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Can Microvolunteering Make A Difference?

Microvolunteering may sound small, but its impact can be huge

When it comes to volunteering, many people feel they are unable to get involved because they have limited time to help out. The concept of microvolunteering is geared towards maximising the impact of a volunteer’s available time i.e. “micro effort in order to generate macro impact.” Microvolunteering is changing the way people volunteer and it is also changing what is considered as impact from ‘do good’ actions.

Minutes can matter

Every voluntary organisation has particular tasks that might take only minutes to complete in isolation, but because they are only viewed as part of a wider project they are often overlooked. Yet these can be essential tasks that need completing for the good of the overall project. Since people underestimate their importance and spend time on other activities, these important aspects are not addressed until it is too late and then cause disruption for other projects.

By targeting microvolunteering at these individual areas, but not losing sight of the overall goal, organisations can make better progress to achieve their goals. The dedicated efforts of different microvolunteers focused on defined tasks can lead to real advances. In addition, since volunteers know that they can allocate the time to defined tasks the chances of completion are higher.

Evidence for impact

In the past it may have been difficult to imagine that any sort of meaningful impact could result from just minutes of effort by volunteers. However, the world is changing rapidly and technologies such as the Internet and social media are revolutionising the speed and boundaries of communication. This means that seemingly inconsequential action that takes only minutes to complete has the potential to cause a meaningful impact –anywhere in the world.

It can still be difficult to convince people about the impact of microvolunteering, but that is often because they still view volunteering in a traditional sense where people physically spend large amounts of time in an organisational setting. However, microvolunteering makes use of new technologies that translate online contributions from people into an outcome. In effect, a mindset change is needed to embrace this alternative type of impact.

For example, a traditional volunteer task might be to clear yards of a river bank and the impact of such a project is clearly evident. In contrast, a microvolunteering task could take the form of the public taking photos on behalf of charities for their publicity material. The impact might not seem particularly dramatic but it is. Usually, professional, high quality images used for publicity must receive copyright clearance and this comes at considerable cost, thereby eating into the precious finances of a charitable organisation. However, by microvolunteers spending just minutes of their time to take and send useful photos the charities are able to make their resources go much further and also attract support. Similarly, while a traditional volunteering project might be measured in terms of the number of hot teas served to the homeless, the microvolunteering impact would be the number of mouses clicked to raise money via click-to-donate sites to pay for those hot teas. Therefore the two forms of volunteering are complimentary.

Other beneficial effects

Sometimes it is not that easy to quantify the impact of a microvolunteering initiative to the satisfaction of external observers, but that does not mean that is not having a beneficial effect. For some initiatives, it is possible to show how many people are involved but it might be harder to determine if that objective can be achieved. Even if these micro-actions never quite achieve their objectives, the fact that large numbers of people are working together in their community for a good purpose should not be casually dismissed. The teamwork will have an impact on the volunteers’ and communities’ lives as they band together to form cohesive units.

Certainly, feedback from volunteers on these micro-actions is overwhelmingly positive and they strongly believe they are having an impact. The numbers of people becoming involved in microvolunteering initiatives is growing and it is often due to the fact that they feel there is value in the concept. Furthermore, many people have become involved in microvolunteering through the work environment and are applying their specialist skills. It is unlikely that microvolunteers would show such commitment to micro-action if they were not convinced of its effectiveness.

A report published in 2013 by Help from Home looked at around 130 microvolunteering initiatives and revealed a large and diverse number of activities being undertaken, and a range of ways in which projects were having beneficial effects. The high level of activity for these initiatives would appear to argue against the idea that nothing was being achieved. The report showed that a huge number of people must be participating in these micro-actions for them to be sustainable. The review of these microvolunteering projects also arguably demonstrate that crowdsourcing thousands of people to perform a very tiny action that in of itself would seem as though it is not contributing anything worthwhile, would appear to be unfounded.

Microvolunteering is growing!

Microvolunteering is growing in popularity and new ways of participating in initiatives are appearing all the time. These efforts are taking place across the world and involving people of all ages and from many different backgrounds.

The vision of organisations such as Help from Home is to continue to spread awareness of the microvolunteering concept, so that one day people will be aware that they do not necessarily have to be confined to the date, time and place restriction usually imposed by traditional volunteering opportunities.

An event that will help to do this is Microvolunteering Day, which will be held on March 15th every year. It will be an occasion to promote the concept of microvolunteering while bring people together to collectively get involved and stimulate discussion on the concept.

Author: Faiz Kermani

First published March, 2014