Virtual Volunteer: Go Big, but Stay Home

Pamella Rodrigues, Director, Global Corporate Citizenship
AIG

”Pandemic time” has been a blur, but most of us likely remember the day Covid-19 disrupted our lives 15 months ago. For me, it was the day that the Venice Carnival was halted in late February 2020. At that point, I had been planning AIG’s Global Volunteer Month (GVM) for four months. I remember deciding that if Carnival was cancelled, we should postpone our month of service. There is no other connection between that festival and volunteering, and little did we know that instead of party masks, we would be seeking out N95s.

In early March, we cancelled GVM and gracefully exited out of all in-person events by using Points of Light’s national value of volunteer hours and assigning a dollar amount to each cancelled event. Instead of sending volunteers, we granted our nonprofit partners the monetary equivalent.

AIG has a long tradition of giving back and our people show up for our clients, colleagues, and communities every day. GVM unites us, and, not surprisingly, many colleagues continued to make a positive difference in their communities. In the short term we:

  • highlighted them through an acts of kindness campaign.
  • found that AIG employees remained eager to volunteer and to connect with their coworkers.
  • planned a virtual day of service and engaged nearly 1,000 colleagues over the course of 24 hours.

From a day to a month: Fast forward to April 2021, during which we hosted AIG’s first ever virtual month of service with over 70 virtual volunteer projects, resulting in colleagues from 25 countries donating more than 5,000 hours. Some replicable wins included:

  • Reach: Virtual events enabled all colleagues to contribute because the initiatives were short and accessible.
  • Alignment: We connected to company-wide campaigns, highlighting the relationship between giving back and wellness while creating opportunities to lessen isolation through volunteerism.
  • Incentives: We hosted sustainability events, including a “This is the Last Straw” campaign. Those who pledged to limit plastic consumption received metal straws.
  • Building nonprofit capacity: We helped a nonprofit explore a new volunteer model by hosting a virtual toy drive, and now they are hosting similar events with other corporate partners.
  • Flexibility: No longer strict about what constituted volunteering, we pivoted to accept various activities and shortened time requirements.
  • Convenience: Most events were less than an hour to accommodate work, life, and family commitments.
  • Families: Families were invited and celebrated!

Virtual volunteering also has many challenges. Colleagues have busy schedules, and many are still adjusting to this new way of living and working. It is also often expensive and limiting in terms of what can be done from home. Shipping is not earth friendly, and Zoom fatigue is real. I learned:

  • Build it and they might come: At the onset of the pandemic, we sourced a list of 60+ virtual volunteer opportunities, but very few employees utilized them. They wanted curated events and opportunities to connect.   
  • New relationships take time: Understanding nonprofit needs and completing required contracts/MOUs was an investment.
  • Logistics are complicated: Distanced coordination wasn’t easy, and shipping required detailed records and constant tracking.

Will virtual volunteering continue beyond the pandemic? Absolutely! We should increase support of our nonprofit partners and help guide them through this transition, while also encouraging them to innovate. As we continue to address societal challenges, meet the needs of our nonprofit partners, and provide our employees with meaningful volunteer opportunities, I encourage our industry to stay flexible but focused.