Volunteering in the Digital Age: Making Service Accessible and Fun
By Kerala Taylor of Kaboom!
Say “community service” and most people think of waking up early on a Saturday morning to do hard labor with other well-meaning, early-rising folks. In fact, a few times a week, hundreds of volunteers converge in the wee hours of the morning to build playgrounds with the national nonprofit KaBOOM!. Over the course of six hours, they haul mulch, mix concrete, and assemble equipment to transform a deserted lot into vibrant place to play.
We at KaBOOM! love these old-fashioned “barn-raising” events, which have proven transformative both for the people who participate and for the community in which they live. But in a fast-changing digital era, we’ve also started to experiment with leveraging online and mobile tools to achieve our vision of a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America.
Much ado has been made over the rise of “micro-volunteering”—that is, volunteering you can do in small increments from your phone or computer. We love the concept, but one question we’ve struggled with is, how can we make micro-volunteering not only valuable but fun?
At a typical playground build, we play music, dance, and eat good food. At the end of the day, volunteers are rewarded by the sight of a tangible, gleaming playground. How can we reward our micro-volunteers? Often the tasks we ask them to do are just a small piece of a much larger, more complex, and intangible puzzle.
The answer, we believe, lies in the marriage of micro-volunteering and gamification, of offline and online actions, of service and self-service.
Our Summer Playground Challenge is a perfect case in point. To determine where more playgrounds need to be built, we first need to determine where playgrounds exist and what condition they’re in. To do this, we’re asking playground-goers to map and review the playgrounds they visit using our Tag! mobile app and/or online Map of Play.
But what’s in it for them? For one, we’re making it fun. The Summer Playground Challenge asks parents to visit as many playgrounds as they can this summer. They not only challenge themselves but also compete against their fellow participants. We’re also extending micro-volunteering beyond the computer. This isn’t just about sitting in your house and entering playgrounds on a map; it’s also about getting outside and playing with your family.
Lastly we’re offering rewards. Maybe our volunteers won’t get to see a playground that they helped build with their own hands, but the more playgrounds they visit, the more entries they get in our weekly drawings for gift certificates and other prizes. And as they map playgrounds, they earn points and badges that cumulate in a Grand Prize—a weeklong trip for two to DC.
At the end of the day, we get more playgrounds on our map and parents get a summer full of play. Can anyone argue with that?
Our Summer Playground Challenge kicks off on July 3! Want to join?
Photo Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Kerala Taylor manages online content and outreach for KaBOOM!. She is also co-founder of Glimpse.org, author of How Things Break, and a blogger for BabyCenter.com. A proud new mama, she'll be making sure her daughter gets plenty of healthy, unstructured, outdoor play.