Volunteering 20 Minutes at a Time

This blog post was originally shared on Business4Better: The Community Partnership Movement blog as a part of the upcoming Business4Better conference. The conference will be utilizing the Sparked platform to provide micro-volunteering opportunities for conference attendees.

Do you have busy employees that can’t give large amounts of time for charitable volunteering due to other commitments and a busy lifestyle? Then try micro-volunteering. Micro-volunteering leverages employees’ skills and can be done entirely online via a laptop or even smartphone in increments as small as 15 minutes.

Sparked Micro-VolunteeringHere is how it works: A non-profit posts a small project or question that requires professional expertise. The request must be something that can be solved online, able to be completed in less than 3 hours and have a clear deliverable: Think marketing or communications projects, a finance problem or a graphic design need. Through a platform delivered by Sparked.com, the request is then routed to individuals or groups of individuals that have an expertise or interest in that area. Volunteers can jump in.

The beauty of the platform is that through crowdsourcing the non-profit can get their challenge solved and even get more than they originally asked for, explains Chris Jarvis, Co-Founder and Partner for Realized Worth. “A lot of work is done in a short period of time. Non-profits can quickly get a range of responses that were outside the original problem but it can also give the non-profit a broader context and bring new issues to light,” says Jarvis.

“Crowds are smarter than any one of us,” he adds.

United Healthcare piloted the Sparked.com platform and micro-volunteering to their employees in 2011. The program involved a group of 60 college hires who had joined the company within the past three years. Each employee was expected to fulfill at least three to five challenges and complete a feedback survey about their experience.

“I thought it would appeal to our employees. This is a very performance-driven organization but many don’t have the time to volunteer and 25 percent of the workforce is locked to their desk, explains Susan Osten, Director of Office of Social Responsibility for United Healthcare. In total 1,447 people completed the 800 challenges. Eighty-three percent of respondents who participated in the program said they would recommend micro-volunteering to others.

Osten explains how one woman went above and beyond all expectations. This United Healthcare employee is a single parent with five children who could never get out to volunteer with all her responsibilities at home. During her lunch hour and in other small increments, has completed almost 60 challenges. This type of inspirational micro effort can indeed have a macro impact for non-profits in need.

For more on micro-volunteering and the opportunity it presents, attend the Business4Better Conference & Expo in Anaheim on May 1st and 2nd. Chris Jarvis and others will be discussing Skilled and Micro-volunteering Programs: High Impact, High Innovation.

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3 thoughts on “Volunteering 20 Minutes at a Time

  1. Hi Mike,

    The other sites you’ve mentioned are great virtual volunteering sites and tools. Thanks so much for providing them for our readers.

    The distinction between virtual (online) volunteering and microvolunteering is the crowd-based approach. With microvolunteering, everyone contributes a piece of the answer – and the site aggregates these solutions for each challenge. Virtual volunteering has been around for awhile now (but it’s getting better). But typically it involves one (or a few) people volunteering their time versus hundreds or thousands of people providing micro-pieces of a bigger solution.

    Love to chat about it further if you like?



  2. I tend to disagree. The distinction is the time factor. In North America, I feel you are being led by Sparked as the de facto style of microvolunteering. Elsewhere in the world, it’s a different story and is being led to a certain degree by what orgs and individuals are interpreting themselves as microvolunteering. Micro conveys a small amount of something, and in the case of microvolunteering it’s the commodity of time that is considered to be the micro element of this volunteering style, no matter whether that involves crowdsourcing or not.

    There are at least 3 different definitions of microvolunteering out there. See Q1 on this webpage:

    The UK’s national Institute of Volunteering Research recognizes various forms of microvolunteering and is currently conducting research in this area
    It also conducted a literature review of the microvolunteering arena recently where the time factor was a critical part of the definition of microvolunteering. Sparked’s version of microvolunteering received little attention in the research paper, but that’s not to say that they don’t have a big impact, because they do.

    Microvolunteering can be online or offline and can involve skills or non-skills – at least that’s how a range of orgs are using the concept of microvolunteering to further their mission, eg 7days4Stow project

    You may be interested to know that at the recent CSCW2013 Conference in Texas, IBM, Microsoft and a few others including myself were panellists discussing how microvolunteering could be taken into the developing world. Both Sparked and Help From Home’s style of microvolunteering were discussed, meaning to say that it isn’t just crowdsourced actions that are considered microvolunteering actions.

    So, the bottom line is that whilst Sparked, Help From Home and Microvoluntarios all paved the way back in 2008 for the modern microvolunteering movement to kickstart itself, it is actually orgs and individuals who to some extent are now dictating what and how microvolunteering is being defined as – and sometimes they’re pushing the boat out as to what they’re considering a microvolunteering task is. Refer to this microvolunteering opportunity category as an example:

    Apologies for the long dialog, but it’s important to recognize that there’s alot going on outside of Sparked’s definition of microvolunteering. You can contact me at http://helpfromhome.org/contact-us if you want to continue this dialogue.

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