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Microvolunteering: A Different Perspective?

An article I compiled in October 2013 documented what was probably a new trend developing in the microvolunteering arena, where nonprofits seemed to be veering away from the commonly associated type of actions and tasks popularised by the microvolunteering platforms that initially were instrumental in promoting this type of microvolunteering ie Microvolunatrios (now defunct), Sparked (now Skills for Change) and Help From Home.

As part of that tranche of research, I uncovered a few other trends that I believe have not been documented elsewhere, and which I feel may be useful for Volunteer Managers and trend spotters alike to take note of. Basically, my observations are noting the different ways in which the microvolunteering concept is being used by nonprofits and businesses alike, that seem to be veering away from the commonly associated way in which microvolunteering has been traditionally promoted in the past.

As in my previous article, the organisations mentioned below all seemed to have adopted the microvolunteering concept independently of each other, and on the whole, 2013 seems to have been the year in which the trends mentioned below seemed to have begun to emerge, despite the modern microvolunteering movement having been popularised around 2008 / 2009.

Promotion

Microvolunteering lends itself to being promoted as a quick way for people to volunteer. However, nonprofits are also now seemingly catching on to how they can quickly assign roles to people at volunteer recruitment events through the use of ‘catchy’ names with a ‘bite-sized’ theme to them. This may be in an effort to intrigue people in to attending the volunteering event, in order to get them in through the door. Here’s a few examples to illustrate this:

The 2013 Combined Federal Campaign of the National Capital Area in America created a ‘Microvolunteering Happy Hour’ event to bring together charities looking for microvolunteers

US based CaringBridge challenged people to complete as many microvolunteering tasks as possible within a ‘Lunch Break Micro Challenge’

Anchorpoint in the UK held a ‘Microvolunteering Speed Dating’ event in February, 2013 to match people with skill sets to Anchorpoints’ microvolunteering opportunities

The University of Guelph in Canada, held a ‘Microvolunteering Fair’ back in March 2011 that provided students with fun and engaging microvolunteering opportunities from on and off campus organisations

Businesses

Some businesses also seem to have latched on to the microvolunteering concept as well, and using it in ways not to make money, but to attain help in expanding their business. Here’s a few examples to illustrate this:

Happy Mums Market is a community interest company bringing second-hand baby & children’s markets to the Highland and Moray communities in Scotland. It uses the microvolunteering concept to encourage people to spread awareness of its’ business

US based Group Legal Services Tweeted back in October for microvolunteers to help them out for an up and coming conference in Las Vegas in May, 2014. They were inspired to use this method following an article that discussed what activities microvolunteers could perform at business conference events

Healthy Lifestyles

Microvolunteering is also being used in ways to promote healthy lifestyles. So, for instance:

The UK Dept of Health ran in a Dignity in Care campaign from 2006 onwards. It’s aim was to inspire local people and it’s staff to take action to put dignity and compassion at the heart of care practice. As part of this campaign,  a booklet called Dignity Champions Action Pack was produced in 2011 that provided 15 different ideas to help improve people’s experience of care. One of those ideas was devoted to a whole section on microvolunteering – see ‘Action 8’ on page 7 of the document.

As part of European Volunteering Year 2011, Age UK produced a guidebook entitled Ideas for Volunteering Roles in Health and Social Care, that was aimed at documenting what volunteering activities could support older people in the health and social care sector. One of those roles outlined how microvolunteering could play its’ part – see page 6 of the document

Surrey Health NHS have produced 2 guidebooks where microvolunteering actions were suggested as part of a package of activities to overcome the issues that each guidebook tackled, these being ‘Staying Happy and Healthy in Later Life’ (June 2013) and ‘Social Isolation and Loneliness’ (January 2012)

University Projects

In a previous article of mine back in October 2013, I discussed a possible emerging trend where youth seemed to be engaging in microvolunteereing more so than any other age bracket. This trend seems to have now progressed to the point where students are setting up their own microvolunteering platforms as part of their attainment to achieve a University degree. Here’s several examples:

payITforward(cville) was set up as an undergraduate capstone project in 2013 at the University of Virginia to match local nonprofits in Charlottesville, US with local IT volunteer professionals willing to work on (mostly) offline, microvolunteering tasks at nonprofits’ offices

youvo was created by a group of six students at the University of Arts, Berlin as part of their final University project. Currently in beta stage, its’ intention is to match young creative microvolunteers in the fields of media production, communication and design with social organisations, requiring tasks that include designing flyers, producing videos or supporting an event as a photographer

Conclusion

Over the past year, I’ve been documenting instances where microvolunteering has been recorded in the media in order to prove or disprove my gut feeling that microvolunteering was appearing more often, and in more diverse publications. It’s a subjective opinion, but I believe my gut feeling is being proved correct. This has springboarded another gut feeling in that this seems to be fuelling a momentum that could be leading to a more general increased awareness of the microvolunteering concept. The November, 2013 issued report on microvolunteering by the Institute of Volunteering Research seems to mirror this feeling, concluding that the microvolunteering arena is likely to expand, coupled with increased demand for micro-actions from individuals.

If you have a read of my other 2 articles mentioned earlier on, here and here, there seems to be several emerging trends that have only begun to surface this year within the microvolunteering arena. So, has 2013 been a watershed year for microvolunteering? Quite possibly, but I feel it needs other commentators to add weight (or not) to my observations. Watch this space!

First published November, 2013