Monthly Archives: February 2015

Guide to Microvolunteering

As advertised by the Virtual Volunteering group on LinkedIn, Mike Bright, founder of ‘help from home’ has produced a really comprehensive review of Microvolunteering in 2014.  This seems timed so that organisations can consider setting up their own initiatives for 2015 ‘microvolunteering day’ which takes place on April 15th.

The report provides a comprehensive review of primarily-UK based microvolunteering summarising 28 events across a range of organisations and provides a useful page of links and resources on the back page.

The body of the report provides an event by event walk through of each of the 28 event, here’s my summary of the headline news:

  • Microvolunteering events include a mix of online and face-to-face activities; sometimes face-to-face events include playing online games!
  • Many events include ‘real’ bitesize chunks of activities such as knitting, gardening or typing up pages of a book, they are by no means all games, survey or petitions (as per the slacktivism debate)
  • There were however quite a lot of online games and the report highlights “freerice” as a popular example
  • Twitter and facebook seem to play a particular key role in both promoting and facilitating microvolunteering activities, whether there actually happen online or face to face.

The details provided for each event should serve as a very useful resource to anyone thinking of planning a similar event.

2015 Student Volunteering Week

23rd February to 1st March is 2015 SVW – that’s Student Volunteering Week.  This has the dual aim of both celebrating the impact of existing student volunteers and encouraging more students to participate in volunteering.  The week is coordinated by the National Union of Students and sponsored by Barclays.   The Guardian highlights reports by the NUS that approximately 1/3 of UK students are involved in volunteering and spend a ‘significant amount of time’ on this activity (though unfortunately a broken link from the article means I can’t work out how much a ‘significant amount’ is).

As we might expect social media campaigns feature prominently in SVW, with dedicated pages of facebook (which included a forty day count down) and different twitter hashtags (#SVW2015 and #iwill are both in use).  Much of the celebration is sharing visual images of students ‘in action’ and, perhaps unsurprisingly, there seems to be a considerable amount of coverage of ‘wacky’ fundraising taking place during the week.  Both volunteer organisations and businesses are encouraged to ‘celebrate’ the contributions of student volunteers.

This week long event prompted to me to think about the how non-student volunteers might react to a specific recognition of this particular category rather than a broader celebration of volunteering.  I also wondered about the use of social media during this week and how much relies of self-publication by students and how much is managed by the voluntary organisations themselves; and of course whether there are any potential tensions between these.  From the initial media coverage that I have read it seems that there are potential issues between the specific promotion of a particular volunteer group which might distract from discussion about the volunteer organisations and there aims.  But then perhaps it is understandable after all that students volunteers are students first and volunteers second, without any issues being raised for others.  We’ll keep following the coverage this week to see.

Volunteering: space really is the final frontier

There has been much in the news in the last week about those lucky 100 who have made the long-list for selection for a one-way trip to the red planet, Mars.  Perhaps supporting the broader premise that volunteering is on the up, there were originally 202,586 applications.  Only a few lucky (I think) volunteers will finally be selected as part of mission to establish a (small) colony on Mars, being organised by a Dutch not-for-profit organisation.  There are many stories of each of the volunteers across the press including this one in the Guardian, with some local news organisations getting behind their home-grown candidates; you can meet all the ‘Mars One 100′ on the organisations website.  Rather worryingly, it seems that subsequent rounds of ‘volunteer selection’ will proceed in talent-show style live rounds.

The Mars One website proclaims its not-for-profit status with impressive marketing opportunities for those who wish to support and an option to donate to the cause.  Merchandise is also available.  The organisation provides some overview of how funds are being used: “Mars One Foundation’s responsibility incorporates the financing of the Conceptual Design Studies provided by the aerospace suppliers. These studies demand 500 to 2500 man-hours each, a comprehensive technical design of the various components of the Mission to Mars. Conceptual Design Studies will be completed for all components of the mission, from robotic construction of the settlement to the arrival of the first humans.”

I have to say I find it difficult to believe that this is starting from scratch or can continue on a voluntary or donation only basis.  It has been recently pointed out that the cost estimates put forward by Mars One are dramatically lower than NASA’s own estimates of travel to the Red Planet; MIT has apparently criticized the programme’s unrealistic timescales; while others have questioned the ethical basis of the volunteer programme itself.

Whether this generates any impact within the voluntary sector itself has yet to be seen.  I wonder if anyone has asked the martians what they think?

Research on Volunteering in the Downturn

The Institute for Volunteering Research have recently published the results of a three year study on ‘Volunteering in the Downturn’ looking at how ‘volunteer involving organisations’ coped the climate of funding cuts and rising demand.

What does the report tell us about volunteers experiences and potential challenges ahead?:

  • Changing roles and role creep make it difficult to recruit and support both trustees and volunteers
  • The report notes that the ‘essence’ of volunteering has been challenged.  It seems to mean very many different things to different people with stable ‘volunteer identities’ being threatened
  • Volunteer roles have changed in many different directions; some organisations saw volunteers taking on work from formerly paid roles whilst others saw more short term and fragmented volunteering as individuals filled gaps between paid work.
  • The idea that the unemployed should be volunteering to develop skills can create tensions and, it seems to me, set up different forms of volunteer identity
  • Volunteer-led organisations are resilient – but the long term impact remains to be seen.

Our blog has a particular interest in technology and how volunteers might experience this within and without their roles, but this didn’t seem to be an area of focus in the report.  Social media is recognised as important in recruiting volunteers particularly in terms of high profile events (for example the clean up after the London riots).  However, the role of technology in supporting volunteers or volunteers own use of social media to explore their experience of volunteering is not considered.  In the report the main focus seems to be on a physical engagement of volunteers with an activity, notions of digital volunteering don’t seem to feature in the organisations reviewed.    It would be interesting to see whether these organisations had plans to increase these activities in the future or had thought about the implications for volunteer experience.

It must be said of course that our interest lies outside the aims of the report and overall it provides an excellent review of key issues experienced by those volunteering in the downturn.