Helpforce Cymru Manager Fiona Liddell reflects on the ways micro-volunteering can create a force for good.
People have always helped out in little ways as well as taking on the big or heroic voluntary commitments. It is so natural to us as socially minded creatures, that mostly we don’t recognise this as ‘volunteering’.
WHAT IS MICRO-VOLUNTEERING?
Micro-volunteering is based on the simple idea that people are more likely to commit to brief, bite sized actions than they are to sign up to longer term volunteering.
The concept has grown over the past fifteen years and micro volunteering is becoming a global force for connecting people around a common cause.
By designing and promoting opportunities for people to engage in easy tasks on their own terms, wherever they are and whenever they wish it, it is possible to harness collective activity to achieve great things. Although each action may feel like a very small ‘drop in the ocean’, we can add (to quote Mother Teresa) that ‘the ocean is made up of drops’.
DIGITAL SUPPORT FOR MICRO-VOLUNTERING
Much micro-volunteering relies upon digital technology – for example, submitting feedback on a walking route to the SlowWays website or using the video function on a smartphone to help someone who needs sighted support, (through the app called Be my Eyes). A number of digital platforms have been developed to support micro-volunteering; some of them are discussed in an evaluation report by the Health Innovation Network.
THE PANDEMIC TAUGHT US WHAT IS POSSIBLE
During the Covid-19 pandemic the need for ‘micro-help’ was obvious. Vulnerable individuals in our communities needed prescriptions to be delivered, shopping to be done, dogs walked or simply someone to speak to.
At the same time an unprecedented number of people came forward to help.
A new task function was developed on the Volunteering-Wales website, enabling connection between individuals needing help with a volunteer who could provide it.
In Cardiff, after extensive discussion and agreement between relevant parties, and with Welsh Government funding available to support the venture, this became a vital tool for ensuring that prescribed medications were delivered from pharmacies to those who needed them. Hospital staff and other workers were able to refer details of individuals who needed a prescription delivery to Cardiff Third Sector Council (C3SC). C3SC posted details on Volunteering Wales, where volunteers could sign up to the task. Once completed, volunteers added feedback online.
The availability of volunteers exceeded the demand, with about 300 Cardiff drivers signed up at one point. During the period of the pandemic, a total 1,298 tasks were completed, representing around 5,000 deliveries (since some tasks involved multiple deliveries in a neighbourhood). You can read Mike’s volunteer story here
A separate system was in place for the delivery of controlled drugs. This meant that volunteers delivering prescriptions through Volunteering Wales could do so without needing a DBS disclosure. They were given written guidance and a brief online induction before their first assignment.
As lockdown restrictions lifted and the usual delivery mechanisms became possible once again, so the demand for this particular micro volunteering gradually ceased.
But the potential remains. The Volunteering Wales website is under development currently. The new site, to be launched in June, will offer plenty of scope to develop micro-volunteering in the future – perhaps for example, for volunteers to be able to opt in to receive alerts about tasks of a particular kind, which may be posted by a range of organisations. Meanwhile organisations can already post opportunities that are as extensive or as micro as they wish!
MAKING THE MOST OF MICRO-VOLUNTEERING
Micro-volunteer assignments should not be time consuming nor difficult to take on. In some cases, however, an initial registration process including guidance or basic training may be necessary, as was the case in the Cardiff example above.
Whatever the task, it needs to be engaging, interactive and, clearly, to make a difference. Existing volunteer opportunities may be broken down into smaller tasks to fit this brief.
The challenge is to offer quick and convenient tasks whilst also providing the appropriate level of direction and support.
It is worth keeping in touch with volunteers and giving feedback about the collective difference that is being made through their and others’ actions. One off or occasional involvement through micro volunteering may perhaps cultivate a desire to know more about your work and to support it in further ways.
International Micro-volunteering Day is celebrated on April 15 each year. Share your stories and photos on social media using the hashtag #MicroDay. You can tag us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @WCVACymru, too.
There are opportunities for all to get involved in the Big Help Out, on the 8 May bank holiday this year. Why not encourage your organisation to post opportunities onto Volunteering Wales, using the tag BigHelpOut? Share the link widely to encourage new people to try out volunteering on a one off basis.
We will be pleased to hear how you get on.
ABOUT HELPFORCE CYMRU
Helpforce Cymru is working with Third Sector Support Wales (WCVA and 19 CVCs), Welsh Government and other partners to develop the potential of volunteering to support health and social care services in Wales.