Micro-volunteering might be small but it’s got big potential

Micro-volunteering is one way we could adapt our approach to volunteering to make it fit for the future. Exploring the potential of micro-volunteering challenges us as volunteer managers to reflect on how we do things. To consider how we can shift more power and control to volunteers, engaging them in shaping and developing new kinds of roles that work for them and their lifestyles.

What our research told us

In 2013 we published research and guidance aimed at developing understanding about the potential of micro-volunteering. That is, volunteering which is small, bite-sized, with no commitment to repeat and with minimum formality. It usually involves short and specific actions that are quick to start and complete.

The report showed demand for micro-volunteering appeared to be growing, with 57% of organisations surveyed identifying that demand has increased in the last five years. Supply appeared to be growing too, coming from a range of different organisations and community groups.

Organisations were certainly interested in the research and its findings, but when I discussed it with people it seemed that micro-volunteering was perhaps part of a more long-term plan in the development of their volunteering offer. Not something they needed to look at now.

What has changed?

Almost two years later I think there has been a shift. We haven’t repeated the research but there is evidence to suggest more organisations are interested in developing micro-volunteering opportunities.

For example, I worked with Team London on the development of their speed volunteering project which aimed to encourage busy Londoners to give volunteering a try with a role that could fit around their busy schedule, all accessed from a bespoke online platform. Interest in micro-volunteering also extends beyond the capital.

International Micro-Volunteering Day has grown in popularity, their impact report identifies extended reach and impact across the world this year. During Volunteers’ Week organisations across the country decided to run micro-volunteering events. Community Action Derby ran speed volunteering as part of their volunteer fair and Volunteer Centre Lewisham also held a speed volunteering day which encouraged people to try volunteering for the first time.

Volunteer managers I meet seem more familiar with the term and are exploring ways to develop and manage more short-term, flexible volunteering opportunities. I’ve had more requests to speak on the topic and have run several workshops across the country to explore how to develop micro-volunteering with volunteer managers.

What is clear is that good practice cannot be overlooked. This is why we have decided to include micro-volunteering in our new training programme and I’m looking forward to running the first micro-volunteering session in Sheffield on 19 November.

What are the drivers?

1   Demand from volunteers

In other aspects of our lives we enjoy and even expect choice. We choose things that we like and that work with our lifestyles. Volunteering is no different. Volunteers want to be able to find an opportunity that is enjoyable, rewarding and that fits with their lifestyles. The latest data shows that not having enough time is still the number one barrier to volunteering and so making it manageable around other commitments is essential.

2   Opportunities for volunteer involving organisations

As well as seeing the need to respond to this demand from volunteers, organisations are now also seeing the potential benefits of micro-volunteering for their organisation. They are finding that offering micro-volunteering can help them engage new volunteers, raise awareness of their cause and increase the diversity of their volunteer base. It’s also pretty competitive out there so it can be a way for their volunteering offer to stand out in the crowd.

3   Technology

Technology has opened up new possibilities for volunteering, both in terms of how people find opportunities and how people actually carry out their volunteering. People can find a role using their smartphone and social media is a recruitment tool that is helping to tell the story of volunteering. It can also provide that important ‘fun factor’ which can often be overlooked. Short-term and first-time volunteers can have an instant connection to other volunteers and the organisation’s cause.

However, even with an online platform that acts as a slick shop window, the key to getting people to turn up to do their micro-volunteering is investing time in communicating with potential new recruits and developing good quality volunteering opportunities to provide an excellent experience in the first place.

Tell us about your experience

I would love to hear about your experience and how it could have been improved if you have developed micro-volunteering in your organisation or been a micro-volunteer yourself – let me know in the comment section below.


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Avatar photo 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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