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The Rise of Microvolunteering

Susan J Ellis of Energize Inc, the respected expert of the global voluntary arena, has stated at a recent seminar she gave “that the trend towards short term volunteering from the weekend or one day warrior to the microvolunteer is no longer a trend but a fact”.

The United Nations Volunteers issued a report on 5th December, 2011, ‘State of the World’s Volunteerism’, which described microvolunteering as 1 of 3 fast growing trends in the global volunteering arena.

How has this all come all about?

First let’s look at how it all started. Briefly microvolunteering has been going on for decades, since the start of the internet way back 30 years ago. Some would say it’s been going on for millennia, although that depends on the definition you use – see here for the three most common definitions in circulation at the moment.

Modern microvolunteering networks arguably first started back in May 2008 with Microvoluntarios (now defunct), who offered a system for non profits to post requests for help with simple actions that people with professional skills could complete in 15 – 120 minutes.

Similar schemes have been set up with Skills For Change (2010) and previously known as The Extraordinaries / Sparked with their microvolunteering mobile app in 2009, Koodo Nation (2011), Troopp (2011) and Brightworks (2011), who all attempt to tap into the skills that professionals have and are willing to use, to do some good out there.

It’s attractive to employees who can utilize their skills to help out worthy causes in bite-sized chunks of time, without impeding to much into their own or work time. It’s attractive to companies because their employees do not have to leave their offices and so waste time mobilising their workforce to attend a traditional volunteering event. These are broad and very general reasons for the rise in professional skilled microvolunteering, but you can see that it perhaps fills up a niche for companies wishing to be innovative in their CSR strategy.

But what of unskilled microvolunteering that could appeal to the masses. That’s where Help From Home comes in. Established in December 2008 it has now collated over 800 microvolunteering opportunities that can be dipped in and dipped out at any time to suit a person’s lifestyle, regardless of the professional skills they do or don’t have. This is especially appealing to people of a philanthropic nature who want to squeeze in a bit of volunteering into their perceived busy lives, without having to commit themselves or travel to a volunteering event. It’s also suitable for people who may not be able to attend traditional volunteering events perhaps because of mobility issues.

Orange’s Do Some Good mobile app (now defunct) taps into the unskilled microvolunteer and is riding the wave of the explosion of apps proliferating this market. How easy can it get to volunteer these days? A few taps on the screen and you’re done!

This approach of the ‘on the go, on demand and on your own terms’ type of volunteering has been gaining increased coverage in the media – it’s all been featured in the Guardian, Huffington Post, BBC, New York Times etc. Volunteering organisations in the UK have been picking up on the use with which people can now volunteer, so much so that they have created new volunteering categories to cater for its popularity eg Volunteering England, Vinspired, I-volunteer. Even the UK government is promoting micro volunteering via its official Number 10 website, as well as a few County Councils, eg North Somerset CC and Surrey CC, whilst just under 60 high street Volunteer Centres are promoting the microvolunteering concept, either on a one-off or ongoing basis.

Riding on the back of this popularity are non profits and charities who are creating their own microvolunteering actions or using the term to describe micro-actions that previously were labelled as traditional volunteering – all presumably to tap into the whole ethos that potential volunteers like the idea of short term, no commitment volunteering, ie. ‘micro effort, macro impact’! Take a look at RSPB, Marie Curie Cancer Care or World Oceans Day for typical examples of this.

So what of the future of microvolunteering networks. Sparked seem to be branching out from the United States into other countries like Canada with their ‘powered by Sparked’ Koodo Nation initiative. Troop will presumably expand within the Indian sub-continent where it is based (although it’s momentum appears to have slowed down of late), whilst Brightworks has escalated it’s service from an invited group of nonprofits to all registered charities in the UK. Alongside all of this, Help From Home will be extending its reach into sectors of society not covered by the other networks above, eg education, senior citizens etc, whilst also aiming to provide a free consultancy service to encourage non-profits to embrace the microvolunteering concept with a greater diversity of skilled/unskilled opportunities. In tandem with these visions, Help From Home also intends to develop an interactive social media / impact reporting platform focused around microvolunteering.

Microvolunteering actions will continue to be innovative  in the future, eg Whale FM (now defunct, October 2015). There’s a handy article on this topic here, but basically touches on the effect that technology could have on the microvolunteering arena, including cyber microvolunteering (using computers and equipment controlled remotely from half way across the world), augumented reality (crowdsourcing human senses to provide information feedback) and 3D printing (creating medical devices and other inventions for those in need).

So as Susan J Ellis put it, microvolunteering does indeed appear to be a fact and not a trend. Exciting times ahead, maybe!

Watch this space!!