openly about their employee virtual volunteering activities are Newell-Rubbermaid and Deloitte Australia.

Polices first

Before promoting virtual volunteering to your company's employees, you will need to create policies and address questions regarding:
  • Employees using company-issued devices (laptops, smart phones) as a part of their volunteering (may they use such? if so, what precautions do they need to take to protect company information, prevent viruses from getting onto the network, etc.)

  • When employees may engage in virtual volunteering (outside of work hours only? offsite from home only? onsite, during work hours, but only if such will not interfere with work)
I haven't been able to find any example online of a corporate employee virtual volunteering policy, but there are examples of policies regarding home use of company-issued devices, and examples of traditional volunteering policies, which can be combined to create your own virtual volunteering policies. One of my favorite places to look for corporate policies of any kind is

Procedures Next

You will also need to think about how you will track t
rack time and accomplishments by employees engaged in virtual volunteering. Many of these
suggestions are based on this simple idea: the more employees see employee volunteering being recognized and celebrated, the more likely they are to report their hours to whatever person or department is in charge of the employee volunteering program.
  • Create a space or section on the employee Intranet for discussion/reporting about volunteering - all volunteering, not just virtual volunteering. It could be a place where people share photos of themselves volunteering, testimonials about their volunteering, etc., a place where senior staff thanks volunteers, and a place where volunteers or the HR department posts opportunities for volunteers. Employees won't post to such without prompting; you will need to contact specific employees directly and ask them to post testimonials, photos, etc. to the online area, and thank them PROFUSELY for doing so.
  • Create a plan to regularly encourage picture sharing of volunteers-in-action: people taking selfies at their desk or wherever they engage in virtual volunteering, as well as onsite volunteers engaged in service. They can share this on the intranet or with HR or whomever is in charge of the employee volunteering program, and these images can be used in employee communications to further create excitement regarding employee volunteering.
  • Create a schedule for regular reminders in employee newsletters and company-wide communications about volunteering (where to find such, upcoming opportunities, photos of employees-in-action, testimonials from employees that have recently volunteered, thank yous to volunteers).
  • Get permission from senior management and the marketing department to provide regular, brief reminders at company-wide meetings about employee volunteering, using photos, thank yous, updates on upcoming opportunities, testimonials, etc.
  • Create a plan to recognize departments that have the most number of employees that volunteered in a month or a quarter.
  • Create a volunteer reporting form, the simpler the better, to encourage employees to share volunteering information. It should ask for the name of the organization assisted, a summary of what the volunteer did at the organization, an estimate regarding the number of hours in a specific period the volunteer thinks he or she provided, and a box to check yes or no regarding if any of the assistance was provided via a computer, tablet, smart phone or other networked device offsite from the company, or if any of the service was provided via the employee's own home (such as knitting something, making baked goods, stuffing envelopes, etc.). Have the form online (and use all of the above means to encourage employees to fill it out), and allow for online submissions (so that employees do NOT have to print it out to fill it out), but also have paper versions, and drop by department meetings and hand them out, and have them available at company-wide meetings, to encourage employees to fill out such. The more you use this form to recognize employee volunteers in front of their peers, the more you will encourage more employees to fill it out.

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 Shameless plug:
The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, written by myself (Jayne Cravens) and volunteerism expert Susan Ellis and the result of MANY years of research and experience, can help your company / business in better understanding virtual volunteering and in fully-developing your company's employee virtual volunteering program. The book provides complete details on what virtual volunteering is, all of the many, many different forms in which it is practiced, various ways to support and grow virtual volunteering, and how to address various challenges that might arise.

The book can also help your company work with nonprofits and schools to help them develop virtual volunteering opportunities for your employees - something many organizations need assistance with. Many traditional volunteer centers are still struggling with the concept of virtual volunteering; corporate support could help greatly in getting volunteer centers to embrace virtual volunteering, a practice that's more than 30 years old and is undertaken by many thousands of people and organizations. Your support starts with your company fully understanding the realities of virtual volunteering, and this book can help greatly in that regard.

The book is available as a traditional paperback and in various ebook forms from both the publisher, Energize, Inc., and also from
Then what?

Once you have these strategies in place at your company and are ready to go:
Don't be surprised to find out employees are already engaged in virtual volunteering. Very often, people engage in online service - helping to edit their child's school newsletter, translating an article for a nonprofit, tagging photos with appropriate keywords for an organization - but never think of it as virtual volunteering. They also may think of such online service using a different term, such as micro volunteering, crowd sourcing or digital volunteering. If such employees haven't been volunteering exactly per your new virtual volunteering policies, don't panic and don't punish; instead, celebrate and educate.


Do NOT over-segregate online volunteers from onsite volunteers in overall data; remember, they are ALL volunteers, no matter where or how they donate their service. It's fine to put a special highlight on virtual volunteering, but don't produce two entirely different reports on employee philanthropy that in any way implies that virtual volunteering is somehow not really "hands on" or not as real as onsite volunteering.

Also, note that not all employees engaged in volunteering want the company involved in any way. They may not want their volunteering, done entirely outside of company work hours, as employee volunteering, as something your company can take credit for. If you find out an employee is volunteering, online or onsite, but the service is never during work hours and doesn't use any company resources, you need permission from the employee to count that as part of the company's corporate philanthropy, and you need to be respectful if the employee declines to make such volunteering a part of the company's official program. Of course, if employees are taking time off, paid or unpaid, to volunteer, then your company including such in the official corporate philanthropy program shouldn't at all be a problem.

Need more assistance?

You've read this web page, you've read
The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, you want to launch or expand your company's employee volunteering program, but you still need help. I can help! Contact me regarding your needs. Consulting is available entirely online or with me traveling onsite to your company.

Also see:

  • Microvolunteering is virtual volunteering
    A rebuttal on my blog to the claim that microvolunteering isn't virtual volunteering.

  • Short-term Assignments for Tech Volunteers
    There are a variety of ways for mission-based organizations to involve volunteers to help with short-term projects relating to computers and the Internet, and short-term assignments are what are sought after most by potential "tech" volunteers. But there is a disconnect: most organizations have trouble identifying such short-term projects. This is a list of short-term projects for "tech" volunteers -- assignments that might takes days, weeks or just a couple of months to complete.

  • One(-ish) Day "Tech" Activities for Volunteers
    Volunteers are getting together for intense, one-day events, or events of just a few days, to build web pages, to write code, to edit Wikipedia pages, and more. These are gatherings of onsite volunteers, where everyone is in one location, together, to do an online-related project in one day, or a few days. It's a form of episodic volunteering, because volunteers don't have to make an ongoing commitment - they can come to the event, contribute their services, and then leave and never volunteer again. Because computers are involved, these events are sometimes called hackathons, even if coding isn't involved. This page provides advice on how to put together a one-day event, or just-a-few-days-of activity, for a group of tech volunteers onsite, working together, for a nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO), community-focused government program, school or other mission-based organization - or association of such.

  • Finding a Computer/Network Consultant
    Staff at mission-based organizations (nonprofits, civil society organizations, and public sector agencies) often have to rely on consultants, either paid or volunteer, for expertise in computer hardware, software and networks. Staff may feel unable to understand, question nor challenge whatever that consultant recommends. What can mission-based organizations do to recruit the "right" consultant for "tech" related issues, one that will not make them feel out-of-the-loop or out-of-control when it comes to tech-related discussions?

  • Myths About Online Volunteering (Virtual Volunteering)
    Online volunteering means unpaid service that is given by volunteers via the Internet. It's also known as virtual volunteering, online mentoring, ementoring, evolunteering, cyber volunteering, cyber service, telementoring, online engagement, and on and on. Here is a list of common myths about online volunteering, and my attempt to counter them.

  • Studies and Research Regarding Online Volunteering / Virtual Volunteering
    While there is a plethora of articles and information about online volunteering, there has been very little research published regarding the subject. This is a compilation of publicly-available research regarding online volunteering, and a list of suggested possible angles for researching online volunteering. New contributions to this page are welcomed, including regarding online mentoring programs.

  • Creating One-Time, Short-Term Group Volunteering Activities
    Details on not just what groups of volunteers can do in a two-hour, half-day or all-day event, but also just how much an organization or program will need to do to prepare a site for group volunteering. It's an expensive, time-consuming endeavor - are you ready? Is it worth it?

  • Recruiting Local Volunteers To Increase Diversity Among the Ranks
    Having plenty of volunteers usually isn't enough to say a volunteering program is successful. Another indicator of success is if your volunteers represent a variety of ages, education-levels, economic levels and other demographics, or are a reflection of your local community. Most organizations don't want volunteers to be a homogeneous group; they want to reach a variety of people as volunteers (and donors and other supporters, for that matter). This resource will help you think about how to recruit for diversity, or to reach a specific demographic.

  • Using Third Party Web Sites Like VolunteerMatch to Recruit Volunteers
    There are lots and lots of web sites out there to help your organization recruit volunteers. You don't have to use them all, but you do need to make sure you use them correctly in order to get the maximum response to your posts.

  • Using Video to Support Online Volunteers/Remote Volunteers.
    Video is a great way to further support volunteers, and your computer probably already has all of the tools you need to make a video, or to engage in a live video conversation with others. Video isn't something to use only with online volunteers or remote volunteers (those providing onsite service at a different location than yours). It's also a tool you can use with new and current volunteers. In addition to an organization producing videos for volunteers, it can also work the other way around: volunteers can produce videos for organizations. This resource provides information on your options, and links to my own short video on the subject.

  • Using Real-Time Communications With Volunteers
    A growing number of organizations are using real-time communications -- including video conferencing, online phone calls, chats and instant messaging -- to hold online meetings with volunteers, to allow volunteers to interact with staff, clients, or each other, or to involve volunteers in a live, online, real-time event. This resource provides more information on real-time communications with volunteers -- what the various tools are, how agencies are using them to interact with volunteers, and tips to encourage and maintain participation in synchronous communications.

  • Recognizing Online Volunteers & Using the Internet to Honor ALL Volunteers
    Recognition helps volunteers stay committed to your organization, and gets the attention of potential volunteers -- and donors -- as well. Organizations need to fully recognize the efforts of remote, online volunteers, as well as those onsite, and not differentiate the value of these two forms of service. Organizations should also incorporate use of the Internet to recognize the efforts of ALL volunteers, both online and onsite. With cyberspace, it's never been easier to show volunteers -- and the world -- that volunteers are a key part of your organization's successes. This new resource provides a long list of suggestions for both honoring online volunteers and using the Internet to recognize ALL volunteers that contribute to your organization.

   The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook

now available for purchase as a paperback & an ebook from Energize, Inc.

Completely revised and updated!
Published January 2014.