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Give Back from the Couch: How to Become a Remote Volunteer

A group of woman hold a phone and smile, two rhinos on a wildlife camera, a person holds a phone with "Call first available volunteer" on the screen.
Tarjimly/ZSL Instant Wild/Be My Eyes

Whether you’re concerned about the health risks, or the organization you want to work for is too far away, there are many ways you can volunteer right from your couch.

There are a lot of reasons you might want to volunteer remotely, even when COVID risks aren’t a factor. Some people might just prefer online rather than in-person interactions, while others might live too far from their organization of choice.

Fortunately, many nonprofits have embraced the digital age and made it possible for people worldwide to get involved with their particular causes. From helping people see via an app to transcribing historical documents, below are a few organizations for which you can volunteer remotely.

Be My Eyes

Be My Eyes is an app that pairs sighted volunteers with visually impaired individuals to assist them with daily tasks. While mobile identification and text-to-speech apps can be helpful in many scenarios, there are some things that just need a pair of working eyeballs.

Volunteering for and using the app is free. As a volunteer, you simply register and leave the app running in the background on your phone. When someone sends a request, you have about 10 seconds to answer the call before it’s given to another volunteer.

If there’s any flaw with this app, it’s that there is an extremely high ratio of volunteers to users—some people say they only get the chance to answer calls a few times a year.

When you do answer a call, a video chat screen appears that allows you to see the person who needs help. There’s also an audio connection so the two of you can communicate.

The visually impaired person will then ask their question, such as, “Can you describe the color of this shirt to me?” or, “I dropped something. Can you help me find it?” You’ll then help them solve the problem.

Interactions usually only take a few minutes. It’s a rewarding way to give back, and you can do it from anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection.


Questions on the CareerVillage forum.

Trying to figure out your career path as a teenager is difficult. It’s even harder for those who live in poor or remote communities with fewer resources. Career Village aims to level the playing field by offering online access to professionals in a variety of fields.

And you don’t have to be a successful surgeon with 20 years of experience under your belt to volunteer. Kids submit all sorts of questions that pertain to their future, from which classes to take as a college freshman, to how to figure out what their passion is. Many are just seeking general advice about life after high school.

You can sign up with your email or connect your LinkedIn profile to the account. To volunteer, simply scroll through the submitted questions and comment on those you feel qualified to answer.

7 Cups

Everyone has struggled with difficult emotions at one time or another and wished they had someone they could talk to. 7 Cups was designed to solve that problem. This free online chat service allows anyone to connect with a trained listener to talk about whatever they want.

People use the website for a variety of reasons. Some people might be experiencing anxiety or stress because of school or a breakup, while others might just be lonely and need to talk for a while.

All listeners on 7 Cups are volunteers. To sign up, you just create a profile, then complete a short training course on how to approach the position. Volunteers aren’t therapists or doctors, so you’ll be told never to give any advice.

Your job is simply to listen empathetically to what the person is saying and help them feel heard. As a trained listener, you’ll have access to many resources, so you can refer someone to a licensed therapist if you feel unable to help them.

ZSL Instant Wild

Homepage of ZSL Instant Wild website with photos of different wildlife.
ZSL Instant Wild

Look for cute animals on wildlife cameras while contributing to conservation? Sign us up! ZSL Instant Wild is run by the Zoological Society of London. Its goal is to monitor animal populations, while getting people around the world more involved in conservation efforts.

You can volunteer for ZSL Instant Wild by helping identify wildlife caught by their motion-triggered cameras set up all over the world. When a camera is triggered, it takes a photo and immediately sends it to a volunteer. You can then identify the photo as an animal or let the website know if it was triggered accidentally.

Don’t worry, there are lots of wildlife specialists standing by to make sure each animal is identified correctly. Going through every single photo takes a long time, and having extra eyes from volunteers significantly speeds up the process.

Your involvement helps wildlife specialists identify more species of animals around the world, where they are, and how best to protect them. It also gives you a window into places around the globe you’d never get the chance to see otherwise.

Smithsonian Digital Volunteers

Homepage of the Smithsonian Transcription Center with an image of an old photograph and a letter.

The Smithsonian Institution owns a vast array of museums, and educational and research facilities. They also have many remote volunteer opportunities through the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers program.

For example, in the Smithsonian Transcription Center, you can read and transcribe historical documents so they’re recorded online.

These can include birth certificates, letters, books, and other documents handwritten in cursive, or that are otherwise difficult to transcribe digitally. When you transcribe these documents, you make them easier to transfer around the world, and therefore, more readily available to the public.

The Archives of American Gardens is a collection of photos from gardens all over the United States. Although most are identified by state and (sometimes) city, the exact locations of the photos are unknown.

The Smithsonian Institution is asking for volunteers to do some sleuthing and try to identify where the photos were taken. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like Sherlock Holmes, this is your chance!

These are just a few of the remote opportunities available through the Smithsonian, so be sure to check out the whole list.


Homepage of the Tarjimly website with a female refugee smiling at the camera.

Refugees in the United States face many difficulties as they attempt to integrate into their new country. One of those challenges is learning a new language. If you’re multilingual, Tarjimly is an app that connects refugees, asylees, and immigrants with volunteers to help with translation projects.

As a volunteer, you’re contacted via the app to work as a translator when someone needs you. After you’re connected with someone, you enter a live chat session to discuss the issue. Both of you can then send each other texts, voice notes, and documents, or you can even start a live phone call.

You might be asked to translate anything from a job application to an email, or for advice on how to phrase something. As a translator, you’ll receive training before you communicate with anyone, and you don’t have to accept any request unless you want to.

However, this is a fantastic way to use your language skills to help someone in need.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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