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March 24, 2020; Good Morning America

As states and cities across the country have begun to institute shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders in an effort to flatten the curve, those nonprofits that heavily rely on volunteers to fulfill their mission and objectives have felt a great impact. While some organizations have been able to transition to virtual activities, many nonprofits, particularly those that rely on direct service such as hospitals, food banks, and social services agencies, are left to grapple with the effects of a reduced volunteer force.

As NPQ newswire writer Danielle Holly noted in a recent article titled “Direct Service Volunteers Stay Home in Droves—Now What?,” the majority of America’s volunteers are retired and over the age of 50. This fact, coupled with World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations to continue the practice of social distancing, has made it difficult for nonprofits to continue to serve the most vulnerable, who are also most likely to bear the brunt of the pandemic.

Some organizations have successfully pivoted to continue safely providing services. For instance, food banks are requesting funds rather than food donations; money is generally more effective, and foodstuffs can be bought at a cheaper price in bulk. (In California, food banks and volunteer services were recently labeled as essential in order to assist during the lockdown.) Other changes nonprofits have made include reducing the number of volunteers within a space to meet CDC guidelines and even targeting younger people to volunteer.

Lastly, in response to current constraints and people’s growing desire to help from the safety of their homes, virtual volunteering has become increasingly popular. As a result, Points of Light, a global volunteer platform, has launched a virtual volunteering platform to coincide with its Global Volunteer Month campaign. The campaign, which officially kicks off in April, was originally intended to highlight volunteers who are leading incredible change in their communities.

However, given the state of those communities and the loss of volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Points of Light has decided to repurpose the campaign to urge others to get involved in their communities right now. Potential volunteers are encouraged to explore virtual volunteer resources and safety recommendations, search the new virtual volunteer database, and share stories of people serving in creative and innovative ways on social media using the hashtag #LocalLight.

The current database is a work in progress, with new opportunities regularly added. Similar to other volunteer platforms like COLLCTIVLY and Share Omaha, volunteers can search for projects by location and area of focus (i.e. disaster preparedness, hunger, education etc.). Currently, there are only a few opportunities focused on coronavirus-related needs. For example, the Salvation Army is seeking volunteers to assist with creating COVID-19 care packages. While the majority of opportunities are posted by nonprofits, there are a handful of grassroots opportunities as well. Hopefully, as more nonprofit and grassroots community groups become aware of the service, more will use it to inform their communities.—Chelsea Dennis