As today’s workforce evolves to make use of cutting-edge communications technology that allows many workers to do their jobs from just about anywhere that carries an Internet connection, it makes sense that employee volunteer programs make use of the same technological advances in the name of community service.
The latest example of this is TutorMate, a service offered by Evanston, Ill.,–based nonprofit Innovations for Learning, which helps connect “virtual volunteers” with schoolchildren in need of some extra help with their studies.
According to Innovations for Learning, when a school signs up with TutorMate, the organization provides a computer, a phone line and software dedicated to online learning in the school’s classroom.
On the other end is a roster of tutors drawn from corporate partners, government agencies and other supportive groups that can each provide 10 or more people for tutoring sessions.
Far from the traditional tutor-pupil arrangement, TutorMate tutors might be sitting at a desk in their office or lounging with a laptop in their favorite coffee shop. When they dial in to the classroom on their phone, they are connected with the student, and the two can talk while both view an interactive screen on their computers that aids in demonstrative learning.
Each tutor works with the same student for a half-hour session, once each week, throughout the year, the organization said.
Scheduling is handled through an online system that allows the tutors to select a time most convenient for them.
According to Lora Phillips, director of corporate responsibility at antivirus software maker Symantec, virtual volunteering “has transformed the volunteering landscape as it now allows people to participate who may have been deterred from volunteering due to time or life constraints.”
In a post on the company’s corporate responsibility blog, Phillips described Symantec’s experience with TutorMate. A slate of 15 employees completed their first full academic year of tutoring students from Markham Elementary, near the company’s headquarters in Oakland, Calif.
“Using a phone and a computer, employees would log on to the interactive online system shared with the student and they would read electronic books or play reading games together,” Phillips wrote.
The company hosted a party for the volunteers and their mentees at the end of the school year, where the employees provided special pamphlets with information on local and national reading contests so that the students would remain engaged with reading during the long summer holiday, she said. And the volunteers spent the afternoon decorating bookmarks with their students, and brought along Symantec gift bags as parting gifts.
Though virtual volunteering has made it easier to give one’s time, it has not taken away from the social and individual benefits that volunteering can bring, Phillips said.
“The volunteers were just as excited to be a part of this opportunity as the students, and the benefits were mutually shared,” Phillips wrote.
Most notably, many volunteers remarked at how much progress their students had made, given the relatively small-time commitment required of the volunteers, she said.
And making it all the better: The volunteers were able to apply for Dollars-for-Doers grants for the time they put in via TutorMate. In all, the Symantec employees volunteered a combined 173 hours, totaling a donation of $2,598 for the school.
With technology making these types of activities ever more easy and convenient for the company’s workers, virtual volunteering is here to stay, Phillips said.
“At Symantec, virtual volunteering has become central to our corporate philanthropy strategy, and enables us to tap the passion of our 21,500 employees in over 50 countries worldwide,” she said.
For more information on TutorMate, visit www.innovationsforlearning.org.