Archive | December, 2009

Micro-Volunteering: Is There Hope Yet for People to REALLY Do Some Good?

14 Dec

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about a form of volunteering that’s been creating a lot of buzz over the last few weeks. Many online groups have been slamming micro-volunteering, a form of volunteering that allows “people who do not do anything for anyone” to “absolve themselves of that shame by clicking buttons on their smart phones.” I highly agree with Full Contact Philanthropy here  because seeking this form of volunteering does in no way foster any real sense of community engagement with service users. While this form of volunteering may link volunteers with common interests to a common cause, it does not adequately link all stakeholders of the cause together. See The Extraordinaries for an example.

I am reminded of the term “armchair activism” when I reflect on the many reasons why this form of volunteering is so popular. As expressed by Full Contact Philanthropy, this form of volunteering is a “placebo” for its users to feel like they’ve really made a contribution towards a particular effort.

“The only thing The Extraordinaries have been able to get their users to do is tag photos for online archives maintained by museums like the Smithsonian. This is all fine and good, but hardly worth much praise, or investment, and clearly not a game changer, like was claimed by the Huffington Post. What has me so in a tizzy about this company is their claim that they are a “Social Enterprise” focused on both providing social value and earning profits. Frankly, I see them achieving neither….”

Sure, micro-volunteering has the potential to exponentially expand service outputs of a particular cause, such as the number of volunteers attached to the cause and the volume of activity they produce, which, however tangible it may be, is not meaningful. What I question is the number of volunteers engaged in the cause and the outcomes of their activity.

One champion of micro-volunteering is Karen Quinn Fung of Countability Infinite.  After following a model from Urbantastic, a group championing micro-volunteering as an opportunity to link different organizations, Karen had the following comment to make:

“Their model sees them hooking organizations up with “micro-volunteering” – a term referring to skilled labour that professionals can donate to an organization in lieu of direct service or money, fueled by a well-articulated ask.”

I have highlighted key terms in this definition of micro-volunteering which seem to be missing from other definitions of the concept that have appeared in recent articles and blogs. This definition boasts that micro-volunteering can be successful as long as the effort attracts skilled labour and is well articulated. In order for a micro-volunteering project to be of this high caliber, the links between the activity and the proposed outcomes have to be clear, and have to be possible. I am keeping my eyes peeled for micro-volunteering projects that fit this description, and truly hope they can be models that make micro-volunteering a promising option for volunteer engagement that benefits all stakeholders of such activities. My recommendation for now is for volunteers attracted to micro-volunteering to find links between their micro-volunteering efforts and work in their communities, not to treat micro-volunteering as an alternative to community work.

Advertisements Captures the Power of Volunteers

8 Dec

An intriguing volunteer trend has made me reflect recently on the value of tracking both qualitative and quantitative data about volunteers. recently launched a movement in partnership with the Corporate Council on Volunteering called Power of the Hour, whereby both workplaces and individuals are being challenged to pledge as many volunteer hours as possible in order to reach a goal of engaging Canadians in 2,000,000 volunteer hours in 2010. Hours pledged by workplaces and individuals are being tracked at here and there are currently over 1,000,000 hours pledged. The live list of pledges is updated very frequently and is an exciting and motivating tool for anyone who is interested in volunteerism or who is looking to volunteer.

I also reflected on the challenge of attributing value to an hour when it is sometimes difficult to understand the impact that 1 hour from 20 volunteers or 20 hours from 1 volunteer has on an individual, or the greater community. This reminds me of a blog that was posted a few months ago from Volunteer Vancouver  where the following comment was made about tracking volunteer hours:

“Measuring hours is like comparing how quickly I can fix a computer to how quickly someone who actually knows how to fix computers does it. It tells us absolutely NOTHING about what work was done…So instead of measuring how many hours your volunteers work with you, why don’t you measure what impact they had on your organization, your clients and your mission?”

In a reply to this post, one reader commented:
“…the value of that person’s volunteer work may lie in that person’s increase self worth or sense of self efficacy. It may lie in connectedness that that person now has with a greater community. But attaching a value to either of those is difficult.
So how do we measure successful volunteer engagement? Ask. Ask the program managers supervising the volunteers what value has been created by working with volunteers. Ask the volunteers how they have been impacted.”

Clearly it is important for all stakeholders in the volunteer experience to understand the value of an hour, and most importantly to ensure that each hour volunteered is in fact valuable for all. is working to ensure that this is the case by encouraging all who pledge their hours online to “create an action list and log their hours with descriptions and photos.” With action lists that will hopefully capture over 2,000,000 hours volunteered by Canadians one can only imagine the innovative and powerful volunteer activities that Canadians will share with each other. I consider this a promising example of tracking volunteer engagement that represents an alternative to the recommendations suggested by the two bloggers I quoted earlier from the Volunteer Vancouver blog.

It is also important, as I stated at the beginning of this post, to consider the value of quantitative data tracked about volunteers. While the number of volunteers engaged and hours tracked may not tell us much about the work that was involved with any particular volunteer activity, people do hold stock in the power of an hour. With so many Canadians engaged in this quickly evolving challenge many more will be motivated to jump on board to ensure the target is reached. With this in mind, I do also hope that those same volunteers will engage in as much sharing of their volunteer activities as possible with project descriptions, photos, and narratives of memorable moments.