What Is Microvolunteering (and Should Your Nonprofit Do It)?
Solve Your Volunteer Shortage With Bite-Sized Volunteer Opportunities
When it comes to volunteering, most people think of weekend projects or scheduled visits to their favorite charities. Nonprofits, too, can fall into the trap of thinking they need to create ongoing opportunities that require time and physical attendance. However, only about 25 percent of Americans volunteer and many people cite the lack of free time as their most significant barrier to making a meaningful contribution.
So what can nonprofits do to help volunteers overcome this time barrier? And how can volunteers find ways to contribute without stressing out their already-tight schedules?
Microvolunteering may be the solution for nonprofits and volunteers alike in today’s busy world.
What Is Microvolunteering?
Essentially, microvolunteering is volunteering in small bursts, at times and places that are convenient. Microvolunteering is similar to many other forms of volunteerism, including “byte-sized volunteering,” “episodic volunteering,” “virtual volunteering” and more.
Because so much of volunteerism has gone virtual, this concept isn’t entirely new. Today, everyone can volunteer in some way from wherever he or she is, thanks to smartphones and access to the internet. Of course, micro-volunteers don’t have to be just online; finding short-term volunteer opportunities near you count, too.
Microvolunteering in Action
Microvolunteering is a fantastic trend to witness. More and more people are getting involved, even in small ways, in causes and programs that are important to them. This is likely because they finally can contribute on their schedules. As a result, many nonprofits have seen increased engagement, and many have embraced microvolunteering. Nonprofits have also begun to find ways to support their micro-volunteers for maximum impact.
For example, Red Cross Tampa Bay created a microvolunteering resource for volunteers. Their ideas are perfect for people who want to do something, but can’t commit to a regular volunteer schedule. Your nonprofit doesn’t have to create a resource or even have grand ideas. Any nonprofit can incorporate micro-volunteering into their organization by encouraging volunteers to:
● Pick up trash on their daily jog
● Sign a petition online or in-person
● Host a booth at a festival or event (for short windows of time)
● Start a fundraiser at work
● Sign up for a sponsored race that donates to your nonprofit
● Fill out a questionnaire/survey to help your nonprofit gather data
● Give goods or services
● Use technical skills (writing, design, marketing, etc.) for small projects
Another excellent example of microvolunteering is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The challenge went viral and raised nearly $116 million over the course of two years. While not “traditional” volunteering, it engaged people and encouraged them to donate time and resources to spread the word.
After the popularity of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the power of social media in microvolunteering became clear. Social media is a massive component of microvolunteering and can communicate micro-opportunities to your followers and even share their contributions. On platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, nonprofits can ask followers to:
● Share a post or information about the cause (i.e., “Please retweet this”)
● Post a picture/video related to your campaign (i.e., the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge)
● Stop by your booth/drive/event to help out
● Set up a Facebook fundraiser for their birthday
Whether they’re actively promoting these opportunities or not, microvolunteering is an excellent tool for nonprofits. Is your nonprofit is ready to recruit and engage more micro-volunteers? First, it’s important to create systems that make it easier for volunteers to make a difference.
How to Encourage Micro-Volunteers
Microvolunteering has proven useful for many nonprofits that want to improve visibility and awareness for their cause. However, if your nonprofit is considering leaning into micro-opportunities, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
1. You’ll need to be engaged online and on social media
2. You’ll need to update your audience regarding new opportunities frequently
3. You’ll still need regular, scheduled volunteers
4. You’ll need to manage and track micro-opportunities
An online presence is mandatory if you want to continue to support micro-volunteers and donors. Make sure you have the resources allocated to have someone posting, commenting and engaging regularly. Also, use your online tools and resources to let new volunteers know how they can get involved. Use advanced, planned outreach to announce events or large-scale volunteer needs, but also do “last minute” updates so that you can catch people who find themselves available.
Also keep in mind that microvolunteering only fills a specific need at a specific time, so don’t expect micro-volunteers to consistently provide the assistance your organization needs to operate. This is why having trained, committed and scheduled volunteers is still essential. Having a team you can rely on also makes it easier to plan opportunities for micro-volunteers.
Last but not least, you’ll need a way to manage microvolunteering. Using free tools like Facebook to post information about your impromptu flash mob can get people to attend. Most volunteer websites such as All For Good, VolunteerMatch, Idealist.org, Network for Good, and Points of Light Foundation allow you to post your microvolunteer opportunities.
You can also use newer tracking tools like NobleHour or GiveGab to post opportunities and connect with volunteers. Emails can let people know how and when they can get involved. Use online signup sheets to prevent duplicate efforts. Whichever tools you use, make sure you have systems in place to communicate with all your volunteers and track their work.
Make Sure Microvolunteering Has “Macro” Impact
Nonprofits want to empower volunteers and donors to get involved as much as they can (and when they can). One of the biggest concerns with microvolunteering, however, is that it is just another form of “slacktivism.” People get a little boost from helping support a cause they love, but their action (such as liking a Facebook page) doesn’t help the organization in a real way.
Your nonprofit can address this directly with “macro-focused” micro-volunteering. Instead of asking people to like your Facebook page, why not ask them to post a story about your cause instead? This offers emotional impact and gets more people to see your nonprofit’s name. Rather than searching for a new booth host, hold a photography competition for your new campaign. That can mean more powerful content and highly engaged volunteers.
Whenever you create an opportunity for micro-volunteers, whether in-person or online, keep the big picture in mind. Also make sure to build a system for microvolunteering first, before diving in, so that you give your organization and existing volunteers a chance to grow. Once you have the foundation in place, you’ll be able to ask people to get involved on their terms, and you’ll see what a difference many hands can make.