What Is Microvolunteering?

Definition & Examples of Microvolunteering

A mid adult woman laughs with a group of fellow food bank volunteers. She holds a clipboard ready as she organizes the packing of boxes.

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Microvolunteering is volunteering that can be done in small bursts or periods of time. It's a way to volunteer that doesn't rely on big commitments, which can prevent some people from being able to participate.

Find out more about how microvolunteering works and the ways nonprofits can use this strategy for maximum impact.

What Is Microvolunteering?

Essentially, microvolunteering is a way for people to give small amounts of their time, at times and places that are convenient.

Because so much of volunteerism has gone virtual, people can volunteer in some way from wherever they are, using smartphones and the internet.

  • Alternate names: Episodic volunteering, ad-hoc volunteering

How Microvolunteering Works

When it comes to volunteering, many people think of weekend projects or scheduled visits to their favorite charities. Nonprofits, too, can fall into the trap of thinking they need to create ongoing opportunities that require large amounts of time and physical attendance.

However, only about 30% of Americans volunteer, with many people citing the lack of free time as their most significant barrier.

Microvolunteering may be the solution, allowing for one-off interactions. It increases engagement by allowing volunteers to help without committing to a regular volunteer schedule.

Microvolunteering may even lead to more regular commitments down the road, and sometimes these volunteers become donors, too.

There are many things a person can do to help a cause which don't require a lot of time or effort. Such microvolunteering efforts can include:

  • Pick up trash during a daily jog
  • Sign a petition
  • Donate an hour or two to working a booth at an event
  • Start a fundraiser at work
  • Sign up for a sponsored race that donates to your nonprofit
  • Fill out a survey to help your nonprofit gather data
  • Share donation opportunities on social media
  • Donate goods
  • Volunteer technical skills (such as writing or design) for small projects

One example of microvolunteering is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people dumped buckets of water on their heads to raise money for the ALS Association. Viral videos of the challenges spread the word about the association, helping it to raise hundreds of millions of dollars and enabling it to increase its research funding by 187%. Individually, each volunteer only donated a small amount of time (and on their own schedule, too), but the collective impact was immense.

Keep in mind that microvolunteering only fills a specific need at a specific time. These volunteers give time on an ad-hoc basis, so don’t expect them to consistently provide the assistance your organization needs to operate. Having trained, committed, and scheduled volunteers is still essential. Microvolunteers should support your volunteer team, but they cannot replace them.

How to Get Microvolunteers

If your nonprofit is considering offering opportunities for microvolunteering, there are a number of tools and strategies that will help.

Your nonprofit should make sure it is maintaining an online presence with social media engagement. This is an effective way to reach out to possible volunteers and support them. Make sure you have the resources allocated to have someone posting, commenting, and engaging online regularly.

You can also use online tools and resources to let new volunteers know how they can get involved. Use planned outreach to announce events or large-scale volunteer needs, but also do “last-minute” updates so that you can catch people who find themselves available. For example, using free tools such as Facebook to post information about an impromptu gathering can get people to attend.

Volunteer websites such as All For Good, VolunteerMatch, Idealist.org, and Points of Light Foundation allow you to post volunteer opportunities. You can also use tracking tools such as NobleHour or GiveGab to post opportunities and connect with volunteers.

Lastly, you’ll need a way to manage your microvolunteers. Email newsletters can let people know how and when they can get involved, with online signup sheets to prevent duplicate efforts. Whichever tools you use, make sure you have systems in place to communicate with all your volunteers and track their work. Effective management of microvolunteering efforts ensures that these small opportunities still have maximum impact.

Key Takeaways

  • Microvolunteering is a way for volunteers to give their time to a cause they believe in without a big commitment.
  • Microvolunteering allows one-off interactions, which gives more people a chance to engage with your nonprofit and perhaps become regular volunteers in the future.
  • It's still important to coordinate and manage your microvolunteers; online tools can help.