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.

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