The value of giving a little time - Understanding the potential of micro-volunteering
In 2012 Nesta funded IVR and NCVO to carry out research exploring the opportunities and challenges that micro-volunteering presents for individuals and organisations. This was a qualitative research project in which a variety of methods were used to gain a fuller understanding of micro-volunteering from a range of perspectives. The fieldwork was conducted between August 2012 and June 2013 and the report was published in November 2013, below are some excerpts taken from the full report, reprinted with permission from IVR and NCVO.
There have been important changes to the landscape of volunteering in recent years. Despite a recent increase in the proportion of people volunteering, the average number of hours spent volunteering per volunteer is declining1, and there is evidence of a trend towards short-term or one-off volunteering2. New technology has also contributed to and amplified the changing landscape. The internet gives organisations the ability to advertise volunteering opportunities quickly to a wide audience through their own websites and social media, and has led to the development of initiatives that enable people to participate in online volunteering activities immediately and irrespective of time and place.
The harnessing of such technological advancements can be seen as a key driving force behind the recent developments in micro-volunteering - a type of volunteering which in many ways personifies the key changes to the volunteering landscape. Illustrative of this, there has been a growth of online platforms specifically for micro-volunteering such as Help From Home3 in the UK.
Those who have been enthused by the potential of micro-volunteering consider that it presents four main advantages4:
What is micro-volunteering?
A search on the internet quickly revealed that there was a huge diversity of micro-volunteering opportunities available. A wide range of examples were found, including counting birds in your garden, knitting a hat for a premature baby, signing a petition and reporting graffiti. Our research participants also gave varied examples. Table 1 attempts to categorise the examples we found, according to their function and whether they could be completed online or offline, or both.
Table 1: Examples of micro-volunteering opportunities on offer
These examples show that micro-volunteering opportunities reflect the diversity of volunteering as a whole. Perhaps more than with other forms of volunteering there are many examples of fundraising and campaigning activities, which some people may not necessarily define as volunteering. Indeed, there was some discussion amongst our research participants about which of these activities should or should not be listed as micro-volunteering. Some considered that a number activities (e.g. liking a Facebook page) fell outside of the scope of traditional understandings of volunteering.
To gain a better understanding of the diversity of micro-volunteering it is useful to look at how opportunities are made available to people; and where they take place and what medium is used to complete them. Micro-volunteering opportunities can be promoted online and offline; can take place onsite or offsite, with or without face-to-face interactions; and can be completed via the use of technology or not .
Our research shows that micro-volunteering does not always involve the use of technology and can be done face-to-face. Many organisations which offer micro- volunteering offer both online and offline opportunities. Almost all of the organisations providing micro-volunteering activities which took part in our survey said they offered offline opportunities, whilst over half provided online opportunities.
Whilst the examples given were varied, we were nevertheless able to draw out some key common features that are characteristic of micro-volunteering (figure 1).
Figure 1: Key features of micro-volunteering
A shared theme among these features is that micro-volunteering is flexible and puts the volunteer in control of how, when, where and for how long they participate. In light of these features we have formulated the following definition of micro-volunteering:
Micro-volunteering is bite-size volunteering with no commitment to repeat and with minimum formality, involving short and specific actions that are quick to start and complete.
Report authors: Joni Browne , Véronique Jochum, Jonathan Paylor
For NCVO literature review, full research report and summary report exploring what micro-volunteering means, its potential and challenges: http://bit.ly/LvzF9O
For NCVO guide on exploring and developing the potential of micro-volunteering for volunteer-involving organisations: http://bit.ly/1hWZZon
The larger organisations in the countryside sector are investigating this type of bite size volunteering here is what some of them say;
Alan Murray, Head of Volunteering at RSPB says 'The way people want to donate their time and talents to organisations is changing and our volunteering offer needs to change and develop to reflect this. One thing people want is more bite size, drop in drop out of volunteering opportunities that they can engage with flexibly as and when works for them. At the RSPB we are looking at how we meet this need by providing a variety of micro-volunteering opportunities for people and are promoting them not as micro-volunteering opportunities specifically but under a banner of ‘If you have less than an hour, you can still help us give nature a home’.' Volunteering opportunities are available on http://www.rspb.org.uk/volunteering/
12. Everyclick, http://www.everyclick.com/
13. The Giving Machine, http://www.thegivingmachine.co.uk/