Felicitie Walls, Volunteering Manager at WCVA, shares her reflections and insights from attending a workshop on micro volunteering.
At the AVM (Association of Volunteer Managers) 2023 conference in October, I joined a workshop on micro volunteering to learn more about the ‘what?’, ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ of this unique type of contribution. Rashpal Saini, leading the development of micro volunteering within West London NHS Trust shared his experience.
WHAT IS MICRO VOLUNTEERING?
Micro-volunteering was introduced to the audience as:
‘Bite sized volunteering with no commitment to repeat and with minimal formality, involving short and specific actions that are quick to start and complete.’
The value of giving little time report, 2013, NCVO & IVR
However, it was recognised that the definition varies across organisations and circumstances, which adds its own challenge in how it is best used for organisations’ benefit.
WHY MICRO VOLUNTEERING?
The workshop reminded us of the key trends being seen in volunteering, many of which have been amplified, and the pace of change quickened by the pandemic. These trends have seen a decline in older generations volunteering and an increase in an interest in flexible and/or virtual forms of volunteering.
Micro volunteering may, in some cases be part of the solution, to meeting some of this change and attracting a new, more time pressured audience to the fore.
WHAT DOES MICRO VOLUNTEERING LOOK LIKE?
Some examples of micro volunteering were shared within the workshop, and there are others I have included below that may help inspire your organisation to consider what might be possible.
- Event supporters: Being part of a volunteer team that welcomes people to an event, cheers them on, or hands out water or medals at the end
- Testing services: Volunteers with specific requirements testing out accessibility, ie volunteers with sight loss testing and reporting on use of ATMs
- Social media advocacy: Sharing posts, stories, and campaigns on social media channels
- Proofreading and editing: Proofreading documents, website content, or newsletters for organisations
- Online research: This could include finding statistics, data, or relevant articles
- Present wrapping: Wrapping gifts as volunteer thank yous or as part of a festive celebration
- Virtual mentorship: Offering expertise and mentorship to someone seeking guidance, which might be a one-time conversation
HOW TO DEVELOP MICRO VOLUNTEERING AS PART OF YOUR VOLUNTEER OFFER?
Rashpal gave us his experience of creating micro volunteering within the West London NHS Trust. An approach that stood out for me was the invitation for prospective volunteers to create their own volunteering experience. The key objective was set, which was to deliver wellbeing sessions for staff. Prospective volunteers were then invited to pitch their ideas to the staff. The staff voted on which experiences they wanted as part of their wellbeing day and the volunteers would deliver.
This reminds me very much of the Dragons Den style pitching that takes place in some of the Third Sector Support Wales Youth Led Grant panels around Wales, with young people pitching their own youth led volunteering projects to young grant makers. The power of enabling people to design their own contributions really taps into the passion of the individual and captures their heart, a message heard loudly in the opening keynote by Deborah Allcock-Taylor on day one of the AVM conference.
VIEWS FROM OTHER EXPERTS
As part of the breakout room discussions, other volunteering experts from across the UK suggested the following elements and approaches to implementing micro volunteering.
(Before you dive in, it was recognised that some causes and volunteering opportunities may not be suited for a micro volunteering approach.)
- Start with the organisations mission. Revisit what the organisation is trying to achieve and how volunteers are involved with this. Try not to be restricted by traditional thinking about what volunteers have done in the past or do now. Where else and how else could volunteers add value in small and impactful ways?
- Explore with existing and prospective volunteers. Through feedback from volunteers, and those that didn’t join your volunteer programme, there is likely much wisdom that can be gained about what more accessible, flexible and fun volunteering might look like.
- Build an audience. As a volunteer involving organisation you probably already have a mailing list of staff, volunteers, prospective volunteers, beneficiaries, consider how you can build on this, so that you have people to pitch your micro volunteering (and other opportunities) to. You might use regular mailings, newsletters, or have a social media space to communicate.
- Build your community of current and prospective contributors. Cultivate a supportive community around your cause. Encourage discussions, share stories of impact, and create a welcoming environment for those looking to make a difference. Use the methodology that is best for your organisation to inform, inspire, and when the time is right, to ask for the support you need.
- Communicate your creative offer. Once you have some fabulous micro volunteering opportunities, share them with your audience and get testing them out. Remember, fail fast and that behind success is 99% failure (a nod to Piers Martins opening presentation on day two of the conference).
There was much more to discuss, and a request for an entire conference on the topic. In short, people were keen to further explore utilising digital systems for micro volunteering and how to measure the impact of these short bursts of volunteering activity.
MY FINAL REFLECTIONS
This was an interesting time for me to attend this workshop, as on a personal level, I am looking to contribute to causes I care about in ways that fit with my current availability and energy levels. Being on maternity leave, gives me pockets of time that I could contribute, if and where the right types of opportunities exist. Micro volunteering and / or family volunteering opportunities might be a good format, for those looking to contribute when time is pressured.
What also seems very possible, for organisations considering micro volunteering as part of their offer, is that it is an opportunity to build a deeper, longer-term relationship, which may result in further giving, of time or resources. And even where this may not be the aim, this certainly might be the outcome, if the experience captures the heart of the individual.
- Volunteering in bite sized actions, blog by Fiona Liddell
- International Micro-Volunteering Day is celebrated on 15 April each year
- Organisations can register their volunteering opportunities on the Wales-wide site www.volunteering-wales.net