The Rise of Microvolunteering

Microvolunteering, online volunteering, the rise of micro-volunteering
Micro-volunteers: Make your spare minutes count. Image source: John Hopkins University

“the trend towards short-term volunteering from the weekend or one day warrior to the microvolunteer is no longer a trend but a fact”      –Susan J Ellis

‘State of the World’s Volunteerism’, a report by UN Volunteers also describes microvolunteering as 1 of 3 fast growing trends in the global volunteering arena.

How has this all come about?

First, let’s look at how it all started. Microvolunteering is not new; it’s as old as the internet itself. Some would say it’s been going on for millennia, although that depends on the definition you use – the three most common definitions currently used are:

  1. ‘easy, quick, low commitment actions that benefit a worthy cause’ (from Help From Home)
  2. ‘convenient, bite-sized, crowd sourced, and network-managed’ (from Sparked)
  3. ‘the act of voluntary participating in small day-to-day situations that occupy a brief amount of time’ (from Student Volunteer Connections)

Modern microvolunteering networks arguably started back in May 2008 with Microvoluntarious, who offered a system for non-profits to post requests for help with simple actions that people with professional skills could complete in 15 – 120 minutes.

Similar initiatives have been set up with Sparked (2010, US) and previously known as The Extraordinaries with their microvolunteering mobile app in 2009, Koodo Nation (2011, Canada), Troopp (2011, India), Brightworks (2011, UK), Spots of Time (2011, UK) and ZiviCloud (2012, Germany) who all attempt to tap into the skills that professionals have and are willing to use, to do some good out there.

It’s attractive to employees who can use their skills to help out worthy causes in bite-sized chunks of time, without intruding too much into their own or work time. It’s attractive to companies because their employees do not have to leave their offices and so there is no time lost in mobilizing the workforce to attend a traditional volunteering event. Although these are broad and very general reasons for the rise in skilled microvolunteering, it can be seen that it perhaps fills a niche for companies wishing to be innovative in their CSR strategy.

But what of unskilled microvolunteering that could appeal to the masses? Help From Home was established in December 2008 and has now collated over 800 non-skilled microvolunteering opportunities that can be dipped in and dipped out at any time to suit a person’s lifestyle, regardless of the professional skills they do or don’t have. This is especially appealing to people who want to squeeze in a bit of volunteering into their perceived busy lives, without having to commit themselves or travel to a volunteering event. It’s also suitable for people who may not be able to attend traditional volunteering events perhaps because of mobility issues.

UK-based Orange’s Do Some Good mobile app taps into the unskilled microvolunteer and is riding the wave of the explosion of apps proliferating this market. How easy can it get to volunteer these days? A few taps on the screen and you’re done!

The Do Some Good app was recently used as the platform by the UK-based Institute of Volunteering Research to explore microvolunteering through smartphones.  Its research paper, published at the beginning of June, 2012 raised some very intriguing findings, including the fact that the motives and factors behind participating in microvolunteering can be quite different to those commonly associated with wider forms of volunteering. It also discovered that a very high percentage (over 83%) would recommend microvolunteering to friends and family, whilst 95% plan to continue microvolunteering in the future. The ease, speed of participation and diversity of actions were cited as being the most popular reasons for microvolunteering, whilst a whopping 76% of microvolunteers were aged under 34, perhaps echoing the notion that youth are more at ease with smartphone technology.

This approach of the ‘on the go, on demand and on your own terms’ type of volunteering has gained increased coverage in the media, featuring in the Guardian, Huffington Post, BBC, New York Times etc. In the UK,  volunteering organisations have picked up on the ease with which people can now volunteer, so much so that they have created new volunteering categories to cater for its popularity eg Volunteering England, Vinspired, and WCVA. Even the UK government is promoting micro-volunteering via its official Number 10 website, as well as a few County Councils, ex. North Somerset CC and Surrey CC, whilst just over 70 high street Volunteer Centres are promoting the micro-volunteering concept, either on a one-off or an ongoing basis.

Looking further afield, Australia, now seems to be discussing/ experimenting with this concept, eg Tasmanian Times, Jane Austen Festival Australia and 3pconsulting (page 8 of pdf document). US-based Sparked has been one of the main drivers of microvolunteering in America, to the extent now that the American Government is jumping on to the bandwagon with its proposed TAPAS project (scroll down to the middle of the page), whilst San Francisco is bidding to win $5million with their proposed microvolunteering idea.

In Malayasia, the DoGoodVolunteer network is now accepting microvolunteering opportunities from Malaysian based charities and non-profits, whilst the BBC has reported on social enterprise start-ups in Mexico wishing to involve microvolunteering in their ventures.

Riding on the back of this popularity are non-profits and charities who are creating their own microvolunteering actions or using the term to describe micro-actions that previously were labelled as traditional volunteering – all presumably to tap into the ethos that potential volunteers like the idea of short-term, no commitment volunteering, i.e.

‘micro effort, macro impact’

Take a look at RSPB, Marie Curie Cancer and DESC for typical examples of this.

So what of the future of microvolunteering? It seems to be diversifying and expanding! Aside from the microvolunteering platforms mentioned above, new initiatives are beginning to emerge:

Microvolunteering actions will continue to be innovative in the future, ex. Whale FM. There’s a handy article on this topic here, which talks on how technology can create newer microvolunteering opportunities such as cyber microvolunteering (using computers and equipment controlled remotely from half way across the world), augmented reality (crowdsourcing human senses to give information feedback) and 3D printing (creating medical devices and other inventions for those in need).

So, is microvolunteering on the rise? It certainly seems like it.

Microvolunteering, online volunteering, the rise of micro-volunteering
Anytime, anywhere. Volunteering made easy. Image source: Help from Home

The article was first published on Help from Home website. Read more on micro-volunteering by Mike Bright at Help From Home.

Share your thoughts...


Subscribe to our blog

Join other followers: