Confessions of a Virtual Do-Gooder

I work by myself in a home office in a suburb that’s so sleepy it’s practically on tranquilizers. This fundamental fact was one of the challenges I faced back when I set out to do a good deed a day for 50 days. When I’m out for meetings or appointments or errands, taking public transit or walking downtown, the opportunities to do a kindness are ridiculously abundant. You just have to be on the lookout for them. But when you’re at home alone the whole day through, you simply don’t come across many lost wallets, homeless people or boy scouts selling apples.

This is where technology shines. It can be an incredible tool when it comes to giving. With no more than a computer and an Internet connection you can touch the world. You can literally lend a helping hand to your colleague across town, a village in need across the ocean… or even (as is frequently the case for me) a husband on his laptop in the next room.

The beauty too of using technology to do a good turn is that it’s not usually time-consuming. And unless you’re making an online donation to charity, the costs are negligible. Yet you can still make a difference.

In a typical week at home, I might: answer a question that pops up on a listserv; help spread the word on behalf of someone in my community who’s selling a sofa or has found a lost dog; respond to a direct inquiry from a new writer who’s looking for advice or information; send a hairdresser referral to a Facebook friend who’s asking; write a note of encouragement to a pal (everyone has their baggage); support a walkathon for charity; and do some online research for someone in need.

(Hmm – no wonder my work days never seem long enough! Note to my editors: I hope you’re not reading this. But if you are, don’t judge me. It all gets done.)

These are informal ways to use technology to do good. You can also sign up for virtual volunteering. This means you’re contributing your computer skills to a local project or even an international one. Imagine designing a curriculum for students in a Kenyan village, writing a grant proposal for an agency in Cameroon or developing a website for a charity in Ghana. Programs like and the United Nations Online Volunteering Service can set you up.

So if you’re semi-isolated like me, don’t assume your acts of kindness have to be isolated, too. Power up your ‘puter… and you’re ready to go.

5 responses to “Confessions of a Virtual Do-Gooder

  1. You have opened my eyes to the random acts of kindness done by many of the members of listservs and online forums, who help total strangers through tech problems, suggests markets for their work, sources for their research and inspiration and encouragement to keep trying. I don’t think they even consider it a random act of kindness, they do it because of whom they are and because ultimately we all rely “on the kindness of strangers” to help us through life.

  2. Greetings,

    Thank you for helping to increase the awareness (and demonstrated potential) of online volunteering. I have been pioneering virtual volunteering since 1998. Unfortunately, too many non-profits are slow to (fully) embrace online volunteering due to either real or perceived barriers. Real word accounts such as yours not only help to educate the general public but also serve to inspire such non-profits.

    Along with the notable resources you mentioned, those interested in “making a difference from a distance” may also want to explore VolunteerMatch for a listing of virtual volunteering opportunities.

    In the interest of sharing my knowledge to help other non-profits, I created a free Web Resource entitled “Online Volunteering Technology, Tools and Tips”, which is available at the following URL:

    Thank you.

    Randy Tyler

  3. Thanks, Randy, for your comments and for adding these resources. They’ll be a helpful point of reference for anyone interested in delving further into the area of virtual volunteering. Isn’t it amazing to think that with a few keystrokes from your comfy chair, you can change the lives of folks on the other side of the world?

  4. My family was happy to be people who were supported by you during a walkathon!!! Thanks for supporting to spread the word that there are some 30,000 children in Canada waiting for “forever families”.

  5. …And for those looking for more info, here’s the link:

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