Microvolunteering: Relabelling & Diversifying?
16 October 2013 at 5:39 pm
As a new micro-volunteering platform is about to launch in Australia, Mike Bright the Founder of the UK-based Help From Home looks at the growing world-wide trend from Not for Profits to relabel bite-sized traditional volunteer roles and promote them as microvolunteering.
Microvolunteering is most commonly associated with online actions that involve no commitment, and which can be completed within a short space of time, usually anything below an hour or so. More often, an action is conducted via crowdsourcing techniques, and can be offered on an ‘on demand, on the go basis’. The term ‘microvolunteering’ was popularised by Sparked (now Skills For Change) in 2008 / 2009.
However, microvolunteering has been around well before 2008, since maybe when nonprofits invited people to take part in actions that took about an hour-ish or less to complete, eg tidying up after an event, or doing an hour shift on a charity stall etc. These actions weren’t labelled as microvolunteering, just traditional roles that took a short time to complete.
Of late, I’ve noticed a small but growing trend from Not for Profits to relabel bite-sized traditional roles and actually promote and describe them as microvolunteering ones. So, actions like tidying up after an event, or doing an hour shift on a charity stall etc, appear to be getting the microvolunteering treatment. Seem familiar to the roles just mentioned above?
I’m not sure whether this trend is shifting the goalposts of the commonly accepted definition of microvolunteering, or whether it’s taking a small sector of volunteering around in a full circle and just giving it a different name. Probably a lot of both! I’m also not sure what the reason is behind this relabelling.
Maybe Not for Profits are experimenting by trying to tap into what the word ‘microvolunteering’ conveys (no commitment, little time, on demand), perhaps to see if they can ‘recruit’ more volunteers for an event. Maybe Not for Profit have been noticing the continuing momentum of the microvolunteering concept around the world, and want to convey a ‘with it’ organisation that is in touch with some of it’s volunteers who want smaller, no commitment roles, as discovered by the 2013 Millenial Impact Report. Who knows.
Whatever the reasons, it’s possibly an interesting direction for volunteer managers and trend spotters alike to take note of.
- Here’s some examples to back up my observations of offline, traditional, no commitment, bite-sized tasks actually being labelled as microvolunteering actions, where the links take you to the webpage of the action / event in question:
- US based Mariner Management uses microvolunteering to attract people to sign up to roles at the various events they organise. Roles include Greeters (to welcome attendees), Registration Clerks (signing in attendees), Set-up and tear-down (assembly and disassembly of an event), Social Media Guides (help attendees to log-in to LinkedIn etc), and Photo, Video & Blogging (to capture the event). Mariner Management stated in a recent article that microvolunteering builds loyalty at their events.
- Canadian based Cenovus described their September, 2013 challenge that encouraged volunteers to assemble 1000 food bags for the homeless in the space of twenty minutes, as a ‘2013 Thanks & Giving Microvolunteering’ event. Apparently it worked, as they achieved their goal in …. twenty minutes, and went on to state that it was a “High-impact result from a small, collaborative effort.”
- In June 2013, Coventry Volunteer Centre in the UK held a microvolunteering event in Coventry City Centre, where they invited the public to participate in microvolunteering activities that included seed planting, quilt making and card making.
- The American Bar Association recognises that the traditional membership experience of volunteering for committee and board service may no longer be viable for some of their younger members. Jill Eckert McCall, director of the ABA Center for Continuing Legal Education explained, “Their talent is lost to us unless we make it easy for them to integrate volunteer activity into their busy lives”. Some of the microvolunteering actions that she believes may come to the rescue are: making phone calls to welcome or check in with new members and to collect data or get feedback from existing members; visiting, writing, or calling policymakers during political action campaigns; greeting and hosting new members and prospects at events helping out at annual meetings and conferences.
- The Jane Austen Festival in Australia, back in April 2013 offered discounted tickets to microvolunteers if they physically helped out at the festival for a minimum of 1 hour Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow in the UK set up the 7Days4Stow project in January, 2013 to encourage people to microvolunteer the equivalent of one week out of the 365 days per year to help improve the local community. Tasks ranged from providing support to households in debt, attending a pop up Kitchen or their foodbank, or challenging the local legal loan sharks.
- During the Summer of 2013, RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum in the UK) supported contemporary art interpreters as part of a microvolunteering project that looked at new ways of enabling audiences to engage with artwork that they may otherwise have not considered.
- The students of Israeli based Claremont College operate a microvolunteering project called CSIMicrovolunteer to encourage pupils to spread awareness about the state of Israel through social and educational events. Microvolunteering tasks include booking a venue, creating fliers, contacting speakers, etc.
But what of the future for this trend? Newly created Australian based microvolunteering platform, Communiteer is in beta stage at the moment, intending to go live in approximately 3 – 6 months. Its’ global remit, as I discovered from a dialog with it’s Founder, is to embrace amongst other microvolunteering action types, these bite-sized offline roles that otherwise might fall under the traditional label.
The Final Word(s)
Microvolunteering does seem to be gaining ground around the world, even to the point where it is now being taught in courses focussing on Volunteer Leadership (University of Oklahoma), and training for Volunteer Managers (Voluntary Action Harrow). So, who knows whether this trend will continue. One thing’s for sure though is that volunteering is constantly evolving and experimenting. This trend might well be all part of that process.
About the author: Mike Bright is the Founder of Help From Home, a UK-based initiative that runs a free community service to promote and encourage participation in easy, non commitment micro-volunteering opportunities across the globe where a few minutes is all that is needed to help out worthy causes.