Volunteer work for loners
May 18, 2015 4:51 PM   Subscribe

Posting for a friend: What kind of volunteer work can a solitary type do in five hours a week that will make the world a better place without requiring a lot of social interaction?

Last October a friend of mine did the math, found that he was in the financial position to retire, and subsequently quit his job. He is 41, single, childless, and in good health. He has so far put in his time very contentedly by exercising daily, playing in a volleyball league, doing a lot of reading, watching movies, and travelling (he can afford to take 1-2 trips a year). However, he has been feeling as though he would like to do something more worthwhile and productive with his time without knowing what that something should be. He would like to do some volunteer work and would be willing to put five hours a week into such efforts, but he is a solitary type who would like to help make the world a better place without having to engage in too much social interaction. He's an actuary, is good with numbers, enjoys research and planning, and is active, but does not consider himself good at computer stuff or at working with his hands. What kind of mostly solo productive volunteer work could he do for five hours a week?
posted by orange swan to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
In high school I spent a lot of time volunteering for the Red Cross. Aside from the more social activities, I spent many hours one summer poring through old files from early 90s to get their records in order. Everything had just been dumped into an empty office and left unsorted and unrecorded. It was a mess. I was alone, in an empty room, on a floor used by only two other people. It was kind of great.

So my suggestion would be for him to call around to organizations he's sympathetic to and ask if there's any way they can put him to work doing the boring task stuff no one else wants to do. Nearly everywhere has one of those rooms or cabinets that people try to avoid but know they need to get to someday. Most people don't enjoy sitting alone in a room doing numbery things, but he does, and he's happy to do them for free.
posted by phunniemee at 5:05 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

The British Museum has some crowd-sourcing projects that might be of interest. There's some very mild user interface stuff to learn, but I wouldn't say it involves computer knowledge or hand-eye coordination beyond the ability to use a mouse. A bigger question is whether he'd be content with that kind of contribution.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:07 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was going to suggest museum collection work as well. I work in a museum and we use volunteers in the collections to help with digitization and records management. Computers are involved but very minimal skills are required. It's quite solitary and you often get to work with interesting records.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 5:10 PM on May 18, 2015

I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity for a few years. Some of the roles are people oriented, but some are more solitary. I spent some time making jigs and fixtures for them to do framing, for example, on my own. On site there was usually lots of work to be done that was solitary (landscaping for example)

You might find, though, that even an introvert might feel comfortable working with 1 or 2 people in something like this. Sometimes I'd make wall frames and there was little talking, just me and 1 or 2 other guys working quietly. You get into a flow with your partner, and it feels pretty good.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:14 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

For me, I would start by thinking about what kinds of organizations do work that I care about and then talk to their volunteer coordinator about how I could help. Types of jobs that might be a fit include
- clerical work especially data entry, filing, stuffing envelopes
- research - collecting information on-line and summarizing or recording in a way that it is useful
- grant writing - more social interaction since he will have to talk to others about what the grant needs to say but if he is willing to learn how to do this, many, many organizations would be ecstatic to have him volunteer.

If he wants some ideas, volunteermatch.org lists all kinds of opportunities, include many virtual ones.

If he were interested in spending a two week vacation doing some intensive research, check out project vote smart, although that a short, intensive project rather than the five hours a week you asked for. Their description highlights the social interaction but I think that is because the work itself is very individual and detail oriented. If he likes the idea but not that timing, that might give him ideas for other places to look.
posted by metahawk at 5:16 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I stumbled upon a small local charity who's goals I really admired and ended up volunteering for them doing database sort of work that requires minimum interaction with others. I have a remote login, so 99% of the time I'm volunteering in my jammies from home. Most non-profits couldn't do what they do without copious amounts of volunteer help, so I can't imagine he wouldn't be welcomed wherever he offered his help.
posted by cecic at 5:20 PM on May 18, 2015

He could write to prisoners of conscience from home through Amnesty International. Absolutely no face-to-face interaction required.
posted by reren at 5:23 PM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

Trail maintenance. Most hiking and walking trails outside town limits are maintained by volunteers.
posted by workerant at 5:30 PM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

A dream of mine is to adopt a roadway and clean up trash. Outdoor, very satisfying work. Once, I volunteered to sort books prior to a big local Unitarian book sale in my area. An awesome day--I should do that again.
posted by Morrigan at 5:31 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Audio transcription for the blind!
posted by backseatpilot at 5:44 PM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

The SPCA often needs volunteers to walk the dogs!
posted by eisforcool at 5:46 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

I volunteered at a free clinic and although there were opportunities to interact with patients, there was also a huge need for volunteers to do clerical work, especially filing.
posted by telegraph at 6:31 PM on May 18, 2015

We have a volunteer who writes thank you notes to all our donors. She is probably our single most valuable volunteer and we adore her. We've met her in person maybe three times - she does everything online by email remotely. We also have volunteers who edit reports and sort through database records and do research and oh my lord, they are valuable, so so valuable, especially if they are willing to regularly give five hours a week of quiet admin time. That is volunteer gold there.

Memail me if your friend is interested in volunteering online. Seriously - any organisation would be lucky to have him if he wants to give five hours of admin work remotely.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:34 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Most everybody has an old, forgotten cemetery close by them, the kind of cemetery filled with stones carved with names that are forgotten to the world. Not one flower left near one stone, not one poem stained with tears, nothing. The type of cemetery that hasn't had a burial in fifty years or more, and maybe the county comes in and mows but it's just a job, no care taken, no love given.

I love these cemeteries, walking around in them I know that I am in Time and in Timelessness, I look at the names and the dates and I think of what might have been that persons life -- did they have love, did they have love and lose it, and mourn it? Were they destroyed by the loss of children born to them, short lives, smaller stones next to theirs, with dates on those stones showing that it was Elizabeth Anne, who died at four years old, and Thomas Earle, who died at two years old -- how deeply did these losses cut them, did they ever recover?

It might be that your friend would want to honor these lives gone, setting things right, picking up refuse blown in; the incongruousness of a brightly colored cheetos bag between the stone of a woman and man married 68 years and their beloved son that died at two years old -- hey, the courts want to define obscenity, right here is a good starting point. Your friend could put that into a garbage sack he carries with him. A stone toppled, or tilted a bit -- he could set it right.

It sounds like an autumn activity and of course it is perfect in autumn, or under the gray skies and amidst bare trees in winter But it's perfect in June, also. It is about as solitary an activity as can be found, and it's fulfilling, too, depending upon your friends nature. It's one of those quiet things, he'll not get any fanfare, no one will know about it at all, and that of course is the best kind of giving that there is.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:52 PM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

Shelving books at the library. If he's sufficiently discreet, or the library is sufficiently busy and/or understaffed, he might not even need to sign up and take the training.
posted by Bruce H. at 8:25 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I volunteer with a group that assists refugees living in the local community. I create and send out thank you letters and certificates to donors electronically, and maintain a database. My only contact (apart from an initial interview) is via email and IM. I imagine there is a lot of community groups that have similar roles that your friend would be perfect for and echo others above in suggesting that he finds a group he likes and gets in contact with them. I got my role by following the group's Facebook page and then getting in touch when they advertised the kind of no-contact position I was interested in.
posted by Wantok at 8:46 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Pick up trash.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:16 PM on May 18, 2015

Or if shelving books seems too likely to attract attention, simply auditing the stacks, looking for books that are out of place and moving them.
posted by Bruce H. at 9:52 PM on May 18, 2015

I've recently started volunteering at the library. I said I was willing to do more-or-less anything, but what I have ended up with is transcribing local history resources. Very little social contact - the staff member managing the work has made it clear he would rather I just turned up and got on with it rather than finding him each time and speaking to him.
posted by paduasoy at 10:29 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

At times I've enjoyed writing for Wikipedia. That or other crowd-sourced projects might be a good fit for your friend if he enjoys research.
posted by Harald74 at 3:20 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing libraries: shelf reading, shelving, and covering books are all good options that don't require much social contact. A 'hello' when you first come in and 'bye' when you leave at the most--less if it's a walk in, sign in, work, sign out, and leave kinda deal.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:10 AM on May 19, 2015

Data entry. For example, a non-profit historic cemetery near me has online records for the past 20 years, but before that everything is on paper and microfilm, until some volunteer shows up to type it all in. If he thinks of causes he's particularly interested in helping, odds are good that more than half of them could use data entry help.
posted by metasarah at 9:34 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I volunteered as a photo digitiser at a local museum. I was alone in a room with a computer and a box of old photographs.
posted by Chenko at 1:27 PM on May 19, 2015

I spend five-ish hours per week at an animal shelter. I hang out with the cats, play with them, pet them, generally give them attention and socialize them to improve their chances of adoption. Lots of animal shelters maintain feeding stations for feral cats as part of a trap-neuter-release program, and need volunteers to tend those.
posted by dmvs at 2:54 PM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wildlife rescue centre. You spend many hours cleaning, feeding and rehabilitating injured animals. Sometimes it's caring for orphaned babies, hand feeding and trying to figure out ways to recreate natural habitats for them. Most of the time it will be just you and the animals. Release days are the most fun. Very rewarding work.
posted by Karotz at 7:47 PM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

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