Now How about "Micro-Volunteering"?
By: Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.
Did you ever imagine that you could volunteer via your smart phone in tiny chunks of time? Well, you can. It’s called “micro-volunteering” and it’s developing rapidly thanks to several initiatives and a variety of phone apps. In the United States, the lead organization is Sparked (http://www.sparked.com/). Their founders, The Extraordinaries, explained their thinking a while back with this statement:
We expect an explosion of new volunteers, as people are now able to actually fit micro tasks into their hectic lives. We provide a more efficient link between people’s brief spare time and social projects, and as new people get hooked on doing social good, we believe this will lead them to an increased engagement in their communities. Essentially, [micro-volunteering] is the “gateway drug” to traditional volunteering.
Some of the projects are examples of traditional “crowdsourcing” through which a huge task is accomplished by spreading the work in small bits among thousands of participants. These can be scientific in nature, such as asking people to be on the lookout for endangered birds or insects, snap a picture if they see one, and send it to whatever organization is doing a survey. Or studying blood pressure and stress by having volunteers submit their vital signs over several days, reporting the situations they are in each time. In the UK, you can go through a photo site of missing persons and help in finding them. One idea under consideration is helping the Library of Congress index a backlog of thousands of historical photos.
There are already well-established advocacy and activism campaigns supporting far-ranging causes, from political to environmental. They encourage expressing opinions to legislators, the media, and the general public through e-mails, tweets, short survey responses, and even phone calls. The rather disdainful nickname of “click-tavist” for a volunteer who responds instantly to issues belies the effect of such appeals both on the recipient of the messages and on those who take the minute to send them.
Other micro-volunteering activities require more thought and even training. TechSoup has created “Donate Your Brain” [SJE1] (DYB) allowing “anyone, anywhere, to help nonprofits and other community organizations with quick answers and suggestions for their Internet, software, and other tech needs.” The TechSoup staff scans the questions posed and tweets them out to the volunteer consultants, who respond via Twitter (#TechSoupDYB) and LinkedIn so that all can benefit.
The concept is especially popular in the UK, led by Help from Home (http://helpfromhome.org/), whose tag line is: “Micro Volunteering - Changing The World In Just Your Pyjamas!” You can read more about the scope of their work here. [SJE2] One of their opportunity areas is “letter writing[SJE3] ,” where thirteen different organizations are looking for volunteers willing to drop a cheery note to people ranging from chemotherapy patients to death row prisoners.
British telecommunications company Orange has launched a new phone app, “Do Some Good” (http://dosomegood.orange.co.uk/), to support this model of service. The Do Some Good blog (http://dosomegood.orange.co.uk/good-news/) reports on a wide variety of quite fascinating projects that will give you some new ideas to try yourself.
No one believes that micro-volunteering will ever – or should ever – replace onsite, intensive service. But in a period where everyone feels time deprived, it is a great way to harness the power of new technology to do some good. Small actions add up. The multiplier effect of many volunteer micro-tasks can be powerful. And as with all other types of volunteering, it can become addictive! If five minutes on a smart phone entices new people to discover service to the community and keep exploring more ways to help, everyone wins.
Susan J. Ellis is president of Energize, Inc., an international training, consulting and publishing firm specializing in volunteerism. Based in Philadelphia since 1977, the firm has helped a wide diversity of clients around the world to start or expand volunteer efforts. Ellis has written 12 books on volunteerism and dozens of articles. She is editor of the international online journal, e-Volunteerism (www.e-volunteerism.com), and dean of faculty for the online volunteer management training program, Everyone Ready® (www.everyoneready.info). Browse the 1200+ pages of free volunteer management information on the Energize Web site: http://www.energizeinc.com.