You’ve heard of microeconomics and micro-organisms, but how about micro-volunteering? We uncovered the trend while doing our own research on volunteering (we'll have a toolkit available soon, targeted to child- and youth-serving agencies).
What is micro-volunteering, exactly? It's emerged over the past few years as a way of melding today’s technology and need for instant gratification with the desire to make a difference. Organizations like The Extraordinaries and Kiva are leading the way in this new idea of how to affect change. From a recent article:
The Extraordinaries delivers micro-volunteer opportunities to mobile phones that can be done on-demand and on-the-spot. Through The Extraordinaries, you might be able to use your smart phone to: translate a foreign-language document into English, add identifying tags to photos and videos for a museum, give advice to a college applicant, snap a picture of a pothole that needs patching and zap it to the proper authorities or spot a rare woodpecker for the Audubon Society.Micro-volunteering or micro-giving also played a significant part in the relief efforts for the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti. The American Red Cross collected $22 million of its $103 million dollars recently given for Haiti from text-message donations—an unprecedented amount. The micro-volunteering trend has also attracted media attention from CNN and Time.
Kiva.org, a microlending site, allows people to easily lend money to the working poor. So far, some 520,000 people have loaned more than $80 million to people in 184 countries, according to Kiva's reports. Using PayPal or a credit card, a visitor to the Kiva website can loan a struggling entrepreneur in a developing country $25 or more. The organization says the money is usually paid back within a year. (Read about it here.)
It's hard to argue against micro-volunteering (though some experts do, saying that it panders to the commitment-phobic by making real change seem easier than it is), but, since the trend's here, we're more interested in how the direct-service world can make use of it.
Can positive change come from such brief outpourings of support? Or, is this an over-simplification of the hard work that is needed by volunteers to affect real change in the world? Is this trend here to stay? If so, how can agencies utilize it to benefit their clients and organization?