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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Micro projects for macro impact

Linton Weeks wrote an article on NPR back in 2009 on microvolunteering, and he said it right: we live in a micro world. “What began with microscopes and microbiology has morphed into microeverything.” Twitter is a microblogging platform, Kayla McKinney previously discussed the trend of microgiving, and now there’s microvolunteering.

Microvolunteering is an easy, commitment-free way to give back. Volunteers can choose the projects, causes, and organizations they help, and organizations can potentially get help from numerous volunteers. It can almost be seen as a form of crowdsourcing.

How does it work?

Sparked is a project-based microvolunteering site, where nonprofit organizations “challenge” the Sparked community, and the volunteers then respond. Volunteers may offer suggestions or solutions to the challenge, or they may give a “thumbs up” to other participants’ answers – either option will help the challenging organization get the best possible solution (or solutions) to their challenge.

I am relatively new to the Sparked community, having only been an active member for a couple of months, but it’s the microvolunteering site that I am most familiar with. However, it is not the only one. Help from Home’s tag line is “Change the world in just your pyjamas!”, but they also encourage volunteers to change the world from their classroom, work, and more. They also emphasize the fact that projects take “between 10 seconds and 30 minutes” – again focusing on the ease and speed of microvolunteering. VolunteerMatch is a great tool for nonprofits to recruit volunteers, as well as for volunteers to see exactly what opportunities are available in their area. This site has two functions; the first is traditional volunteering, like making Thanksgiving food baskets for a food bank, or wrapping gifts to raise money. The second is virtual volunteering, like reviewing scholarship applications for a foundation, or guest blogging about a specific cause.

Why your organization should try it

Time and time again we talk about the issue of allocating funds within a nonprofit organization: how much do you spend on marketing? Should you hire consultants or part-time staff? How do you maximize the amount of funds that go directly into your mission? Microvolunteering can help. If your organization has a project that needs to be completed, but your staff does not have the time or skills to do it properly, try calling out to microvolunteers. If you have completed a project, but maybe want some help editing, or suggestions on how to make it better, ask microvolunteers. Responses come in relatively fast, and from my experience, microvolunteers are good at what they do – many are actually professionals in their fields and microvolunteer on the side or through their organizations’ own volunteering programs. But in the case that your organization doesn’t like the responses you have received, no money will be wasted.

Another perk of these platforms is the range of skills that you can seek. Here are some of the current challenges on the Sparked website:

The possibilities are nearly endless – and there always seems to be volunteers who are willing to help.

Get involved

By taking just a few minutes a week to put your projects on these platforms, you really can advance the mission of your nonprofit with little effort and no money spent. Why not ask for help designing a new brochure? Since you save money on a graphic designer, you can purchase higher quality cardstock. If you want to design a new website, ask the community for improvement suggestions before you pay for a designer – or just see if a microvolunteer will completely redesign it for you (I’ve seen it happen).

Consultants are expensive. Volunteers are free. Invest in this new micro trend and see the macro impact it can have on your organization.

Colleen Dunbar is a project specialist in the ASU Lodestar Center's marketing/communications department, and is currently completing her master of arts degree in communications studies at Arizona State University. Originally hailing from Vancouver, Canada, Colleen is striving to make a difference and give back to her community through a career in nonprofit public relations. Check out Colleen's Sparked profile to see what a microvolunteer looks like.Connect with Colleen on Twitter and LinkedIn.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog