I firmly believe that there’s no such thing as too many acts of kindness. In light of our current circumstances, it’s been so heartwarming to see that a decent proportion of the general public are shining bright and coming forward to volunteer, doing all they can to help others.
With restrictions on work, socialising and leaving the house, many people are suddenly finding themselves with time on their hands. Now, I know as well as you do that this time could readily be passed motherlode-ing to your heart’s content on The Sims or watching Netflix all day every day, but hear me out here: what if I told you that you could easily support deserving charities and the vulnerable people they work with… and still have plenty of time to devote to your favourite series on the side?
Again, many people have recently shown true selflessness in signing up as NHS volunteers or being out and about providing key services. When, however, you’re physically unable to leave the house, it can be really hard to seek opportunities where you really feel as though you’re doing something worthwhile. And since us chronically ill folk genuinely have so much to offer, it’s time we look at ways of getting around these hurdles.
So, today let me introduce to you to a few potential lines of interest where you can volunteer from home. Whilst they’re not specifically related to the pandemic, I’m sure you’ll agree that the charity sector and those they work with could do with your support now more than ever. We’ll start with the more defined and established schemes, and then move on to more general suggestions for how you can use your initiative to find opportunities that really utilise your skills…
Scope is home to a variety of support services for disabled people and their families, including their thriving online community. Thousands of users rely on the platform to ask questions about specific issues, share their experiences, or simply chat with others. Anybody can sign up as a user and join the community, get involved with recent discussions and post their own topics of conversation. You can also work your way up through the ranks and unlock virtual achievements and badges, get stuck in with welcoming new members and safeguarding the platform, and occasionally there’s the opportunity to guest blog too.
You can find out more about Scope’s online community and sign up here. As a former Scope employee who spent much of the working day on this very community I’m of course biased, but it really is a fab platform. You genuinely get to know other members and form online friendships, as well as find out more about Scope’s wider work. And take it from me: providing information and support that makes a genuine and visible difference to people’s lives is unlike any other feeling in the world.
ME Connect is the flagship telephone helpline of the ME Association, providing a listening ear to those affected by the condition. If you’re an empathetic person who enjoys communicating with others, the charity offers training and supervision that will enable you to engage with the role from home. Volunteers are asked to commit two to four hours a week, and there’s a particular demand for listeners who could provide support during evenings and weekends.
You can find out more about ME Connect and express an interest in volunteering here. I know first-hand just how isolating living with ME/CFS can be even at the best of times, and services like these really can act as a lifeline for those who are struggling. I imagine the role can be emotionally demanding, however (again, having worked for the charity in the past) I know that Helpline Manager Hilary goes above and beyond to support the wellbeing of her team.
If arts and crafts are more of your thing, Age UK’s partnership with innocent (the notoriously Twitter-savvy smoothie brand) needs your skills. Each year they run their Big Knit campaign, asking supporters to knit jazzy little hats to sit on the top of smoothie bottles. For every smoothie that’s sold with one of these hats on, innocent will donate 25p to Age UK’s work.
More information on (and snazzy patterns for) Age UK’s 2020 Big Knit campaign can be found here. Personally, I don’t have a crafty bone in my body, but I can vouch for the brilliant work Age UK are doing across the nation: supporting older people who have nobody else to turn to. Every donation, and every adorable little hat, makes a difference.
A rather unique platform, 7 Cups Of Tea hosts ‘the world’s largest emotional support system’. As well as offering online therapy with licensed practitioners, the organisation also pairs ‘active listener’ volunteers with vulnerable people in need of support. Not to be confused with established therapy, volunteers are trained and coached by mentors to counsel others by being active listeners from home, via online chats. You can arrange your own sessions and timeslots based around your availability, and as you become advanced, also specify areas of experience.
Further information on volunteering for 7 Cups Of Tea can be found on this page. I was an active listening volunteer for this organisation many moons ago, and found booking in sessions and developing a rapport with those you were supporting to be incredibly rewarding. The scheme also offers opportunities to gain certifications and legitimate work experience, meaning it could also serve as a valuable tool in your own personal development. Win-win situation if you ask me.
Finally, we must talk about the angel known as Jodi Ann Bickley. Jodi founded One Million Lovely Letters years ago, originally single-handedly handwriting letters of support and encouragement to those going through all manner of difficult times. As the project has expanded and demand increased, the project now engages with various outreach activities such as exhibitions and workshops, but writing these lovely letters has remained at their core. Whilst the organisation isn’t recruiting for more official volunteers at this time, they’re always in need of writers who can produce lovely letters to send on to those living through difficult situations.
You can find out more about the One Million Lovely Letters, including how to write your own lovely letter and where to send it, on this page. Stationery enthusiasts, this one is for you. I’ve written a fair few letters for the scheme over the years, and sitting down and expressing your love and well wishes to somebody who needs them more than anything really is something special. I’d also highly recommend Jodi Ann Bickley’s book [*affiliate link], of the same title!
UTILISE YOUR SKILLS
Even if you’re less keen on the idea of joining an established scheme, we all have something we can offer others. Wherever your skills may lie, I can guarantee there’s a charity, community group or organisation who can benefit from them. Have a think and make a list of what you feel are your assets, as well as any causes or initiatives particularly close to your heart. Then, simply reach out to their volunteering or fundraising team with a brief overview of your background and skills, as well as any requirements e.g. remote and flexible working, and see what they come up with. A few ideas to get you started…
Many charities now host their own blogs, sharing personal stories and reflections related to the work they do. Consider enquiring whether they’re currently seeking guest blog posts, and then propose a topic to write about. Always ask first, rather than sending across a complete piece: there could be style and content guidelines to follow, necessary editorial input, or it may be that the opportunity isn’t there at this time. Off the top of my head, disability and chronic illness charities who accept relevant voluntary guest blog posts include Scope, Disability Horizons, ME Association, Astriid, and Nimbus Disability.
Those with writing skills may also be able to offer support with administration (such as responding to emails), grant writing, or other creative projects. Pop across a portfolio or examples of your work, a bit about you and your background, and see whether there’s interest. Pursuing writing projects for a good cause can be such a rewarding experience.
Social Media/ Marketing
Many of us millennials have grown up with social media and seen the benefits of it first-hand. Whilst it’s important to emphasise that using social media in a professional capacity is very different to personal use, good causes are always on the lookout for engaging content that increases exposure of their work and reaches new audiences. Graphic designers can be highly sought-after in this area, too!
Smaller organisations in particular often just don’t have the time or resources to maintain a social media presence on top of the brilliant and often more practical work they’re doing, and having a volunteer to help with this element of their marketing can be a gamechanger. After a quick web search, there appear to be plenty of remote offers in this niche listed on Do-It, another fab platform for volunteer opportunities (don’t forget to filter by ‘remote working/ work from home’ when you search!). CharityJob and Reach Volunteering also host databases full of opportunities, again where you can filter to specify remote working.
Finally, I think we all know that good causes require funds, and plenty of them. Fundraising offers the ultimate flexibility for you to do something creative that suits your skills and requirements, and again, this can easily be pursued from home. Contrary to opinion, you don’t have to be doing sponsored walks or running marathons to drum up a significant amount for a deserving organisation: think about the things you personally can do, and what will really compel people to make a donation. The more original, the better!
It was actually my own experiences of chronic illness, and wanting to volunteer and fundraise from within my home, that led me to establish my social enterprise, Spoonie Survival Kits. Over the past five years, we’ve sent little bags of happiness all over the world, and raised almost £7000.00 for chronic illness charities… mostly from bed, in my Disney pyjamas. It takes heck of lot of work and dedication behind the scenes and believe me, it won’t happen overnight, but my goodness it’s worth it. Fundraising is one of the most fulfilling pastimes in the world, and you have the power to take it in any direction you want to.
One final point I’d like to make is that if you’re initiating volunteering on your own accord in this way, please do consider opting for smaller and less well-known causes. Big charities are of course incredibly deserving of our support, especially given the scale of their projects and appeals, but can often easily recruit an abundance of volunteers at the drop of a hat. Smaller and more community-based projects, on the other hand, may be doing equally incredible things, but lack the time or platforms to recruit volunteers who really could make a difference.
By reaching out to these smaller initiatives, not only are you presumably more likely to develop a role and a working relationship that suits your skills and requirements, you really could be an asset to that organisation and make a visible difference too. And take it from me, when that happens, it’s the best feeling in the entire world.
So, here’s to your own volunteering journey! I hope you found this post helpful: if you do decide to act upon any of these suggestions, I’d love to hear all about it. And if there are any other schemes or organisations that you think should be on this list, please do share them in the comments below.
If you liked this post, you may be interested in my Finding Accessible Work With A Chronic Illness resource too!