2020 has brought about great uncertainty. During a time in which a helping hand usually offers a soothing solution, COVID- 19 isolated billions of people from work, school, socialization and – most importantly for nonprofits – volunteering. Despite these challenges, COVID-19 has inspired organizations to reimagine volunteering in order to motivate communities and find new means of supporting each other in the midst of a global pandemic.
Due to social distancing and strict CDC guidelines put into place at the beginning of the pandemic, many in-person volunteering opportunities came to a halt. In order to keep their doors open, nonprofits had no choice but to direct their focus to the digital world, and explore methods of virtual volunteering. In March 2020, VolunteerMatch reported 68% of nonprofits reported cancellations of volunteer events. As the need for critical funds and volunteers increased, virtual volunteering provided creative ways for nonprofits to receive much needed support. By May 2020, volunteering increased by 15% and 45% of organizations were using virtual means of volunteering. Even with reduced resources, virtual volunteerism gave 57% of nonprofits the opportunity to continue operating and provide critical services to their communities.
Benefits of Virtual Volunteering in Regards to Team Building
Virtual volunteerism’s impact was two-fold; not only was it a lifeline for nonprofits to continue operating, but it also created a new space to build strong and connected teams driven by purpose and impact during a time where 19% of the population reported loneliness due to working remotely. The solution to isolation seemed simple, as virtual work spaces created more flexible schedules, there was a more flexible environment for employees to volunteer.
According to recent surveys, such as the Edelman Trust Barometer Special report, 78% of employees looked to their companies to act and provide support to communities during this tumultuous time. As companies began to offer customized volunteer experiences, employees from all over the world were able to connect and unite under the mission of building a more civically engaged society. In turn, volunteering boosted morale among colleagues, and built a sense of pride for employees, consumers and the community. America’s Charities Snapshot Employee Research found that 71% of employees surveyed said it is imperative or very important to work where culture is supportive of giving and volunteering. Not only are engaged and connected employees happier and healthier, they perform at a higher level within their role and help motivate team members.
Interview with Corporate Service Intern – Aaliyah Vega
How did you contribute to the Jersey Cares virtual volunteerism efforts?
“All of the Jersey Cares volunteer events are thoroughly planned out, so I served to provide crucial support behind the scenes. This included preparing all the materials for the virtual and in person events; whether it was combining all the submitted virtual projects or gathering all the materials to ship to the employees. Not only was I able to help from behind the scenes but I was able to participate in the event and serve as a host to interact and lead with volunteers which was my favorite part.”
How has your view on virtual volunteerism shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic?
“Prior to the pandemic I did not know much at all about virtual volunteering. After seeing all the possibilities through the Jersey Cares events, I was able to see how efforts to help others can be achieved even through a computer screen. It also helped me to see that there are no limits to who you can help; even if you live in California, through virtual volunteering you can help people as far as New York. One of my favorite projects was the “Chopped Challenge” where we had to figure out how to shop for groceries with a very limited budget. What was eye opening was that the budgets, small as they were, were based off of real-life! After this simulation the employees gathered in groups to create healthy and easy recipes to be given to families who have limited food choices due to their economic circumstances. So even through something seemingly small such as making a recipe, the corporate volunteers were able to assist families who need ideas for what to cook for their families.”
How did you see virtual volunteerism bring communities and corporate teams together?
“When employees would gather together for the virtual event it was so refreshing to see how much fun they were having. Although they were doing tasks such as making recipes or writing letters it became a fun time for the employees to chat together, revealing their personalities. Through the events the coworkers were able to have fun but also take joy in knowing that they are helping other people, which created such a happy and joyful atmosphere. Through the Jersey Cares events the employees’ eyes were opened to see the many ways they can help even in a difficult time period. After the event many asked for details to participate in other Jersey Cares events or for the non-profit’s information to help support further. So through the volunteering events employees were not only able to come together to help others, but were able to broaden their view of how they themselves can help more people.”
Jersey Cares Impact in a Virtual Space
Like many other nonprofits, Jersey Cares had to navigate through the new and emerging world of virtual volunteerism, and reimagine their volunteer model to engage communities, create team building opportunities, and provide critical care to their nonprofit partners. As thought leaders in volunteerism, Jersey Cares established virtual programs for corporate and community groups that impacted seniors, students, healthcare workers, teachers and more.
By the numbers in 2020, Jersey Cares:
- Delivered 84,000 healthy meals across New Jersey in collaboration with The Common Market to communities facing food insecurity.
- Collected and distributed more than 36,000 diapers to families facing a critical shortage of essential items.
- Filled 5,511 holiday wishes for children across New Jersey as part of the Frosty’s Friends program.
- Delivered $52,257 worth of groceries to isolated seniors who could not leave their homes during the pandemic.
- Helped more than 10,000 volunteers support their communities in hundreds of unique acts of service.
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