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How to design a workshop on microvolunteering

Microvolunteering can be online, offline, skilled or unskilled actions. They're mostly defined by the bite-sized amount of time it takes to participate in an action – usually between 1–120 minutes. A November 2013 study by the Institute of Volunteering Research, concluded that the microvolunteering arena is likely to expand and that demand for microvolunteering actions is likely to grow.

For those organisations wanting to explore the topic of microvolunteering, a workshop could be an ideal medium to generate discussion on the topic. This How To Guide is more a list of pointers for discussion leaders, based on a pick 'n mix basis to suit the workshop authors' remit.

Things you'll need

  • Paper
1

How to manage, run and organise a workshop

Use the excellent guide that has already been written on Knowhow Nonprofit, entitled 'How to design a training workshop'. Once read, pick and choose from any of the topics listed below to structure your workshop

2

Definitions

Microvolunteering is a contested subject, even organisations can't agree on how it should be defined. Here's a few currently in circulation:

  • ‘easy, quick, low commitment actions that benefit a worthy cause’.  Help From Home
  • ‘convenient, bite-sized, crowdsourced, and network-managed’   Skills For Change
  • ‘the act of voluntary participating in small day-to-day situations that occupy a brief amount of time’  Student Volunteer Connections
  • “Serving the association….on an as needed basis”   ASAE ‘The Decision To Volunteer’ (pg 28)
  • '....bite-size volunteering with no commitment to repeat and with minimum formality, involving short and specific actions that are quick to start and complete'  Institute of Volunteering Research
3

Characteristics of a microvolunteering action

  • no longer tied to a certain place and time
  • on demand
  • can be offline or online
  • can be skilled or unskilled
  • usually crowdsourced
  • usually completed within 30 minutes
  • does not require an application process, screening, or training period
  • does not require an ongoing commitment
  • no formal agreement between volunteer and nonprofit
  • no dress code required
  • it can be one-off or a repeatable action
  • non-hierarchical
  • there's normally a defined beginning and end to an action
  • not confined to helping a local charity, but could be microvolunteering for initiatives globally
  • can be participated on the go
4

Alternative names for microvolunteering

Like its definition, microvolunteering is referred to under different names. Here's a few currently in circulation, or which have been used in the past:

  • snack sized volunteering
  • byte-sized volunteering
  • mobile volunteering
  • microtasking
  • episodic volunteering
  • slactivism
  • ad-hoc volunteering
  • mini-help
  • micro-actions
5

Drivers of demand for microvolunteering

  • busy and unpredictable lifestyles
  • changing perceptions and expectations of participation
  • technological developments
  • disabled people being empowered with the capability to make more impact
6

Different types of microvolunteering actions

The actions below are a very brief list of what is available. Generally, imagination is the limit!

Skilled

  • Transcribing / translating documents
  • Brainstorming creative names
  • Designing logos
  • Providing advice on fundraising applications
  • Providing guidance on email newsletter formats
  • Editing / proof reading a press release
  • Taking photos for an awareness campaign
  • Researching the web for specific information
  • Setting up a social media account
  • Advice on SEO techniques

Non-Skilled

  • Play games that raise free money for nonprofits
  • Install free software that helps research scientists
  • Sign petitions
  • Write letters to sick children
  • Participate in questionnaires for psychology students
  • Tag photographs with relevant descriptions
  • Using social media to 'Like' or Tweet about a cause
  • Monitor wildlife for research projects
  • Proofread a page from a public domain book
  • Click-to-donate to raise funds for free for nonprofits

More non-skilled action types can be found via the coloured 'Action' boxes on Help From Home's homepage

7

Who's Providing / Promoting Microvounteering Actions

The list below shows the diversity of organisations involved in promoting the microvolunteering concept, along with typical examples of each:

8

Pros of microvolunteering

  • can be conducted anywhere, at any time
  • most micro-actions are non-committal
  • shy people will feel more comfortable, as they can now volunteer in their own company
  • can be squeezed in between more traditional volunteering commitments
  • empowers people to realise they can make a difference on their own terms
  • can be conducted while watching tv, on the bus or in your pyjamas
  • huge diversity of actions that traditional volunteering opportunities just simply do not cover
  • enables more disabled and housebound people to feel they are contributing to society
  • people can be pooled from the whole world to help out, rather than just a local or national area
  • micro-actions are easy and simple to accomplish. Might encourage people to explore even more actions
  • usually no requirement for a security check
  • practically all microvolunteering opportunities require the minimal of training. Read the instructions and go
9

Cons of microvolunteering

  • could be perceived as a lonely occupation
  • individual normally divorced from seeing direct results
  • usually no direct contact with the recipient of an action
  • usually a solitary occupation, therefore individual may not feel a part of a team 
  • there is less control and interaction over the people organisations are reliant upon, in helping them out
  • micro-philanthropy is only effective up to a point – it will never solve all of the world’s problems
10

Myths about microvolunteering

Microvolunteering is not new, yet it is still unfamiliar ground for many nonprofit organizations. Here are the top 15 myths about microvolunteering:

  • microvolunteering is cost efficient and helps an organization cut spending.  True
  • microvolunteering saves time.   True 
  • microvolunteers can work with little or no supervision.   False
  • microvolunteering can only happen whenever charities and volunteers have access to new technologies such as the internet or the mobile phone.   False
  • any given assignment can be transformed into a series of microvolunteering tasks to be completed by different individuals.   True
  • anyone can microvolunteer.   True
  • all microvolunteering tasks should be overly-simplified and generalistic in nature.   False
  • it is OK for a microvolunteering task to be routine, after all , it is not demanding work and it takes but little time to complete.   False
  • microvolunteers are motivated solely by their desire to do good.   99% true
  • longer term volunteers can be recruited from the larger pool of microvolunteers.   Partially true
  • microvolunteering is new.   False
  • microvolunteering could lead to a decrease in other forms of volunteering.   False
  • microvolunteers are not committed.    False
  • microvolunteering is only for new volunteers.   False
  • microvolunteering is relevant for all organisations and activities.    False

More detailed explanations of these myths can be found here and here

11

Miscellaneous statistics

  • in 2008, there were 3 operational microvolunteering platforms. In 2013, that figure has risen to 26
  • age of microvolunteers: Upto age 35 = 83% (IVR Survey). Upto age 29 = 74% (HFH Survey)
  • female to male microvolunteers: 56% / 44% (IVR Survey). 60% / 40% (HFH signups)
  • recommend microvolunteering to friends & family: 83% would (IVR Survey). 73% would (HFH Survey)
  • microvolunteering on Google: 15 websites catalogued (2003). 4220 websites catalogued (2012)

Further information

This Guide is an extract from a more comprehensive list of pointers / information useful for a Workshop on Microvolunteering

For information on developing a microvolunteering action, refer to Knowhow Nonprofit's How to set up a microvolunteering project

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Page last edited Sep 12, 2017 History

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