Microvolunteering – keeping up with the gig economy

The gig economy is growing, as more skilled workers choose one-time jobs and freelance projects over typical 9-to-5 jobs. This trend has also made its way into the world of volunteering. 

What is microvolunteering

Microvolunteering is a type of volunteer work that typically involves small, one-time jobs that can be completed quickly and easily, often from a person’s home or using the internet. Examples of microvolunteering activities might include things like transcribing historical documents, translating text, or even just clicking a button to support a cause.

An illustration of a woman choosing microvolunteering assignments

The goal of microvolunteering is to make it easy for people to get involved and make a positive impact, even if they have limited time or resources.

Like other cases of gig economy, microvolunteering involves small, one-time tasks that can be completed quickly and easily. In both cases, these tasks are often done online or using technology, and they can be completed by people with a wide range of skills and experience, working on their own schedule and choosing the tasks that they are interested in.

Microvolunteering is usually based on the concept of “on-demand” or “as needed” work. This means that tasks are completed as they come up, rather than on a set schedule or as part of a long-term commitment.

The rise of gig work

Whether as full-time freelancers or part-time contractors, many Americans are involved in the gig economy. Statista estimates that there are about 57 million workers in the U.S. gig economy

Some turn to gig-economy work out of necessity, others out of a desire for flexibility. As Freelancers Union founder and executive director Sara Horowitz explains, 85 percent of freelancers wouldn’t return to a full-time job because they value the freedom of freelancing. 

“A lot of freelancers are saying: I want to spend time with my family, volunteer for political organizations or follow my interests, and I don’t have to knock out 40 hours a week just for that,” Horowitz says.With flexible scheduling and remote-work options, even a 40-hour work week leaves opportunities for people to get involved with charities and nonprofit organizations — opportunities they might have missed out on if they had a typical 9-to-5 schedule.

“I love the fact that people are realizing that they can forego the perceived safety of full-time employment to contribute their unique skills, experience, education, and passions to the world at large,” says Trevor Foster, founder and CEO of the talent platform Fulcrum. 

And just as the economy has begun to make room for remote work, there are remote volunteering opportunities available, says virtual volunteer researcher Jayne Cravens. Nonprofits often rely on digital contributors at least as much as they rely on in-person volunteers.

A gig-based approach to volunteering

Being a freelance worker means you can pick and choose your clients. There are many freelance sites that can help you with this. Over time, you shed the clients who are poor fits and nurture the working relationships that are good fits. The same dynamic applies in volunteering.

Not all volunteer-organization pairings will be a good match, and that’s completely normal. A volunteer might find the work boring, or they might discover that an organization doesn’t match the expectations they had going in.

For organizations, it’s burdensome to keep working with unenthused, checked-out volunteers. So, if volunteers have the opportunity to try out multiple opportunities and settle into relationships with organizations they’re passionate about, it’s a win-win.

The solution, then, is to create small opportunities for volunteers to get involved without too big of a commitment from either side. Volunteers can take on tasks on a gig-by-gig basis to assess an organization. Organizations, meanwhile, get to collaborate with people before they invest in extensive training or onboarding programs, and those short-term collaborations help volunteer coordinators see whether they are delegating and managing work in a clear, orderly manner.

There’s a word for this gig-based approach to volunteering. It’s called “microvolunteering.” 

Microvolunteering: donate your time when you can 

Busy schedules are one of the biggest deterrents to volunteering, says Matthew Boyd, CEO of the volunteering marketplace Vollie. He points out that today’s volunteer organizations need to be flexible if they want to attract skilled and passionate workers.

This is where the idea of microvolunteering came from. Microvolunteering, also called ad hoc volunteering or episodic volunteering, refers to volunteer tasks that can be accomplished in small increments of time, Deirdre Reid at the American Bar Association says.

These short, infrequent volunteer opportunities are usually completed from a computer on a remote basis, Latasha Doyle writes at GuideStar. Microvolunteering opportunities range far and wide, but they usually involve one-off activities that can be performed in a few hours or less. 

Examples of microvolunteering include tweeting about an organization or event, baking a cake, picking up garbage in the community or signing a petition.

Simply creating opportunities that can be completed remotely and within a short amount of time can increase the number of volunteers you attract.

Creating microvolunteering opportunities

For organizations, offering more microvolunteering tasks can expand their volunteer base by attracting busy people. This results in a large, more diverse volunteer base that, while constantly changing, is equipped to meet the organization’s needs at any given time.

What’s more, any big pool of volunteers can strengthen your base of supporters, say Eileen Cunniffe and Ruth McCambridge at Nonprofit Quarterly.

Similarly, gig economy volunteers often have other valuable skills to contribute both now and in the future. Since many nonprofit executives started as volunteers themselves, expanding opportunities to a wider base of workers can increase the chances of finding future leaders, says iVolunteer Philippines.

But first things first: You need to connect with these kinds of volunteers, and you need to assign them work that they can easily fold into their schedules. The software engineer and the freelance graphic designer who have come forward to volunteer might not be available for a day-long fundraiser, but they might be able to support your social media outreach or send out emails to donors. 

Delegating these kinds of tasks might require a new approach to managing work. This means ditching spreadsheets and embracing collaborative tools like team-management software. Organizations that can make room for gig workers and their erratic schedules, however, will find whole new communities of people who are on board with their missions and ready to help.

How we can help

How to pull this off? Set up clear workflows in a volunteer management app.

Zelos is a simple app for volunteer teams that lets you quickly distribute micro-assignments and communicate with your volunteers on the go. If you want to work with us, get in touch or create a free project on our website.