For most nonprofits, it can be easy to think of volunteering in black and white: people are committed volunteers with certain shifts or volunteer duties, or they don’t volunteer much at all (if ever). The good news is that volunteering is shifting—many nonprofits and causes are moving from ongoing, long-term arrangements to smaller, infrequent volunteer opportunities that take volunteers’ busy work schedules into account.
These short, infrequent volunteer opportunities are often called “microvolunteering,” which allows people to volunteer for specific tasks that can be completed in a short window of time. Microvolunteering is also often an online affair.
More about microvolunteering
A common struggle nonprofits face, aside from fundraising, is recruiting and retaining volunteers. It can be hard to find enough volunteers to man your programs, much less retain them for ongoing needs. But with 25 percent of American volunteers lacking enough free time to volunteer, it’s easy to see why those roles are so hard to fill.
The answer? It might just be microvolunteering. Instead of asking people to give up large chunks of time to volunteer for ongoing needs or extensive projects, creating bite-sized opportunities instead can attract busy people who still want to make an impact. The result is a living volunteer body that ebbs and flows but is always producing results for the larger organization.
Examples of microvolunteering
Depending on the size and mission of your nonprofit, microvolunteering can take different forms. For nonprofits that support animals or people in other countries, online opportunities may be best. For local organizations supporting the community that volunteers live in, in-person opportunities are likely ideal.
No matter what type of organization you run, though, microvolunteering can include:
- Asking volunteers to answer a survey to help you collect data
- Recruiting a website developer to install a website plug-in
- Finding a writer to write a short blog about your recent event
- Scheduling 30-minute to 1-hour windows for volunteer booth attendants
- Asking volunteers to pick up trash on their lunch breaks
- Launching a donation or food drive at volunteers’ school/work
- Scheduling a volunteer for an hour or two of data entry
- Requesting that volunteers drop by to help sort goods/clothes for 30 minutes
- Participating in a challenge that donates money (think ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or sponsored races)
Whatever your organization’s special work, you can find a way to break that mission down into small tasks that virtually anyone can do in just a few short hours. It’s also a great time to get creative and find activities that will encourage people to get involved—even if it’s just for a short while.
Benefits of microvolunteering
For small and older nonprofits, the idea of infrequent, short volunteer visits can seem counterintuitive. After all, the idea is to get things done, keep it consistent, and to move the mission forward. But volunteer impact is often a numbers game; the organization with the most volunteers usually wins.
That’s why nonprofits that embrace microvolunteering often see forward momentum with their programs as well as an increase in their volunteer numbers. With more hands on deck, smaller tasks can actually move the needle forward more than just a few places; the success builds on itself.
Nonprofits that offer microvolunteering opportunities will likely see an increase in volunteer numbers, but also:
- Increased engagement. Microvolunteers may not be available for longer windows of time, but they will likely come back to an organization that provides ways to give back when their schedules allow. This means repeat volunteers who are excited to work with your organization.
- Improved donations. Volunteers are often the biggest donors to a cause. Microvolunteers will likely fall in line with this trend.
- Lower volunteer turnover. Because microvolunteers aren’t pressured to fill a specific need at a specific time, they will likely feel more able to meet the demands of your volunteer opportunities. Allowing volunteers to come and go can also encourage people to return to your organization when their schedules free up again.
- Higher website traffic and social followings. Microvolunteers are great “boots on the ground” and voices for sharing your cause. Allowing volunteers to share what they’re doing for your organization on social media or encouraging them to spread the word are great ways to plant seeds of awareness.
- More immediate help. The call for volunteers can go out at any time. When a window of time or a local opportunity pops up, people are more likely to respond to immediacy than a pre-planned event. This means you can get help right when you need it, rather than hope that volunteers continue to show up once the urgency has abated.
For all these reasons and more, microvolunteering is becoming an undeniable boon to nonprofits that struggle to attract volunteers and donors. But more than anything, microvolunteerism (when done properly) can help fight slacktivism.
Microvolunteering ≠ Slacktivism
One of the biggest concerns with microvolunteering is that it may encourage “slacktivism.” Slacktivists are people who want the boost of giving back, but only take very small actions (i.e., liking a Facebook page, signing a petition, or sharing a social media post). In the end, these actions don’t really help the organization but still manage to take the place of more impactful actions, like donating or volunteering.
When done properly, however, nonprofits can establish a microvolunteering program that combats slacktivism. How? By asking for what they really need. Microvolunteering will only work when nonprofits get specific on what they need help with—and then break that into micro-tasks that can be accomplished quickly online or in person. This also means avoiding vague calls to action: “Anything helps."
People want to know they’re making a difference and that is only possible when they know what needs to be done. To institute a new microvolunteering program or offering within your organization, simply ask yourself: What’s the big picture? What do we need to get done? Once you’ve established that, you can work backward to find the tasks that help you achieve those goals. From there, it’s all hands on deck. That’s where the magic happens.
Latasha Doyle (@latashamdoyle) is a content writer who focuses on helping charities, as well as nonprofit software and services, find the right words. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading or playing with her six pets. She lives in Denver, Co., and can be found on the internet at www.latashadoylewrites.com.