Will microvolunteering have a macro impact?

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I was very intrigued by the latest social media philanthropy trend I saw posted by NPR on my Facebook page—The Extraordinaires, a snazzy, new social media enterprise that delivers microvolunteer opportunities to mobile phones that can be done on-demand and on-the-spot. The article begins – “Got five minutes? Got a cell phone? Want to do good?” What a concept—weaving volunteer activities into the fabric of your busy, over-programmed day. Interesting concept, but does it make practical sense? When you are waiting at the doctor’s office or in line at the grocery store, might you have time or focus to translate an email newsletter into Spanish—or figure sum-of-the-years-digits depreciation on the purchase of a new copier? I wonder. It’s a great concept, indeed—multi-taking at the highest level of win-win efficiency.

Upon download, I realized the opportunities offered were almost universally photo-related—tagging images for the Smithsonian or cataloging images for the Brooklyn Museum. My mind was racing with other options or opportunities. Still, I was a bit bewildered. The app asked that I describe what I saw—one session asking me to tag what appeared to be 19th century French Genre paintings. Now, I’m thinking this is a bit freewheeling for a museum. Luckily, I took art history in college, but I’m not so sure I would trust the random, crowdsourced public to accurately catalog these esoteric works for posterity. Definite fact-checking and review required, indeed.

As I hit submit, I suspected that it was less about the task at hand, so to speak, and more about the experience. It’s kind of like taking one of those Facebook quizzes. It’s fun and enlightening in a pseudo-informational sort of way, but the value is questionable. However, I was surprised that there seemed to be no data capture—no way of engaging me further after my “micro” interaction. There was just a very cordial thank you for “making the world a better place.” So, the ongoing social media question looms—how do we bring those touched through casual encounters such as an iphone tagging exercise into our cultivation universes?

Extraordinaires co-founder Jacob Colker, 26, says, “We hope people might look differently at that ride on the bus and not just play video games.” He continues, “Microvolunteerism is perfectly suited for the Millennial Generation. They are used to text messaging, MySpace, Facebook, get-in, get-out, instant gratification. For them, going out and cleaning up a park—that’s not necessarily attractive to them.” So, is microvoluteerism the new media equivalent of a one-night stand? No commitments . . . no strings? I guess we’ll have to stay tuned!

I cringe to think the entire paradigm for volunteerism is shifting to micro tasks and instant gratification. I prefer to see this as fresh, innovative concept yet another option to attract “followers” and “fans.” I am reminded of the mission trip my 17-year-old son recently took to northern Michigan. The group of 35 students spent a week renovating a deteriorating campground for economically disadvantaged youth. They built Adirondack chairs, sanded fences, and painted cabins. They got their hands dirty and their hearts engaged. No cell phones were allowed. And, the gratification may not have been instant, but it was most certainly—genuine.

What do you think about microvolunteerism?

6 thoughts on “Will microvolunteering have a macro impact?

  1. This has a niche market, how big that niche is we won’t know until it happens – Even if it only has a 5% chance of widespread success it’s worth giving it a try and learning some lessons.

  2. I agree with your cringe, Elaine. Are we sure that volunteering for the overscheduled has any real benefit beyond supplying a warm fuzzy for the guy on the i-phone?

  3. I agree with your cringe, Elaine. Are we sure that volunteering for the overscheduled has any real benefit beyond supplying a warm fuzzy for the guy on the i-phone? There is a lot of need out there, people need to get their hands dirty, as your son so unselfishly did…

  4. It’s intriguing — I’m going to run it by some of our teen and 20-something volunteers. I thought you were going to describe a service that alerts you to an in-person volunteer activity happening in the next hour, like a way to put in 67 minutes for upcoming Mandela Day July 18.

  5. I think that this microvolunteering is a great and innovative way to get people enganged. I agree that, in your experience, that the museum should have included information on other volunteer possibilities in their follow up message instead of a simple thank you. I know people who would be interested in volunteering, but don’t have the ‘time’ to commit because they are not yet engaged enough in the cause to find the time to commit. These microvolunteer activities sound, to me, like the perfect hook to engage people and, if done correctly, to encourage them to find the time.

    I work for an organization that relies heavily on volunteer engagement. I had not even thought of this type of activity, but will definitely explore it more as a way to entice more activity.

    1. I agree with many of the comments! Such an innovative concept. But like so many fantastic concepts, it must be strategically integrated into the overall cultivation plan. Great feedback. Thanks!

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