Microvolunteering: Not as small as it sounds

Mike-headshotMike Bright is founder of Help from Home which encourages participation in low commitment microvolunteering, flexible activities designed to accommodate busy lives. Mike annually organises Microvolunteering Day (15 April) and here examines UK and international trends to review this year’s events.

Why microvolunteer?

Microvolunteering occupies a niche corner in the volunteering sector, albeit one with a quickening momentum that is increasingly playing an important role in reshaping the way we and organisations contribute to worthy causes.

In the previous two years I have noticed trends emerging in the microvolunteering sector. We are volunteering in ways which were not possible through traditional volunteering. For example:

  • a mobile workforce is being encouraged to microvolunteer on the road, anywhere in the world. An example of an organisation that has introduced this style is the bank, State Street
  • attendees of events run by student unions or volunteer centres are encouraged to microvolunteer using laptops at exhibition stalls. For details see Help from Home’s Microvolunteering Events booklet on mircrovolunteering.

Flexibility for busy lives

This is perhaps indicative of a cultural shift occurring in organisations involved with volunteering that recognise volunteers are no longer tied to a time or place. An opportunity can be designed to suit the volunteer rather than the volunteer structure their time around volunteering.

This recognition of the flexible, on demand nature of microvolunteering may also be influencing the attitude of volunteer managers formerly advised to develop long term relationships with volunteers. I am seeing non-profits such as Place Pulse launch the most effective microvolunteering programmes that focus solely on achieving a project’s outcome, rather than capturing volunteer’s details to nurture retention.

I feel it’s important to acknowledge this ‘anytime, anywhere’ style of volunteering because as the Institute of Volunteering Research, part of NCVO, concluded in its 2013 report The value of giving a little time:

“The demand for microvolunteering from individuals is likely to grow because it meets people’s desire to be in control of their time and engagement, and suits their increasingly busy and unpredictable lives.”

Taking volunteering into space

The #microvolunteering hashtag trended on Twitter as part of the events and activities for Microvolunteering Day on 15 April. Aside from trending, the awareness day also saw:

One of the aims of next year’s Microvolunteering Day is to encourage International Space Station astronauts to microvolunteer – far-fetched or a potential reality? This is a great example of how the microvolunteering concept is stretching the boundaries of what is possible.

NCVO’s useful guide on microvolunteering may help a non-profit expand its reach among supporters. As remarked above, if microvolunteering can take place in space then where else could it happen?

Small idea – big difference

Technology is enabling people to participate in bite-sized actions which collectively have the power to transform the where, when and how of volunteering. For a small idea microvolunteering is potentially beginning to sound quite big.


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