| Back in the 1990s,
when the Virtual Volunteering
Project was documenting best practices in involving and
supporting volunteers via the Internet, one of the methods for
involving online volunteers was creating what I called byte-sized
volunteering assignments. These are assignments that:
Now, the hot-new term of this is microvolunteering. It's no different than offline episodic volunteering; just as volunteers who come to a beach cleanup or participate in a Habitat for Humanity work day don't undergo a criminal background check, don't receive a lengthly pre-service orientation, don't fill out a lengthy volunteer application form and may never volunteer with the organization again, online volunteers that participate in a microvolunteering may get started on their assignment just a few minutes after expressing interest, if your organization has the right, tried-and-true volunteer management standards in place.
What does online volunteering as microvolunteering or a byte-sized assignment, really look like?
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Part of the microvolunteering phenomena is crowd-sourcing, a practice that is as old as the Internet itself (which makes it more than 30 years old). This is when a task or question is offered up online to anyone who would like to take it on. It can be as simple as writing, "How would you handle the following situation..." to an online community of volunteer resources managers. Or asking "How could we improve the our online volunteer orientation" to your online community of volunteers. Or asking on an online community for HR managers, "Would anyone be willing to share their company's dress code? We're looking for ideas." It is also called "distributed problem-solving." Before the World Wide Web, a popular Internet tool was USENET newsgroups, which were online communities put together around various interests, professions and topics, and much of the activity on these was what we now call crowd-sourcing (soc.org.nonprofit was a particularly popular crowd-sourcing resource for nonprofit representatives).
Crowd-sourcing is not just for discussion questions. For instance:
It's Always About Building Relationships
A misconception about micro-blogging and crowd-sourcing -- and, indeed, about all volunteering, including in its most traditional forms -- is that the goal is to get work done, or to get work done for free. These are old paradigms regarding volunteering that so many of us have worked for a very long time to move away from. Volunteering is about so much more: it's about building relationships with the community, increasing the number of people advocating for your organization and even supporting it financially, demonstrating transparency, and even targeting specific demographics for involvement in your work.
Never think of the primary goal of microvolunteering as getting work done. Your goal should always be to cultivate new supporters. You want to turn people who answer your question on a discussion group or take on a small online volunteering assignment into long-term supporters, people who tell family and friends about your organization, who have their perception changed about a particular issue your organization is involved with (why people are homeless, why the arts are important to teens, why there are misunderstandings about HIV/AIDS, why increasing literacy improves women's health, etc.), who take on more assignments for your organization and, hopefully, are so moved by your work that they make a financial donation.
Therefore, if your organization decides to make microvolunteering or crowd-sourcing activities available to people beyond your corps of vetted volunteers, make sure you have ways to capture their key contact information and provide followup to them regarding the project or issue they contributed to. Encourage these contributors to complete the briefest of online volunteering applications, to join an online discussion group, and/or to subscribe to your email newsletter.
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