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June 1, 2016

Lend a micro-hand

Volunteers are the lifeblood of community life. Volunteer Scotland estimates that 1.2 million Scots (27%) regularly give some of their time freely for the common good. Today sees the start of Volunteers’ Week (12 day week) celebrating the achievements of volunteers the length and breadth of the UK.  Events across the country are planned to promote opportunities for people to get involved. Some folk can be put off from coming forward because they worry they can’t make the sort of time commitment required. Perhaps they haven’t heard of micro volunteering.


Volunteer Scotland

Many volunteers don’t have the time for a traditional role but would contribute if volunteering was a bit more flexible.

Micro-volunteering can offer flexibility, providing small, bite-size chunks of volunteering for people to complete at a time that suits them, either on a regular or one-off basis. Micro-volunteering can take place online or in person. Help from Home enables people to ‘Change the world in just your pyjamas!’ and support organisations through online actions such as signing petitions, completing questionnaires, translating and proofreading. Other organisations, including larger national charities, offer community-based roles such as writing to your MP or MSP about a particular issue, taking part in a community event or baking a cake for a local fundraiser. The RSPB has a page on the volunteering section of its website asking ‘Got less than an hour?’ offering people opportunities to support the organisation by fitting smaller volunteering activities into their own free time and lifestyle.

Micro-volunteering could be a one-off contribution or could be a regular commitment of a small amount of time.

The Institute of Volunteering Research (IVR) identified eight common features of micro-volunteering activities in their report The value of giving a little time: Understanding the potential of micro-volunteering.

1.            Duration – it involves small increments of time

2.            Access – it is easy to get started and do

3.            Immediacy – it is quick to start and complete, and requires minimal planning

4.            Convenience – [the volunteer] decides when and where

5.            Level of formality – no formal agreement between the organisation and the volunteer is usually needed

6.            Frequency – it can be a one-off or repeated

7.            Activity – it involves discrete actions

8.            Location – it can be online or offline, onsite or offsite.

These pages will tell you all you need to know about setting up micro-volunteering in your organisation – and if you’re already offering micro-volunteering opportunities, we’d love to hear from you to find out what you’re doing and to learn from your experience so far.

Thinking about micro-volunteering

There are different ways to approach micro-volunteering: you could break down existing roles into separate tasks to be completed individually, perhaps offering greater flexibility for your current volunteers; or you could identify new activities that would bring added value to your organisation and potentially attract a new audience for volunteering. Think about what the need is for your organisation, how micro-volunteering can support your aims and enhance your volunteer offer.

Talk to your existing volunteers to get their ideas and opinions about the sort of tasks that could be completed by someone with minimal knowledge of the organisation and to ensure you don’t take away any tasks that people enjoy doing as part of a larger role. You can also offer new micro-volunteering opportunities to your existing team, who might be glad of the additional flexibility or alternative ways to contribute to the organisation.

If you’ve got roles that could be completed by someone at home, over the internet or on a smartphone this enables more people to take part when they’re available. Think about how you define volunteering within your organisation – do campaigning and fundraising activities count as volunteering? What about following, retweeting or liking you on social media? One popular smartphone app is Donate a Photo from Johnson & Johnson – would an activity like this count as micro-volunteering for your organisation?

Consider the resources, time and money you’ll need for micro-volunteering. The input from volunteers may be more sporadic and take less time than traditional roles, but support is still needed to make the volunteering effective and mutually beneficial. Agree who is responsible for each step in the volunteer journey, from promoting micro-volunteering opportunities through to rewarding and recognising people who volunteer in this way. Also think about how you’ll record the amount that people are contributing through micro-volunteering so that you can share with others the difference your volunteers are making.

Budgeting for micro-volunteering depends on the nature of the role, the location of the volunteering and any additional resources required; for example, if you’re asking people to travel within their local community, you’ll need to cover their travel expenses. As with all volunteer roles, it’s important to think through the costs involved and be sure you’re able to support micro-volunteering effectively.

Getting started with micro-volunteering

Since micro-volunteering involves small amounts of time, potential volunteers may not have much time to look for opportunities. Think about where to promote your roles in your local community and consider using online platforms such as Help from Home. Do you have followers on social media who you could ask to complete a short task when it’s needed, or do you have ongoing opportunities that you could advertise more permanently on your website, like the RSPB?

Remember that your potential audience includes people who wouldn’t otherwise be looking for volunteering because they feel they don’t have enough time available. One way to attract new people is to ask your existing volunteers to spread the word among their friends and families – and to complete some micro-volunteering themselves by sharing a message through their own social media channels to promote your new roles.

One of the key differences between micro-volunteering and more traditional roles is that volunteers are in control of how, when, where and for how long they participate in micro-volunteering opportunities. This shifts the balance in the selection process towards the volunteer, who will choose the organisation and the opportunity that best suits them. Two examples of micro-volunteering opportunities for which people can choose exactly when and how often they want to volunteer are Casserole Club and Free Cakes for Kids UK.

Unless your micro-volunteering requires specific skills, such as a particular language or the ability to drive, you probably won’t have much of a selection process for these roles – and even then you may need to rely on self-selection by volunteers so that they complete a task that they are able to do. For some roles, you might want to complete background checks for volunteers – think about the time and commitment this asks of people and whether the role you’re offering is suitable for micro-volunteering.

Many micro-volunteering roles don’t require advance registration, they simply ask for a task to be completed and submitted. Others, including English Out There use existing channels such as Facebook, asking people to connect with them online and to volunteer from there. Think about how you can capture individuals’ details when they choose to volunteer. Rather than a full application form, could you ask simply for a name and email address? Do you need any further details to be able to provide the appropriate support for the role?

You might find that you have almost no contact with individual volunteers. In this case, the key to successful micro-volunteering is attracting the right people in the first place. This will depend upon providing clear instructions, purpose and outcomes at the point of advertising the role, which might be the only information the volunteer has about both the role and the organisation. Make sure your advert is as clear and concise as possible, like this micro-volunteering campaign from Crea8ing Careers.

One of the advantages of this approach to attracting volunteers, with minimal communication between the organisation and the individual, is that all volunteering will be completed proactively by people who believe they can do the role and have chosen to contribute to your organisation. One of the biggest disadvantages, however, is that you won’t know when someone will choose to volunteer, when the tasks will be completed or to what standard. If you’ve got something that needs to be completed by a certain deadline, it might be best to ask existing volunteers or supporters if they would like to take on the role.

Micro-volunteering doesn’t usually have an induction. You may have some information that you need to share with new volunteers, such as how to complete the task and the impact it will have, but ideally your micro-volunteering activities should be straightforward and self-explanatory, to ensure they can be completed quickly and easily. You could perhaps offer people a chance to find out more about your organisation via a website or e-learning link, so that those people who do want to engage with you have the chance to do so in their own time, without this being a requirement for their volunteering.

Making a difference through micro-volunteering

As with all volunteer roles, it’s important to keep in mind an individual’s motivation for volunteering and aim to provide mutually beneficial opportunities. Perhaps people have limited time because they have full-time work or family commitments, but they still have skills that they would like to use or develop through volunteering. Perhaps someone wishes to contribute to an organisation that fits with their own values, but wants to do so quietly, without recognition or praise. Or perhaps someone’s lifestyle means they are only available to volunteer overnight.

If people are interested in the wider work of your organisation, think about how you can communicate with them and keep them up-to-date. Would they like to be included in regular updates and newsletters, or would they like to attend any events? Think about how you can ask people for their communication preferences rather than assuming all volunteers would, or would not, like to receive news and updates from you.

It’s also important to ensure all volunteers know who to contact if they’ve got any questions or concerns. Identify a point of contact for all micro-volunteering roles and then ensure that there is an alternative contact available should the named person be away for any reason. If a volunteer has a question, chances are they’ll need an answer immediately to be able to complete their volunteering.

You’re unlikely to have regular one-to-ones with volunteers so think about how you want to share key messages such as thanks and praise with individuals. It can be particularly difficult to communicate with volunteers who are completing micro-volunteering tasks online at any time of day or night, and it’s therefore important to ensure that the roles you promote as micro-volunteering require little or no support from a manager or supervisor.

Building on the success of micro-volunteering

Once you’re up and running with micro-volunteering, record the contributions people are making. Think about how you can celebrate micro-volunteering within your organisation and also how to share your success, and learning, with other organisations.

Even if someone only participates once through micro-volunteering and so only gives you a few minutes of their time, it’s important to recognise this and thank the volunteer for their contribution. Rewards should be appropriate and proportional, so think about the best way to say thank you; if you’ve recorded each volunteer’s email address then perhaps sending an email is the most appropriate way, but you could also have immediate, automated responses if someone has uploaded photos or information into a database. If someone has contributed via social media, you could thank them by mentioning them in a post or tweet.

It’s essential to aim to build a good relationship with all your volunteers, even if you’re not in regular contact with someone who is micro-volunteering. By contacting someone to say thank you you also create an opportunity to share more information with the individual about how to engage with your organisation in other ways. You could ask for feedback about their experience – perhaps a micro-volunteering task could be completing a survey about volunteering. You could also share information about the impact their volunteering has had, to encourage people to return to your organisation next time they want to volunteer.

Remember that volunteers’ motivations and availability change over time. Someone who starts out with micro-volunteering could perhaps in future contribute in other volunteer roles and give you more of their time, skills and energy. Offering an excellent experience of micro-volunteering might therefore lead to a long-term relationship between the individual and your organisation. Don’t be afraid to let volunteers know about other opportunities that have a greater time commitment – but also be clear that a one-off contribution through micro-volunteering is just as valuable to the organisation. Either way, micro-volunteering can be a great benefit for your organisation and for the individual as well.