Volunteering in the Digital Age: A Shifting Landscape

Simbi Foundation
5 min readMar 2, 2022


An illustration for Simbi Learn Cloud done by our remote volunteer Helena Alonso.

COVID-19: A Shift Towards Virtual Volunteering

In March 2020, when social distancing measures began keeping us apart, they did not stop volunteers from touching others’ lives. When our work and personal lives moved online, so did volunteering: organizations began turning to virtual means of engaging with volunteers, and many impact-driven individuals now found themselves searching for new volunteer opportunities online. Undoubtedly, when the pandemic took hold of our lives, the landscape of volunteer opportunities shifted online — but for how long?

Approximately 41% of Canadians ages 15 and older volunteer per year, amounting to upwards of 5 billion volunteer hours. Volunteer services are a fundamental resource for the operation of many organizations and events — but new virtual roles come with their own challenges.

Challenges With Remote Engagement

Remote volunteer roles create challenges synonymous with issues regarding working from home. With the rise of working from home during the pandemic we saw barriers to online engagement and collaboration, along with increased levels of burnout. Statistics show that 17% of remote workers found it difficult to collaborate from home and 22% experienced issues with unplugging after work.

Organizations face similar challenges with engagement when administering online volunteer roles. The struggle to convert site visitors and followers to become engaged volunteers has proven difficult with audiences lacking trust for technology and software with which they are unfamiliar. Even once onboarding volunteers, organizations must find a way to create a passion-driven community despite the physical separation from volunteers witnessing tangible impact.

Virtual Volunteering: Here to Stay

Virtual volunteering has gained traction with 56% of Canadian nonprofit organizations having offered some type of virtual volunteering opportunities since the pandemic. With such high volunteerism involvement, surely virtual opportunities will prevail beyond the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic despite the struggles associated.

These new opportunities for online roles and global reach, foster inclusion for those limited by geography, physical ability, or work arrangements. Short-term online opportunities allow volunteers to offer their time flexibly, volunteering for sporadic or even one-off events. Volunteers tend to engage with specific causes and outcomes they personally identify with or issues that they find to be current and pressing. This can often make convenient virtual volunteering a desirable option in comparison to an in-person commitment.

The flexible aspect of virtual volunteering allows for a seamless integration into our everyday lives. The concept of work-life integration has been gaining popularity in recent years for its goal of allowing workers to tackle their responsibilities at the times that work best for them. Virtual volunteering caters to this lifestyle with its opportunities for sporadic and convenient engagements from home. In other words, virtual volunteering offers volunteer-life integration.

We at Simbi Foundation recognize the value of our volunteers who offer their services in person and online. Since the pandemic, we’ve been engaging virtually with our community of passionate volunteers, offering options for both short-term and long-term commitments. Not only do we offer virtual volunteer opportunities within our team, but we have opportunities for your team as well.

Read-A-Thon participants narrating storybooks for Simbi Learn Cloud to enhance global literacy.

Simbi Foundation’s Online Volunteer Collaborations

Simbi Learn Cloud is our offline curriculum platform accessed through BrightBoxes and designed to bring the quality learning materials available online to school communities who do not have internet access. During the pandemic, the platform has undergone a huge update with the help of our amazing volunteers and their virtual contributions.

This exciting update, guided by feedback from our partner communities will be included in our upcoming BrightBox installations, and will be provided to our existing partner school communities. The enhanced platform includes a new navigation system, unique teacher features, and custom graphics.

These graphics were created by a talented, volunteer team of illustrators who contributed remotely to the project. The diverse, representative, and intricate illustrations they have been creating and have been integrated across the platform to help make the platform more inviting for learners and teachers, as well as indicating what type of learning content to expect in the different areas of the platform.

Subjects heading illustrations by our remote volunteers that have been integrated into Simbi Learn Cloud.

How Can Your Team Get Involved in Virtual Volunteering?

Students using Simbi’s reading while listening technology in the BrightBox at Twajiji Primary School in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement.

If you are looking to inspire your entire team with virtual volunteering — allow us to introduce the Read-A-Thon. Hosting a Read-A-Thon is an engaging and fun way to volunteer and make a huge global impact!

From anywhere and on any device, your team can compete in a race to narrate books on Simbi: a reading platform that combines narrations with the text of a story to create engaging audiovisual books. Your team’s narrations will be added to Simbi’s online Global Library, used by 200,000 readers around the world. Narrations and books are also uploaded into our BrightBox solar-powered classrooms for offline use in remote and refugee communities.

This impactful volunteer opportunity will engage your team through live leaderboards, weekly impact reports, and volunteer certificates that celebrate your impact and allow you to easily log your volunteer hours!

A participant from one of our many Read-A-Thons hosted with Salesforce shared their experience with us:

“I found out about Simbi via my company’s volunteer event a few weeks ago and I enjoyed this activity immensely. Out of all the virtual volunteer events I participated in, in the past year and a half, this was by far my favorite. I enjoyed narrating books knowing they are helping kids all over the world. I will definitely continue narrating more books after my company’s event is over.”

As this happy participant mentioned — the narrating process is also available to those who would like to volunteer by narrating storybooks through the Simbi platform on their own.

The Read-A-Thon leader board that is provided to all participants as a fun way to compete.

A Thank You to Our Volunteers

Simbi Foundation wishes to extend a thank you to all of our volunteers whether they have engaged with us in-person or online. From researchers in the Think Tank, to operational volunteers, to illustrators, to our podcast team, and even Read-A-Thon participants, your efforts and continued passion has helped us strive to make access to quality education a reality for all in the 21st century.