Nonprofits: Is Micro-Volunteering More Productive?

Keeping volunteers happy, committed and enthusiastic is a challenging task for most nonprofits.  Too often, the same cadre of heavy lifters does most of the work. Those folks are liable to bum out, so it’s essential to lighten their load by attracting new energy, talent and ideas to the organization.

Societal trends and shifting demographics are causing organizations to rethink their volunteer management strategies. Micro-volunteering, defined by short-term, low-commitment assignments, is one such strategy.

In 2012, one in four people over the age of 16 spent time vol­unteering, with slightly more women than men donating time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The most active is the 35 to 44 age group, followed by those age 45 to 54 and 55 to 64. In general, younger age groups had shorter engagements. Older age groups had longer engagements, with many committing 100 hours per year and up. A comparison of 2012 to the last four years shows only slight variation year to year.

What the data doesn’t show is how volunteers feel about their service. Bridging the Gap, a 2010 study by Volunteer Canada, surveyed volunteer attitudes and desires regarding their service. The results are compelling and extremely useful regarding attracting and retaining today’s volunteers.

Across all age groups, the study found volunteers are mobile, self-directed and results-oriented, have multiple interests and want short-term opportunities that use their skills.

This volunteer profile mirrors soci­ety, with its busy, jam-packed schedules and mobile communications. If volun­teers take on a task, they want it to meet their own goals as well as provide the satisfaction of achievement. The “optimal formula” for engage­ment is a balance between: 

*Nonprofit needs and volunteer input
*Organization without cumber­some bureaucracy
* A match of skills to needs without assuming people need to use their professional experience

Many volunteers want to do something that is different from work or related to a personal interest. They want flexibility to design their own role and schedule. Many desire group activities so they can enjoy the social aspects of service.

Microvolunteering is one way to address many of these needs and concerns. A perception of endless hours and long-term commitment is one reason people hold back in the first place. Providing quick, easy, short-term assignments is a proven way to engage people, especially as an introduction to your organization.

Packing a bag with food, personal items or toys is a microactivity. Participating in a one-day charity event is another. Research, editing, graphic design and providing specific professional expertise are good online opportunities.

Perhaps a larger project can be broken down into microactivities, for example, a volunteer-produced newsletter. Taking on an entire newsletter can seem daunting, but perhaps being asked to write one article might not.

Minimizing committee meetings or moving necessary plan­ning sessions online is another way to increase participation. People want to be active, not sitting on committees. The key is specific, targeted, short assignments that fit in with a volunteer’s lifestyle, other obligations and interests.

Busy professionals want  assignments they can  squeeze  into the workday. Young families desire opportunities they can do with their children. Teens gravitate to social events.

A microvolunteering emphasis is especially useful in engaging young people., a site that matches young people with volunteer opportunities, confirmed that with their Index on Young People and Volunteering. The study reported that 93 percent of teens want to volunteer.

Having friends who volunteered was the most important fact or that encouraged young people to participate. Being invited by family members, friends or other adults was also important. Young people prefer short tasks, social and online engagement, and accessing opportunities through friends or networks.

Bridging the Gap suggests creating an open dialog with volunteers to engage them in designing the volunteer program. Perhaps a survey of interests, availability and ideas would be useful. Flexibility in accommodating lifestyles, limitations and cul­ tures helps deepen relationships. Using the Internet and social media for communication is essential.

The good news is that many want to volunteer. By adapting programs to meet the needs of today’s volunteers, organizations can continue to thrive well into the future.

Davis & Hodgdon Associates CPAs has been assisting nonprofits, individuals and businesses with tax and accounting services in the Burlington Vermont Metro area for more than 20 years. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to call 802.878.1963 or email [email protected].

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