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Microvolunteering – Changing The World In Just Your Pyjamas!

What is Microvolunteering?

Happy familyA quick scout around the web reveals many definitions, but one that seems most apt would be ‘small, quick, low commitment actions that benefit a worthy cause’. The actions might be a task that could be accomplished as a whole unit from start to finish by one person within, say 30 minutes or it might be an action that could be broken down into its component parts where an individual is just one of many people performing the same task to achieve an end result.

Microvolunteering has been around for quite a while. Consider the act of helping an old lady cross the street – that’s microvolunteering because you spent a few minutes of your own time helping somebody out.

Nowadays, microvolunteering has moved on a bit. You can still help out little old ladies, but this time you can do it from your own computer or your own smartphone, whilst on the bus or in your own home either fully dressed or just wearing your pyjamas – although the pyjamas bit is optional, especially if you’re on that bus. That little old lady could be somebody half way across the globe and you could be helping her out via click to donate websites, micro loans or a knitted article of clothing. No matter how you help her, there are initiatives out there that provide opportunities that will take no more than 30 minutes to accomplish.

How To Find A Microvolunteering Task

OK, microvolunteering is not exactly on everybody’s radar at the moment, much less so some of the initiatives offering these micro tasks. One problem that most people have is that the microvolunteer actions that could help out the fictitious old lady are just simply not included in the main volunteer portal websites eg. or Volunteer Match.

So how do you find a microvolunteer action to help a little old lady if you don’t even know that that opportunity exists in the first place? Obviously you can do a web search and hope for the best (‘help little old lady’ search query on Google brings up 85,300,000 results – phew!) or you can visit Help From Home, which provides information on over 800 microvolunteering actions / initiatives that can all be performed in under 30 minutes and even suggests whether you need those pyjamas on or not for the task. You could be helping not only little old ladies, but children dying of starvation, homeless people, animals whose owners have been cruel to them, science researchers on climate change projects, NASA – to name but a tiny, tiny few.

Help From Home may be the new kid on the block with regards to microvolunteer portals (in fact it may be the only kid on the block with the type of actions it features), but it’s only riding a rising groundswell of people that want to do good, but don’t want the commitment that goes with traditional volunteering. On the go, on demand and on their own terms is their mantra and microvolunteering offers that, over and above traditional volunteering roles.

The Pros

So what makes microvolunteering potentially attractive to this new breed of do-gooder? Well, here’s a few points on the ‘pros’ of microvolunteering that may just persuade you to put those pyjamas on and start changing the world:

  • Micro-actions can be conducted anywhere, at any time and so therefore people can control the environment in which they volunteer their time, thereby making it potentially safer than traditional volunteer opportunities
  • Most micro-actions are non-committal, which means that one of the barriers that inhibits people to perform traditional volunteering, has now been stripped away. You can dip in and dip out whenever you want
  • People who are shy and uncomfortable with a group of strangers might feel more at home with micro volunteering as they can now volunteer in their own company
  • You get more bang for your buck time wise. People who perform traditional philanthropy and who want to do more, now have the option to achieve more in between their traditional philanthropic commitments
  • It empowers people to realise they can make a difference, as they can now do something that benefits a worthy cause on their own terms, which gives them greater control over the difference they can make
  • You can do it while watching telly, on the bus or in your pyjamas. You’re not restricted to being at a certain place at a certain time anymore. Volunteering can go wherever you go.

What’s Out There?

Man with telescopeSo what exactly is out there in microvolunteering land for Joe and Jane Public to participate in. Using Help From Home as the source here, the website divides the actions into three categories – Charity, ‘Green’ and Advocacy. Within each category are at least 4 sub categories ranging from actions that are aimed at helping disabled people, saving rainforests, people with life threatening diseases, advocacy groups, recycling, conserving animal habitats, premature babies etc, etc, etc.

More specifically though, there are actions where you can:

  • donate your hair to disadvantaged children suffering from long term medical hair loss
  • use the spare processing power of your pc to fight cancer or predict climate change
  • complete a survey where donation at no cost to you, will be donated to charity
  • micro-loan roughly £10, change a life and then get paid back to reloan again
  • use free software to reduce the power consumption of your pc and so save the world’s resources
  • write a letter to a seriously ill child and put a smile on their face
  • contribute to abolishing slavery by signing an online petition
  • help astonomers classify galaxies with your pc
  • knit or crochet items of clothing for needy people
  • participate in plant or bird counts for bio-diversity research projects
  • etc, etc, etc

Can Microvolunteering Really Make A Difference?

There have been some murmurs recently that microvolunteering is just a gimmick to turn people’s heads and that it really can’t produce an effective Big Bang for your buck. To give you some food for thought then, here are some of the arguments aimed at showing that microvolunteering really can make a difference and that the concept is not about to fall down a black hole any day soon!

  • There is a huge diversity in the type of micro-actions that can be performed and is so expansive in it’s scope, that it covers areas that traditional volunteering opportunities simply just do not cover. Therefore, there is more scope to do more good, whereas before there might have been none. More actions = more good
  • It enables people who otherwise couldn’t volunteer, to now contribute their time to worthy causes, eg. disabled and housebound people. Therefore there is potentially a much larger group of people to pool from. More volunteers = more good
  • Because micro-actions lend themselves to being performed whenever and wherever, the potential number of people able to participate can now be pooled from the whole of the world rather than just a local or national area. More people = more good
  • Micro-actions are easy and there is normally no commitment required from people. Therefore, these very attributes might encourage people to explore similar and even more actions. The overall time spent on philanthropic actions might increase. More time = more good
  • There is usually no requirement for a CRB (criminal record bureau) check, which means that there is one less hurdle to cross in order to volunteer
  • Practically all microvolunteering opportunities require the minimal of training. You just read the instructions and go. This really pushes microvolunteering into the ‘easy’ bracket and once again, removes a stumbling block that puts people off volunteering in the first place
  • If you have a fetish for doing things in your pyjamas, then microvolunteering could well be right up your street!

Be A Super Hero

SuperheroSo to summarise then, microvolunteering is easy to participate in, takes just a few seconds or minutes to complete and can be tailored to suit your own lifestyle. It’s designed for people of all ages, abilities (or disabilities) and for quite a few of the opportunities out there, can be conducted from almost anywhere in the world. With the advancement in technology, especially the internet and smartphone, there is a strong case that microvolunteering is here to stay and is effective in producing results.

All in all then, if you really want to be a super hero and change the world via microvolunteering you”ll need an outfit that shows off your new persona – no wearing of pants on the outside of your tights for this one – just a trusty pair of pyjamas will do here! Go forth and microvolunteer!

Article first published on i-volunteer (now known as ivo) by Help From Home in January, 2010.