Take a closer look at the 'micro-volunteering' trend

How volunteers volunteer

One of the biggest trends affecting volunteer-supported organizations right now is the trend toward “micro-volunteering.”

More and more people – while highly motivated to volunteer – are demanding more flexibility in when, where and how they donate their time. With fallout from the pandemic, the ever-increasing cost of living and a renewed focus on work-life balance, people are taking a hard look at how they spend their time.

Volunteers are increasingly attracted to organizations where they can come in, do a specific task, then leave. Committed roles are becoming less and less appealing to a majority of volunteers.

I am generalizing, of course. There are still many people who are happy to take on those types of roles. The trend, though, is toward more micro- or project-based volunteering.

The more of these types of opportunities your organization can offer, the more attractive you will be to potential volunteers, and you can focus your committed volunteers on the roles that require that commitment.

What does a micro-volunteering role look like?

Start by taking out the word “role”. Role implies a steady, consistent effort on the part of the volunteer. Replace “role” with “task” and you’ll be nearer the mark.

On the simplest level, a micro-volunteering task is one that takes little or no training, can be done at one sitting in a couple of hours—stuffing envelopes for a mass mail-out, serving dinner in a soup kitchen or picking up garbage along a salmon stream for example.

Taken to the top level, though, it can mean bringing in highly-skilled professionals to do one-off work for the organization— a lawyer volunteering to go over a new contract for you, a specialty speaker to train your coaches or an accountant to help you through an audit. And everything in between.

How do you find appropriate tasks for micro-volunteers? Roles for volunteers are usually just a series of tasks. Make a list of the various tasks a volunteer role involves. Look at each one and determine if, maybe with some adjustment, it could stand alone.

Consider the role of a groundskeeper at a care home. Some of the tasks they would do would be to mow lawns, shovel snow, weed flowerbeds, rake leaves, prune bushes, etc. Pull out the one task of raking leaves. Planned carefully, it only needs to be done once a year, with maybe a quick follow up a few weeks later. This would be a perfect micro-volunteering opportunity. Or take the task of pruning. Again, it’s something that only happens a couple of times a year, depending on the types of bushes you have. This is an excellent chance for someone with gardening or arborist experience to come in and help.

You will probably still need a groundskeeper to do the repetitive tasks, but that role now has significantly fewer hours for that volunteer and, therefore, it becomes easier to fill.

You may be feeling that recruiting will take over your day. It doesn’t have to. You probably have a page on your website dedicated to volunteers and volunteer opportunities. Create a section on that page (hmm, opportunity for a skilled techie?) dedicated to micro-volunteering opportunities. Put in all the wish-list tasks that you have,

Then promote them on social media.

Just as you do (or ought to be doing) for your more long-term roles, post about the micro-volunteering section on the various platforms you use. Note, you don’t need to promote each opportunity, just promote the section. By posting that you have several short-term or one-off tasks available, and linking to the section with the details, you save yourself a lot of time. And you also get the attention of those people who are attracted to the micro-volunteering model.

The bonus to that is, with it being on the same page as the other opportunities, all your tasks and positions gain exposure.

Be patient. At first it will seem like everything is taking longer and being done less effectively. However, once you have built the processes and frameworks, created the templates and cheat sheets for each of the tasks, things will speed up and run more smoothly.

It may never be as easy as when a single person filled a role that encompassed a number of tasks, but it is becoming harder and harder to find someone who will take on that level of commitment. It is better that things be done piecemeal than not done at all, or done only through burning out your dedicated volunteers.

Good luck, and if you need help, let me know.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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