Volunteering in the Era of COVID-19

Key Takeaways:

  • Volunteering can allow you to develop professional skills
  • Companies that allow their people to volunteer on the job — using skills they have — see increases in overall job performance afterward [1]

Thinking about how to make an impact on your community might be hard for you right now. I know it is for me. Our family is focused on doing what it can to stay distanced and safe while meeting our professional obligations.

...But deep down, I know there’s much more to life than just trying to make it. As Winston Churchill said, “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”

A few months back, I sat down with Laura Plato, the chief solutions officer at VolunteerMatch, and Matthew Goldstein, founder and CEO of BESA. (You can watch the recorded webinar here.) Although the effects of COVID-19 have evolved since our conversation, the principles we discussed about the importance of community involvement, engagement and volunteerism remain as true as ever.

COVID-19 may have exposed the need for justice in our communities, the need to address systemic health disparities that cause unequal effects of the virus on different populations, the need for decisive action from leaders to protect the vulnerable among us and more.

Yet, according to Matthew and Laura, what the pandemic has also exposed is the human spirit. Despite seeing initial cancellations of in-person volunteering opportunities to mitigate risk of spreading the virus, volunteering turned virtual. Laura and Matthew noted how their teams quickly pivoted to mobilizing volunteers through online means. (At last check, there were more than 1 million volunteers needed nationwide on Volunteer Match’s virtual opportunities page.)

So let’s get to the point.

What does volunteerism have to do with leadership? Beyond good feelings and making an impact, what does it do for our individuals and businesses?

According to Matthew and Laura, volunteering is a good space to begin to hone specific skills you may have but want to contribute in ways you can’t in your typical line of work. Volunteering allows you the opportunity to build new skill sets while contributing to your community.

Further, a study published in 2016 that examined the effects of corporate-sponsored volunteering opportunities on employees found that employees who volunteer in areas that align with their skill set have a positive impact on overall job performance [1]. So, for managers and leaders out there, creating time for on-the-job volunteering can increase your employees’ overall contributions to your bottom line and help them feel more engaged and proud to work in your company. 

If you’re unsure of how to get started, visit Volunteer Match’s page to find in-person and virtual opportunities in a city near you. For those of you who are based in the greater Columbus, Ohio region, visiting BESA’s website is a great start to peruse virtual and in-person volunteer opportunities.

Returning to Churchill’s quote — it’s a life well lived that we all want, right? And giving our time and talents to our community is a great place to start.

Read more takeaways from my conversation with Laura and Matthew here.



[1] Hu, J., Jiang, K., Mo, S., Chen, H., & Shi, J. (2016). The motivational antecedents and performance consequences of corporate volunteering: When do employees volunteer and when does volunteering help versus harm work performance? Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 137, 99–111. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.obhdp.2016.08.005

[2] https://www.facebook.com/FisherLeads/videos/257130495599931/

[3] https://www.volunteermatch.org/virtual-volunteering

[4] https://www.volunteermatch.org/

[5] http://www.givebesa.org/

[6] https://files.fisher.osu.edu/leadership/public/2020-06/Job%20Aid%20-%20Social%20Responsibility%20%281%29.pdf?iuJBtttaUPoIUzvdJSA188E6crV0LpVh=

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.