Leave the micromanagement out of micro-volunteering

“Micromanagement-  to control every part of a situation, project, etc., even including the small details, in a way that may not be necessary” 

Cambridge Dictionaries Online

Micro-management undoubtedly has negative connotations and most would argue that it should be avoided; this is certainly the case with micro-volunteering. Managing micro-volunteering was identified as a key challenge by the organisations involved in our research and our guidance released today provides some practical tips to help.

Managing micro-volunteering

What we say in our guidance released today is that in order to maximise the potential of micro-volunteering we need to steer clear of management becoming disproportionate. If organisations micromanage their micro-volunteering they run the risk that the role becomes something the volunteer didn’t want or expect and they leave.

To me it seems that the challenge for volunteer managers is being comfortable with relinquishing some of the control you have over what the volunteer does and accepting some level of risk that goes alongside this. It’s for this reason that deciding what tasks or are appropriate is so important.

Here are some quick tips when thinking about your approach

Adopt a more flexible approach

Think more about facilitation than management.

Ask people whether they want to stay in touch

Give volunteers control over how much contact they have, eg giving people the option to opt out of communications or just use social media.

Take a joined up approach

Share responsibility for managing and supporting micro-volunteers but ensure everyone is clear about who does what and share information that will help you. Discuss with others in your group or organisation and bring those with an interest together. This could be face to face or online.

Consider shadowing

Experienced volunteers could help with supporting new micro-volunteers.

Plan ahead

Core delivery might not depend on micro-volunteers but the extra support they provide may be a bonus and add value on the day, eg for events make sure you have enough people confirmed for key roles and your micro-volunteers might just be able to help do that little bit extra.  

Use online tools and technology

Using social media you can promote roles quickly and calendar tools can identify when people are available. Mobile technology allows people to get all this information and volunteer whilst on the move.

 Think about risk but be sensible

It’s important to keep it in perspective. You might want to do a quick risk assessment of the activity as you would with any role.

So what can we learn?

Thinking about how we might approach micro-volunteering can help us to improve. When working on this guidance what stood out to me was how it raised wider questions about approaches to volunteering and volunteer management. During the workshops we held people were asking questions like; Why do we do things that way? How can we make it easier for the volunteer? Or in a nutshell, how can we do it better?

There is always going to be value in asking these kinds of questions and revisiting our approaches to volunteer management, even if for the most part we feel they seem to work. At its best volunteering is enjoyable, rewarding and part of our lifestyles. We need to make sure that we prevent volunteering from becoming just another thing on people’s ‘to do’ list, another thing to squeeze into modern life or at worst a burden! In order to do this we need to continually strive to improve the way we enable volunteers to engage with our organisations in the way they want to, not in the way that feels most convenient for us as volunteer managers.

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Kristen Stephenson Kristen is NCVO’s Volunteer Management and Good Practice Manager. She’s interested in raising the profile of volunteer management as a profession, and the development of approaches which can help volunteering deliver for people, organisations and communities.

10 Responses to Leave the micromanagement out of micro-volunteering

  1. What on earth is micro-volunteering?
    Frankly I find this management gobbledegook unhelpful.

  2. Simon Muncey says:

    Please can you add me to any monthly/quarterly communications you issue?
    Many Thanks

  3. Kristen Stephenson Kristen Stephenson says:

    Hi Caroline,

    Our research did identify that there was low awareness and understanding of the term micro-volunteering so your point is an important one. We do need to think carefully about how we promote micro-volunteering and the language we use. I do think it can be a useful term for us to use to explore ways of enabling people to give a little time as volunteers. In our guidance we suggest that you might not necessarily call it micro-volunteering when you promote or advertise opportunities or tasks. You might choose a different name that might be more accessible and engaging to potential volunteers.

  4. Kristen Stephenson Kristen Stephenson says:

    Hi Simon,

    You can register to receive updates on volunteering and a range of topics here

    Hope that’s helpful

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  6. Alison Metcalfe says:

    Yes I was wondering exactly what micro volunteering might be, and I’m still a bit confused. Is this a reasonable summary: micro volunteering is small amounts of time given on an occasional basis, with no ongoing obligation unless the volunteer chooses to take it further? Presumably minimal to no paperwork is required. An example might be to help at a coffee morning, or deliver leaflets?

  7. Rob Jackson says:

    Kristen, I just love that last paragraph. Brilliant summation of the issues.

    Caroline, you may be unfamiliar with the term but don’t let that mean you dismiss it. Microvolunteering (however much you may hate the word) is growing in popularity. In fact, it’s been around for a while but not under that name. Rather than dismiss it as jargon do please learn about it. It could be an important way for you to engage volunteers,

  8. Mike Bright says:

    Not every org will be able to dip their toe into the microvolunteering arena, and so Section 3 of the new Practical Guide just published by NCVO, is well worth the read if you’re thinking of doing this.

    For those people above who have not quite grasped the microvolunteering concept, here’s some platforms that specialise in it. Hope it gives you a better idea of the arena:

    http://spotsoftime.org.uk/ (no longer running, but still has examples of offline micro-actions)

  9. Amy New says:

    The article makes an interesting point about keeping risk in perspective. Macmillan has just launched a new micro-volunteering website to provide a helping hand to people affected by cancer in Brighton and Hove – http://goteamup.org.uk/. Tasks include gardening, cleaning and shopping – the little things that make a huge difference.

    At the moment we’re having to DBS check all volunteers as the scheme is only in it’s very first stages. This makes it quite risk averse and probably not part of the ‘micro’ camp as NCVO have defined it in their recent piece of research on micro-volunteering. But eventually we’re hoping to vet volunteers and service users via other methods, such as online footprints, which will sit these activities more firmly in the ‘micro’ camp. We obviously need to ensure that our services are safe both for volunteers and service users, but it’s also important that management is proportionate to the roles and tasks available through the service. It’s great that NCVO are recommending this as good practice for micro-volunteering activities.

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