The Rise of Microvolunteering

Written by: Mike Bright
Posted: 14th June 2012

The Rise of Microvolunteering by Mike Bright. 

Susan J Ellis of Energize Inc, the respected expert of the global voluntary arena, stated in a recent-ish seminar she gave “that the trend towards short term volunteering from the weekend or one day warrior to the microvolunteer is no longer a trend but a fact”.

The United Nations Volunteers issued a report on 5th December, 2011, ‘State of the World’s Volunteerism’, which described microvolunteering as 1 of 3 fast growing trends in the global volunteering arena.

How has this all come all about?

First let’s look at how it all started. Briefly microvolunteering has been going on for decades, since the start of the internet way back 30 years ago. Some would say it’s been going on for millennia, although that depends on the definition you use – see here for the three most common definitions in circulation at the moment.

Modern microvolunteering networks arguably first 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 schemes have been set up with Sparked (2010) and previously known as The Extraordinaries with their microvolunteering mobile app in 2009, Koodo Nation (2011), Troopp (2011) and Brightworks (2011), 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 utilize their skills to help out worthy causes in bite-sized chunks of time, without impeding to much into their own or work time. It’s attractive to companies because their employees do not have to leave their offices and so waste time mobilising their workforce to attend a traditional volunteering event. Although these are broad and very general reasons for the rise in professional skilled microvolunteering, it can be seen that it perhaps fills up 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 of a philanthropic nature 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.

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 Institute of Volunteering Research to explore microvolunteering through smartphones.  It’s 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 the wider volunteering sector in general. 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 been gaining increased coverage in the media – it’s all been featured in the Guardian, Huffington Post, BBC, New York Times etc. Volunteering organisations in the UK have been picking up on the use 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, Ivo.org and WCVA. Even the UK government is promoting micro volunteering via its official Number 10 website, as well as a few County Councils, eg North Somerset CC and Surrey CC, whilst just over 60 high street Volunteer Centres are promoting the microvolunteering concept, either on a one-off or ongoing basis.

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 whole ethos that potential volunteers like the idea of short term, no commitment volunteering, ie. ‘micro effort, macro impact’! Take a look at RSPB, Marie Curie Cancer and Resolve International 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:
- ZiviCloud, a microvolunteering / online portal being developed in Germany
- Microvolunteering Consultancy, an online / offline service from Romania conducted through the Help From Home initiative
- Untitled (no working name for project), a microvolunteering initiative being developed by Dubai based C3
- TagDel, a Danish online / microvolunteering platform in beta stage
- Microvolunteering Parties, a student led initiative from Nottingham University
- Volunteer Anywhere, an outline proposal for a non-skilled microvolunteering platform

Microvolunteering actions will continue to be innovative in the future, eg Whale FM. There’s a handy article on this topic here, but basically touches on the effect that technology could have on the microvolunteering arena, including cyber microvolunteering (using computers and equipment controlled remotely from half way across the world), augumented reality (crowdsourcing human senses to provide 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. Watch this space!!

Mike Bright is the Founder of HelpFromHome.org and set it up in December 2008 to address the problem that the UK voluntary sector was not promoting the concept of microvolunteering actions to the public. As it’s name suggests, Help From Home primarily promotes microvolunteering as home based, but over time has expanded this remit to schools, workplaces and senior citizen environments. It recently launched a free microvolunteering consultancy service to encourage nonprofits to embrace the concept. Help From Home is still at the forefront of the microvolunteering arena, having been instrumental in pushing the concept onto the UK voluntary radar.

One Response to The Rise of Microvolunteering

  1. Broadly, there are two types of micro-volunteering:
    * digital: volunteer does stuff in front of their computer (eg write letters, trslate documents)
    * community (volunteer does things outside the home eg shopping for older people, providing a break for a carer.)

    Community micro-volunteering is much more complex to launch and sustain. It’s only really viable in the long term using some sort of technology platform.

    Department of Health is taking a lead on this with the Slivers-of-Time platform. http://www.flexivolunteering.com

    Happy to provide more details :-)

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