The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook

The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook is now available for purchase as a paperback and an ebook from Energize, Inc.

Co-authored by Jayne Cravens (me) and Susan Ellis and published by Energize, Inc., The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook is our attempt to document the best practices over the more than three decades virtual volunteering has been happening, in a comprehensive, detailed way, so that the collective knowledge can be used with the latest digital engagement initiatives to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference. Itís a tool primarily for organizations, but thereís also information for online volunteers themselves. Itís available both in traditional print form and in digital version. Released in January 2014, The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook reflects all that has changed -- and remained the same -- since the first version of the book was published online in 2000. The guidebook, which has been completely revised, still includes the basics for getting started with involving and supporting volunteers online, but it goes much farther, offering detailed information to help organizations that are already engaged in virtual volunteering with improving and expanding their programs. It also offers more international perspectives. The first book was focused on people who had never heard of virtual volunteering; this revised book still serves as the most comprehensive introduction to the subject available, but provides much more in-depth information and guidance for organizations already engaging online volunteers, who want to improve or expand their virtual volunteering activities. We're well into the 21st Century, and this book will help organizations get up-to-speed quickly on using the Internet to support and involve a variety of volunteers, or to expand their current use of such for volunteers, and to prepare and leverage new Internet tools as they come our way.

New and advanced information includes:

  • Using Internet tools as a way to get to know all volunteers better.
  • Detailed advice on virtual volunteering assignment, including one-time "Byte-Sized" tasks (micro volunteering), longer-term, higher-responsibilities and virtual team assignments.

  • A thorough look at various practices for screening and matching volunteers to assignments, with an eye to getting the most capable volunteers into your volunteering ranks and preventing incomplete assignments or burdensome management tasks

  • How to make online volunteer roles accessible and diverse

  • More details about how to work successfully with online volunteers, so that they are successful, your organization benefits and volunteer managers aren't overwhelmed

  • Balancing safety with program goals

  • Respecting privacy of both the organization and online volunteers themselves

  • Online mentoring

  • Blogging by, for and about volunteers

  • Online activism

  • Spontaneous online volunteers

  • Live online events with volunteers

  • The future of virtual volunteering and how to start planning for oncoming trends


There's also a new chapter just for online volunteers themselves, which organizations can also use in creating their own materials for online volunteers.

The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook is available for purchase as a paperback and an ebook from Energize, Inc.

In conjunction with the revised guidebook is the Virtual Volunteering Wiki, a free online resource and collaborative space for sharing resources regarding virtual volunteering. We are seeking a partner university or college that could recruit an intern from among students studying in its post-graduate program to keep this wiki updated.

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    Subscribe to Tech4Impact, my free monthly email newsletter to help nonprofits / NGOs / civil society get the most out of computer and Internet technology.

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More about the history of the book:

Back in 1999, Energize, Inc. and the Virtual Volunteering Project, based at the University of Texas at Austin, released the Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, a free book available for download, in .PDF, that offered the most detailed information available at that time on the basics of setting up and managing a successful virtual volunteering program. This book captured the contributions of more than 100 collaborating organizations and online volunteers who worked with the Virtual Volunteering Project from 1996 - 1999. The guidebook was co-authored by Susan Ellis and Jayne Cravens (me).

Even after I left the Virtual Volunteering Project in early 2001 and the project was put on permanent hiatus, I kept researching virtual volunteering, continually gathering information about the practice, and continuing to write and to train on the subject of using the Internet to engage and support volunteers. Working abroad in Germany for eight years, four of them directing the Online Volunteering service at United Nations Volunteers (part of UNDP), gave me a unique global perspective on practices around virtual volunteering as well.

I've invested a lot of time (completely unfunded!), and even some of my own funds, to help make this new book a reality; I've worked hard to make this book worth the purchase price, and to be a resource you can turn to any time for support in your engagement with volunteers online.

Also see:

  • Safety in Virtual Volunteering - a blog that offers suggestions about how to address risk management in the engagement of online volunteers, whether they are working with clients or working independently on microtasks, and emphasizes the importance of exploring various scenarios regarding safety and confidentiality.
  • The original Virtual Volunteering Guidebook from 2000 is still available for free online from Energize, Inc. Not entirely out-of-date, still has a lot of valuable information, and if you honestly cannot afford the latest, completely revised and greatly expanded version, it's better than nothing. But you will be missing out on a LOT by using this instead of the revised version
  • An archived version of the Virtual Volunteering Project, as it was when I left and it went on hiatus in January 2001.


  • 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.
  • Incorporating virtual volunteering into a corporate employee volunteer program (a resource for businesses / for-profit companies)
    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.
  • 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.