Can’t commit to volunteering? Join the micro-wave that’s more flexible

Sometimes there are just not enough hours in the week. Between work, kids, gym and any other commitments we have, after a long day all we really want to do is relax.

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we just don’t have time to give back. Yet micro-volunteering could help us give back at a time which suits.

Adapting and offering flexible opportunities could allow the voluntary sector to attract more willing contributors – which is currently a struggle. Last year, a survey by Volunteer Scotland found that volunteering behaviour drops significantly among 25-34 year olds, despite youth volunteering growing to 52%. Only 27% of adults volunteer.

What is the main difference between these two age groups? Full-time employment.

Jessica Lightfoot, learning and practice development officer for Volunteer Scotland, says: “I think one of the challenges we’re facing in the voluntary sector is meeting the needs of the volunteer…if micro-volunteering can help achieve that, then that would be beneficial.”

According to Volunteer Scotland, micro-volunteering is totally flexible – it can be a one-off or a regular commitment of a small amount of time. Micro-volunteering opportunities involve small easy-to-do tasks that are quick and convenient for the volunteer. It suits the volunteer – and the charity.

The concept grew from the demands on workers who had little time and could complete skilled jobs from afar. Help From Home is one of the earliest examples which uses the quirky tagline of “Change the world in just your pyjamas.” It was set up in Cardiff in 2008 to promote micro-volunteering actions on a global level.

Modern technology has been a boon for micro-volunteering. Even sending a text can count as an act of support.

In terms of true convenience, Be My Eyes is a mobile app that allows you to volunteer wherever you are, whenever you can. Volunteers are linked with a call from a visually impaired person who requires help with reading, for example, and an expiry date.

You can choose to respond to a call or reject it – if you reject the person requiring help, they will be passed on to another volunteer. There is no pressure involved and you can help when you can, rather than at an allotted time.

Hans Jongen Wiberg, the founder of Be My Eyes, says: “A lot of our people have had their first real talk, or interaction, with a blind person and you get this little sneak peek into a blind person’s life.”

He also believes his app has shown volunteering can overcome political divides: “I’m super proud that we have had people from the US helping people in Iraq; when you look at those two countries’ recent history, it’s not that obvious that people should help each other.”

In the current political climate and news cycle, it can feel like we have no ability to help, especially if we don’t have the resources to be on the ground. Letty David was a full-time theatre studies masters student at Glasgow University when she micro-volunteered for a charity working in the Calais Jungle.

A French native working and studying in Scotland, she used her language skills, completing small translations which helped the charity communicate with French charity workers, migrants, and border control agents.

“I was a full-time student,” Letty said. “I didn’t feel that I had skills that were necessarily needed on the ground there. I’d have gone to volunteer in person if I was a qualified doctor or lawyer or teacher for example, but I figured I could contribute more by translating for people with those skills without getting in the way.”

Micro-volunteering provides a unique way to utilise skills of people who may be countries, or continents, away. Not everyone has the ability to give long periods of their day or week, yet being able to donate assistance can be immensely rewarding without detracting from a person’s day-to-day responsibilities.

But you can micro-volunteer on location as well. The PDSA has retail branches across the UK and has embraced the idea of micro-volunteering. For International Micro-volunteering Day this month, they launched the idea of taster sessions to promote volunteering roles.

Their shops raise funds for their veterinary treatments and the event hoped to give potential volunteers the chance to learn more about what volunteering can do for them. More importantly, this gives them the ability to find out if the volunteering opportunity is right for them.

Kay is the shop manager for the Inverurie PDSA Shop and is enthusiastic about giving people an insight into the retail side of charity: “I think one of the greatest things about micro-volunteering is that, for people with low confidence, it’s a really great way for them to come and have a look… I think sometimes people are scared to commit, especially if you haven’t been in a workplace.”

Micro-volunteering has a long way to go before it has full legitimacy and some are already acknowledging the lack of commitment, but it has big potential for something so small.

To find out more about micro-volunteering, go here

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