Help from Home

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Are Microvolunteering Initiatives Harvesting Volunteer Information?

There was some disquiet back in late December, 2011 on whether there was a secret agenda behind the modus operandi of microvolunteering initiatives. This has come about because there is a perception out there as to why an initiative would spend so much time on creating a microvolunteering action if a volunteer is only going to spend 10 minutes on participating in it. It seems disproportinate timewise and money not well spent, ie. where’s the Return on Investment (ROI).

If we put aside the fact that microvolunteering actions are not usuually designed for just one person, but for hundreds, thousands and in some cases millions, then the ROI from a time and effort point of view maybe justified. But justified for what reason? Are these actions really being created to harvest information about hundreds, thousands or even millions of volunteers, so that in the long term they can be ‘captured’ to support the initiative perhaps financially or engage in some campaign work?

To put it another way, is the microvolunteering action a means to an end just to:

- encourage microvolunteers to sign up to newsletters
- subscribe to the initiatives blog
- inform them of more substantial current or upcoming traditional volunteering opportunities
- encourage microvolunteers to join their online community of volunteers
- invite them to become a fan on their Facebook or Twitter account

Maybe, maybe not, but let’s see whether this perception actually holds up to scrutiny.

Skilled Microvolunteering

The microvolunteering opportunities on Skills For Change, KoodoNation (now defunct), Troopp (now defunct) and BrightOne all seem to enable a nonprofit to request help, ie. they are either asking a question or inviting someone to use their professional skill to complete a task. This question or task is normally just that, and should usually involve a short amount of time to describe the task. Thus with regards to this implementation of microvolunteering, the time and effort to create an action appears to be very small.

The modus operandi of this type of microvolunteering uses an intermediary (ie. the companies mentioned above) between a nonprofit and a volunteer to facilitate the completion of a task. Nonprofits should not be able to access private information about a volunteer on the intermediary’s database, ie. protocols have been set up so that personal information can remain just that, personal and thus not released to a nonprofit.

So, for a nonprofit to ask a question or describe a task where the real reason is to harvest information about a volunteer doesn’t seem to ring true. Firstly, it doesn’t take that long to ask a question or describe a task. Secondly, there doesn’t appear to be any access for a nonprofit to extract information about a volunteer, unless that volunteer decides for their profile to be made public.

Non Skilled Microvolunteering

What about the microvolunteering opportunities featured on Help From Home (HFH)?  Some of these probably have taken some time to develop, whilst others haven’t. As the Founder of HFH, I have personally participated in quite a few of the actions on the HFH website and have not been bombarded at all with emails to sign up, read newsletters or to become their Facebook fan. In fact, it’s been very decidely quiet on that particular front.

However, this is not the case for some of the opportunities on HFH (probably about 1% of the total number of actions featured on the HFH database) where it can clearly be seen that a small donation at no cost to a microvolunteer will be made to a worthy cause, if a microvolunteer ‘likes’ an initiative on their Facebook page.

Will you be bombarded with requests to join their initiative? Well again, I have participated in some of these actions and for sure you do get to see messages from the initiative in your Facebook account. However, I’m not complaining about it because I’ve exercised my right to delete them from my account soon after I’ve ‘liked’ them. Of course, these initiatives don’t want you to do that, but perhaps I’m not your typical microvolunteer.


So, from my experience purely as a volunteer, nonprofits are seemingly creating microvolunteering opportunities for the sake of getting tasks completed and not for an alterior motive of harvesting volunteer’s information to be used in marketing campaigns or whatever other use it could be used for. The bottom line for me was that my actions were gratefully received, but not abused for the sinister motive of gaining my support, monetary or otherwise.

In closing then, the points made about ‘capturing’ microvolunteer’s details don’t seem to stack up as an all encompassing sweep of the microvolunteering arena. However, this is only my experience and others may have different observations to make. I’d be interested to hear them.