Dec 29, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

If you’re resolved to be a better person this year, you may want to add volunteering to your list. Why? It’s good for you and for the people you serve.

Volunteering has changed dramatically over the last decade, especially with the rise of the internet, social media, an aging population, and more volunteer abroad programs.

Interested in doing some good in 2018?

Let’s take a look at four trends emerging among student volunteers:

1. Volunteering abroad is increasingly popular

Combine your personal goals with opportunities for growth with a volunteering abroad project.  The Association of American Colleges & Universities says that “Global service learning affords students opportunities to understand the larger social problems, provides transformational learning experiences, and helps students see the world in a profoundly different way.”

Why is volunteering abroad so popular? The desire to travel combined with the desire to do something helpful.

Beware though: voluntourism—the term used to describe volunteering and traveling—isn’t always such a good thing. If you sign on with an organization that behaves responsibly, then you’re all set. If you don’t, watch out.

Some organizations that bill themselves as “voluntourism” or “volunteering abroad” outfits take advantage of bad situations—and make money off you, while thinking you’re doing some good.

One piece of advice? Do some research. Do your homework. If the project sounds exploitative, it probably is.

Need some help? Reach out to your student affairs office for some guidance and they’ll point you in the right direction.  

2.  You’ll volunteer alongside older people

In the UK and the US, the population is aging and living longer—and many older adults have time to volunteer.

By 2033, 25 percent of the population in the UK will be over 65. It’s a prime opportunity to reach out to this population to engage them in volunteer work.

A March 2017 article in Fast Company explains that the rising aging population is an untapped resource both for the economy and the volunteer sector.

How to engage it? We need to change our approach and attitude about older adults and integrate our systems to make them accessible so that older adults can contribute to the world just as much as they used to—if not more.

3. Micro-volunteering is on the rise

The demand for short-term volunteering is increasing, especially now in the age of “instant.”

Smartphone apps are in on the challenge, helping people figure out when they can “squeeze” in volunteering among work, family, and other responsibilities.

The idea is simple: people are more willing to make time to volunteer in short, bite-sized chunks of time. Anything from signing petitions to re-tweeting a message, or other tasks that can take as little as a few seconds that don’t require an ongoing commitment? That’s micro-volunteering.

Most opportunities—over 80 percent—happen online.

The key? Flexibility. Micro-volunteering allows busy people to figure out when, how, and why they can volunteer on their terms—and there’s no requirement or follow-up.

Charities also use micro-volunteering by carefully planning projects that can be chunked into small units of task and time.  

Highly successful micro-volunteering venues include: Rockcorps, started in LA in 2005, and the RSPB in the UK.

4. Viral volunteering is a new, attractive option

What is viral volunteering? The most popular form of micro-volunteering. The BBC Stargazing Live 2015 used viral volunteering during the last eclipse, asking viewers to compare images of the same photographs of the sky, taken at different times. The result? The discovery of five supernovae.

Volunteer Match regularly posts virtual options for volunteering—anything from posting and organizing photos to retweeting, or posting something on social media.

 

Your takeaway? As you resolve to do your best this year, add volunteering to the list—and do something good.  

Read more about how volunteering can boost your college experience.

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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