Bite-Sized Benevolence: Microvolunteering in as Little as 10 Minutes
December 7, 2016 | Home and Family
Wish you could do more to support a cause or a charity you care about? Want to give back to society but can never seem to find the time? Try microvolunteering.
Microvolunteering is a trend that started to gain traction about 10 years ago and is designed to let people do good in about 30 minutes or less.
“We describe it as volunteering in bite-sized chunks, on demand, on your own terms and online,” said Mike Bright, a lifelong volunteer and founder of Help From Home. His U.K.-based website launched eight years ago and serves as a clearing house, of sorts, for organizations across the globe to post microvolunteer opportunities.
“I just felt there was a gap that needed to be filled between people who had a few minutes to spare and organizations that need volunteers,” he said. “Our tag line is, ‘Change the world in just your pyjamas.’”
So how can you make a difference from the comfort of your home and in the span of just a few minutes? All you need is a smartphone or a computer with an internet connection, a little down time and a desire to do good. Here’s a sampling of microvolunteer opportunities recently found online:
- Got five minutes? Become a citizen archivist. Make documents from the past more accessible for future generations to enjoy by tagging images and records or transcribing a scanned document for the U.S. National Archives.
- Got 10 minutes? Become an observer of nature by using scientifically vetted guidelines to gather information on plants and animals to help with environmental research for the USA National Phenology Network.
- Got 30 minutes? Help the homeless in Iowa City find affordable housing by searching the web for housing opportunities that meet the criteria of Shelter House.
- Got an hour? Offer to share your professional skills in a one-hour phone consultation with organizations that need expert advice on topics such as social media strategies or understanding financial statements.
The possibilities are endless, said Bright. And while his website focuses mostly on the posting of unskilled volunteer opportunities that are often filled by people their 20s, microvolunteering, he added, is not just a Millennial phenomenon.
“Microvolunteering also opens up the idea of volunteering to people who, for whatever reason, can’t participate in a more traditional way,” he said. “We’ve seen more and more disabled people, for example, choosing to microvolunteer because they just don’t have the energy or the physical ability to partake in traditional volunteering activities. Seniors, too.”
Some corporations are also opting to promote microvolunteering among employees, according to Bright. “It takes a lot of time and effort to organize a traditional volunteering day that takes people away from the office, such as painting a building or fixing up a house,” he said. “With microvolunteering, there are a lot of opportunities that people can do from their desk at lunch time, for instance, and they can individually choose which charity they want to support.”
For charitable organizations, the challenge with microvolunteering is that they don’t have nearly as much control over—or direct contact with—people who volunteer remotely. So they need to take the time to identify volunteer tasks that can be done online or over the phone and that require little oversight.
And if there’s a downside for virtual volunteers, Bright says it’s this: “You don’t have the satisfaction of seeing people smile like you can when you’re involved in a traditional, in-person volunteering event. You just can’t get that when microvolunteering,” he said. “But that’s a trade-off people may be willing to make if it means they can do something good even if they have only a few minutes to spare.”
While the microvolunteering trend is today more prevalent in Europe, Australia and Canada, it’s starting to gain traction in the U.S., according to Bright. But location doesn’t really matter when you microvolunteer: You can sit on your couch in New Jersey and volunteer for an organization in New Guinea.
Where can you find opportunities to microvolunteer? Here are a few additional websites to get your search started:
- The United Nations Online Volunteering Service offers what is perhaps the largest database of virtual volunteer opportunities—ranging from translation and research opportunities to graphic design and IT development. Some of these volunteer opportunities may require more than 30 minutes of time, but all can be done from a smartphone or computer with an internet connection.
- TechSoup is a San Francisco organization that encourages techies to “donate their brains” by answering technical questions posted online by non-profit organizations.
- Create the Good is an AARP website that posts opportunities for seniors to become virtual mentors, virtual writers and virtual disaster volunteers.
So the next time you have a few free minutes and the desire to do something good, try microvolunteering. Giving back may be easier than you think.