The microvolunteering trend is on the rise, and is gaining popularity among Australian retirees and part-timers. So, what exactly is microvolunteering, and how can you get involved?

What is microvolunteering?
It’s been described as the volunteering of the Internet age, but the concept of microvolunteering is not entirely new.

At its most basic level, microvolunteering is defined as episodic or bite-sized actions that benefit a worthy cause. These can be simple acts of kindness which can be completed in as little as 10 seconds, for example by clicking on an online donate button; or skill-based work lasting up to 30 minutes, such as proofreading documents for a charity.

The trend is, however, growing in the modern technological era. People are becoming time-poor and are spending any spare time in which they may have online.

According to a 2013 research report published by the Institute for Volunteering Research, the main factors driving this growth are peoples’ increasingly busy and unpredictable lifestyles; changing perceptions and expectations of participation; and technological developments.

Around 2008, the not-for-profit sector started to take notice of this and began incorporating microvolunteering opportunities in their fundraising and productivity plans.

In fact, there are now around 30 dedicated microvolunteering platforms worldwide, according to UK-based microvolunteering platform, Help from Home.

Australian success stories
When Australian-based youth cancer charity, CanTeen, wanted to revitalise their smartphone app to encourage users to stay up-to-date and engaged with the organisation, they reached out to their online community for feedback. Their “Help us improve our CanTeen app!” campaign called on the skilled, the creative, and the like-minded volunteer to help transform the look of their app, suggest ways to promote the app, and out-of-the-box ideas to maintain interest among current supporters.

Another Australian-based not-for-profit, Good Return, which helps connect microfinancing solutions between Australians and the working poor in the Asia Pacific region, used microvolunteering site, Sparked, to publicise their funding campaign. People could donate money or lend a micropayment to fund financial literacy and help those in poverty start or expand their business.

Deloitte Australia has also opened up its employees to short-term, skilled-based volunteering through their Microvolunteering @ Deloitte initiative. Employees are connected with not-for-profits to volunteer their personal time, skills and experience to solve challenges – entirely online. According to the company, the initiative has provided more than $23,000 worth of volunteer hours to charities so far.

How is it different to regular volunteering?
Historically, Volunteering Australia has described traditional volunteering as an act that is of benefit to the community and the volunteer; of the volunteer’s own free will; for no financial payment; and in designated volunteer positions only, that is not in place of a required paid role.

However, Volunteering Australia is now reviewing this definition to consider the rapidly changing trend in microvolunteering.

In fact, some of the examples provided earlier in this article could fall under any one of other trending terms, such as crowdsourcing or crowdfunding, virtual or online volunteering, fundraising, donating, or even slactivism – a term describing awareness-based activism (usually online) that does not amount to any real action (think: Twitter hashtag campaigns).

While microvolunteering is growing, it hasn’t been immune to its fair share of criticism. Opponents to microvolunteering argue that people may not see the whole picture or the outcome of their efforts, and as such are removed form the good deed in itself. From a management perspective, it can be difficult and even more time-consuming to coordinate microvolunteering efforts.

A national review of the definition and objectives of volunteering, at large, would be one way of tackling these issues.

How can you get on board?
These days, many not-for-profits have a dedicated webpage for microvolunteering opportunities, although this may not always be apparent. The best way to find out if you can help a worthy cause in your community is to contact the organisation’s fundraising team and ask about any upcoming campaigns, and to discuss your availability and suggestions to help.

For online opportunities, you can visit www.sparked.com and they will match you with organisations and causes of interest to you.

Help from Home’s Microvolunteering Day is 15 April 2015. For more information you can visit their website: Micro-Volunteering