Definition of Virtual Volunteering


Virtual volunteering is a term describing a volunteer who completes tasks, in whole or in part, off-site from the organization or person being assisted, using the Internet and a computer, tablet, smart phone or other Internet-connected device.

Virtual volunteering is also known as online volunteering, digital volunteering, e-volunteering and cyber service, and includes microvolunteering, crowdsourcing, telementoring, teletutoring, online mentoring, Internet-mediated service, and various other online activities undertaken by volunteers. Online volunteers can be referred to as online volunteers, digital volunteers and digital jedis - or even just as volunteers. We avoid calling them virtual volunteers, as it implies they aren't real.

Virtual volunteering is similar to telecommuting, except that, instead of online employees who are paid, these are online volunteers who are not paid, and they are working to benefit a nonprofit organization, school, government program or other not-for-profit entity, as opposed to a for-profit business.

Virtual volunteering is similar to and can include crowdsourcing, where services, ideas, opinions or content for an organization or project are solicited from a large group of people online - a crowd - rather than through a traditional, onsite workforce. Members of this crowd may or may not have formal ties with the organization seeking the services, nor formal ties with each other.

There are a variety of other terms, in addition to the ones already named, that are used to talk about people doing work away from a work site, using networked technologies, as employees, consultants or volunteers, formally and informally, short-term or long-term. These terms and concepts can often be used for virtual volunteering, when the people doing the work are unpaid. All of these concepts may influence virtual volunteering practices. These terms include:
  • virtual volunteering (and variations such as virtual volunteers)
  • online volunteering (and variations such as online volunteers)
  • evolunteering (and variations such as e-volunteering, e-volunteers, etc.)
  • digital volunteers, digital volunteering
  • digital samaritans
  • digital jedis
  • voluntarios virtuales
  • voluntarios en línea
  • voluntarios digitales
  • voluntarios en red
  • bénévolat virtuel
  • bénévolat enligne
  • bénévolat Internet
  • e-wolontariat
  • digitales Ehrenamt
  • virtuelles Ehrenamt
  • Online-Freiwilligenarbeit
  • Freiwilliges Online-Engagement
  • e-mentoring (and variations such as online mentors, online mentoring, telementoring, etc.)
  • microvolunteering (and variations such as micro-volunteering, microvolunteers, etc.)
  • microtasking
  • micro work
  • crowdsourcing
  • wisdom of the crowd
  • crowd computing
  • crowdcasting
  • distributed computing
  • distributed development
  • distributed thinking
  • hive mind
  • smart mob
  • virtual community of practice
  • virtual management
  • virtual teams
  • virtual workforce
  • Internet-mediated volunteering

People who engage in virtual volunteering, in any form, are volunteers, first and foremost. It's acceptable to call them online volunteers as well, but Susan and Jayne avoid the term virtual volunteers, because many have said to the authors that this term makes it sound like volunteers are not real, or puts online volunteers into a separate category from traditional volunteers.

The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook has complete, detailed information on how to create and manage all kinds of online volunteers. The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook is available for purchase as a paperback and an ebook from Energize, Inc.

This wiki is a collaborative space for sharing resources regarding virtual volunteering. Jayne and Susan would like to maintain this wiki in partnership with a nonprofit or university.