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Is It Time To Re-Imagine Volunteering?

Re-imagine volunteeringIt’s a dizzying world we live in where technology has affected almost all parts of our lives. The volunteering sector is no exception to this – think of the way in which people now search online for opportunities rather than phoning or visiting a volunteer centre. Despite the internet’s presence in  this process, it’s still the traditional offline volunteering task that’s predominantly offered.

However this relationship is slowly changing, particularly as a result of the microvolunteering concept, where the voluntary action can:

- go to a person rather than the other way round
- be conducted on the go, on demand and on a person’s own terms
- be completed from between 1-30 minutes
- normally involve no commitment, no training or no skills
- be participated on a pc, laptop, tablet or smartphone

Real World Examples

These attributes are a far cry from traditional volunteering roles, where some of the more progressive organisations out there have been tapping into the concept to not only re-imagine the way, but also the where and when of doing good. Here’s some examples:

various employee supported volunteering schemes have been using the on-the-go, on-demand nature of the microvolunteering concept to include their more ‘on the road, no permanent office’ workforce within their CSR impact stats, eg State Street Bank with their Flex Work Network scheme.

more single purpose microvolunteering smartphone apps are being created. You only have to walk down your local high street to see the potential of this ‘volunteer in your pocket’ gadget. The third annual Microvolunteering Day on April 15th will be encouraging people to contribute 10,000 acts of do-goodness on their mobile as part of (possibly) the world’s largest ‘apps 4 good’ challenge

student union volunteer societies and volunteer centres are using laptops to entice visitors to their pop-up stalls at volunteering fairs to take part in on-demand tasks like FreeRice. The on-the-spot impact created from these actions is instantly demonstrating the effectiveness of volunteering, and very possibly helping to recruit potential volunteers. Refer to this document for scattered examples of this pop-up microvolunteering

Speculative Examples

Whilst the above are real world examples of outside-the-box thinking, many other ideas have been proposed focussing on how microvolunteering could re-imagine the way people volunteer – ideas where it would seem difficult to see how traditional volunteering actions could be conducted. Here’s a few examples below:

hotel chains like to convey their ‘eco’ credentials to guests, but this could be taken one step further to demonstrate their commitment to ‘green’ issues by inviting customers to use approximately ten minutes of their downtime in their rooms to microvolunteer on ‘green’ aligned actions, eg Answer4Earth

cruise ships often have activity sessions on board for holidaymakers to while away the time  between ports / countries. One of these activity sessions could be devoted to microvolunteering on an action that benefited a worthy cause in a country they’d just visited. A project entitled Help From Holiday could be a possible route to make this happen

ethically orientated brides and grooms normally invite guests to donate money to worthy causes rather than to bring them wedding gifts. But, what if guests were invited to donate just a few minutes of their time microvolunteering at the actual reception instead of gifts or money? Such a scheme has already been proposed here

for those commuters that rely on buses and trains to get them to work, laptops and smartphones could enable some of their commute time to be devoted to using microvolunteering smartphone apps like Elbi. Firms who operate employee supported volunteering schemes could tap in to this commute time as part of their CSR commitment to the community at large

many studies have shown a connection between volunteering and improved well-being / health. It has been speculated that a convalescing patients recovery time could be shortened if doctors prescribed a 10 minute daily microvolunteering ‘well-being workout’. In turn this could have the potential of reducing the burden on the health service, and thus save it money. For more information on doctors prescribing volunteering for health reasons, see these articles here and here

In Closing

Whilst traditional volunteering opportunities will never go out of fashion, the ability of the microvolunteering concept to deliver on-demand actions directly to a person wherever they are is certainly opening up new creative ways to deliver impact. The increasing use of technology has the potential to radically change the way we volunteer in the future, no more so than with the concept of microvolunteering. Are you ready to re-imagine the way we volunteer?

First published in March, 2016