Virtual Volunteering: One Parent’s View of Volunteering 15 minutes at a time

Dr. Maria Gallo is an alumni and philanthropy researcher with KITE- Keep in Touch Education and is a Research Fellow with the Community Knowledge Initiative of the Institute of Lifecourse and Society at NUI Galway. As a parent of small children she was keen to give back in a way that fit around her professional and family life. Here she tells us all about her unique volunteer role.



Virtually no options that worked for me

I started volunteering as a child. Like many, I didn’t particularly understand it as volunteering, it was simply a collective community action to clean up the park or help at local events. As a young adult, my volunteering continued: I participated on committees and boards—in my community, with my alma mater—and it became a natural part of my life. As life changes, as I discovered, so do volunteering experiences.

Now as a parent of young children, there are ample opportunities to volunteer: at the school, with sports teams and participating on boards and committees. Nothing really spoke to me as something that I could do with the limited time I have juggling work, my research and especially my family life. This is especially true since much of the volunteering  is at night, which conflicts with kids’ bedtimes or during the day which is difficult with work. Does this sound familiar?

Finding a solution

I stumbled on a brilliant solution: virtual volunteering. I hadn’t even recognised it as volunteering or virtual for that matter, it was simply an activity I could immerse myself in as my time permits: 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there. Since autumn 2018, I am a member of the Parents’ Jury for the Irish Heart Foundation’s campaign Stop Targeting Kids. This campaign focuses specifically on raising awareness to the extent that the junk food and drink companies target children, which studies show can lead to lifelong unhealthy food choices and childhood obsesity. The Stop Targeting Kids campaign is calling the government to ban junk food and drink advertising to children, especially extending the broadcasting ban to 9pm.

As a member of the Parents’ Jury, I review marketing and advertisements, including those on social media and online advertising, and write complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland. Irish food writer and bestselling cookbook author Susan Jane White, an advocate for baking with no refined sugar, is also a member of this Parents’ Jury, so I feel I am in good company.

How it works

I typically give about one to two hours per month to this virtual volunteering role. I have written complaints and promoted this campaign to fellow parents in the region. This role has really heightened my awareness of the ways that a voluntary code for food and drink marketing is not working within the junk food industry: so many of the advertisements use songs, messages and images that appeal to children. This volunteering role has sharpened my senses to this advertising and it has allowed me to talk to my children about becoming critical and discerning consumers.

How to get involved

Just as my parents were active volunteers when I was a child, I want to model active citizenship to my own kids, which I believe includes giving back to the community. This virtual volunteering experience has enabled me to give back in a flexible, impactful and enjoyable way.

For anyone who wants more information on the Parents Jury or to join the campaign as a virtual volunteer, contact Helena O’Donnell of the Irish Heart Foundation: [email protected] or visit: #stoptargetingkids

Maria was instrumental in creating the new part-time Postgraduate Certificate in Volunteer Management and Leadership, for volunteer managers and those with an interest in volunteer management. This programme accredited by NUI Galway and delivered within the Centre for Lifelong Learning at St Angela’s College, Sligo.

All good things come to an end

Nina Arwitz, CEO of Volunteer Ireland and Chair of the Governance Code Working Group shares her thoughts on the satisfaction of shutting something down, the importance of governance and what the code achieved in the sector.

Last month I got to realise a professional dream – to shut something down.

I think that most, if not all, non-profits should aim to make themselves redundant, even if it might take hundreds of years. As a charity, you are addressing a need or problem. And as part of that you want to not just treat the symptoms of a problem, but also solve the problem itself. If you work for an organisation addressing climate change, your aim ultimately is for the climate change crisis to be averted and for your organisation not to need to exist anymore.

Well it’s not quite as dramatic, and not quite the same achievement as solving climate change, but in June 2019 we retired the Governance Code for Community, Voluntary and Charitable Organisations in Ireland.

Impact of the code

The code was first launched in 2012 in response to a need for guidance for non-profit organisations on implementing good governance practice. Since then, it’s achieved a lot. Over 2,000 organisations have used the code to improve their own governance. The code helped restore trust in the sector, at a time when this was needed. It raised the profile of governance in the community and voluntary sector. It demonstrated that good governance is not about a tick-box exercise but rather is about becoming better at achieving your aims. It set the tone for governance in non-profits in Ireland, establishing the principles-based, comply or explain approach. The code was also quite unique in that it was led by a “coalition of the willing” – organisations that came together under the name of the “governance code working group” to develop, review and oversee the code.

New code for charities

In 2014 the Charities Regulatory Authority was established, and in 2018 the Charities Regulator launched its own governance code – largely influenced by the original code. This prompted the working group to think very hard about the future of the original code. We spent three meetings over six months debating our future and considering options; we consulted with our members and stakeholders; and we surveyed all organisations that had engaged with the code. We thought about continuing for the sake of non-profits who are not charities, and therefore not technically affected by the Charities Regulator code. We considered maintaining our code as a “gold standard” for those organisations that want to go above and beyond the Regulator’s code.

Knowing when it’s time to go

We decided to retire the code and disband our working group because it would be confusing to have two codes out there; and most importantly because we felt that we have achieved what we set out to do. Governance is now mainstreamed across the sector and with the Charities Regulator, and ten years since this process first started we can say with pride we’ve achieved our aims and pass the mantle on. As chairperson of the governance code working group, I am so proud to have been part of that decision. It’s not often you find yourself in the position to end something, for all the right reasons.

To read the full statement about the retirement of the Governance Code for Community, Voluntary and Charitable Organisations in Ireland, visit: