Updated: Apr 15, 2021
On Monday morning, my LinkedIn feed was littered with one image; Tesco telling people to go to the pub instead of telling you about their fantastic deals. This, somewhat ironically, is a gigantic example of micro-volunteering - of doing a short, sharp, simple act not because you have to, but because you want to - albeit on a massive scale. What they were doing here was showing their support for the hospitality industry, which has been all but obliterated by the pandemic.
That's not to say that Tesco wasn't reaping the benefits of the positive PR, because it needed it after the blow it was dealt pre-Christmas when it looked like they were about to pocket hundreds of millions while also profiting from a business rates holiday scheme that was designed to help struggling businesses during the pandemic (they decided to pay their rates after bowing to pressure). In essence, what they were doing by placing this advert, was making a donation of ad space to a struggling industry to help it get back on its feet.
What is micro-volunteering?
Micro-volunteering is essentially what you might call a short, sharp act of kindness, and it can be formal or informal. Quite simply, it's completing a task which can have a big impact on a person or organisation, with very little output on your part. These tasks can be either one-off or regular, and they can be tasks that can be done anywhere, at any time, on your own terms. They generally don't take more than 30 minutes to complete and it's a great way of giving back when you are time-constrained.
Micro-volunteering allows charities to receive help from people in small bites, and it can take many shapes and forms. As a charity, it works if you have an inventory of small tasks that you can give to people if they rock up ready to volunteer (either in-person or virtually) and you can hand them out based on the skillset of the volunteer. For people who don't have much spare time, but want to give something back, it's a really good thing to do virtually (doing something like design, or digital support) and you can also work it around childcare, if (like me) that's one of your main responsibilities.
Some examples of micro-volunteering:
There are many ways in which you can micro-volunteer, and they might seem so small that you don't even realise you're doing them. Here are some examples:
Signing a petition
Dropping some food in the food bank basket at the supermarket
Proofreading a charity newsletter
Making a donation to charity (one-off or regular)
Telephone befriending or pen-palling
Planting bee-friendly plants in your garden
How you can get involved:
From completing a random act of kindness to actually signing-up officially with an organisation, it's easier than you think to start micro-volunteering. Below are some examples of micro-volunteering that I do, and they take up hardly any of my time:
Pen-palling, which I found through Volunteering Matters (I write a letter to Lady A once a fortnight)
Telephone befriending through Age UK (I've been chatting with Lady T for over a year now)
If you want to officially sign-up with an organisation, you can find some fantastic opportunities with:
Volunteero (brand new, about to launch!)
Alternatively, you could always approach your favourite charity and ask them about micro-volunteering opportunities. If you have half an hour a week to create a newsletter, or proofread a blog post, or even something like read a story to a child (one of the charities I work with, Doorstep Library does this), it's definitely worth doing to add value to an organisation that really needs it! If you are skilled, you could ask your workplace if you could spend an hour a fortnight or a month to dedicate your time to helping a cause you're passionate about. It's also definitely worth signing-up to these organisations if you are a charity, so that you might be matched with individuals who might be able to help your cause.
Micro-volunteering might start with something as simple as going next door to check in on your elderly neighbour to see if they need anything. I fully believe that everyone has something to give, and even if you feel like you're short of time, you can still find time to do SOMETHING, like sign a petition or put an extra tin of tomatoes in your shopping trolley. They might seem like very small things to you, but they can mean the world to someone else.