Yesterday, perhaps a little lost among the egg-based puns and the stockpiling of sweet things, was Microvolunteering Day. The occasion itself is fairly new (first celebrated in 2014), but the concept of citizens helping out with bite-sized, commitment-free tasks has been around for some time. Trying to flog Oxfam chocolates to commuters at a Brussels train station back in 2009 is still one of my few experiences of cold-selling (I’ve forgotten how many packs I managed to shift, though I do still remember how to say ‘have a nice evening’ in Flemish). And people have been baking for cake sales or rattling collection tins for decades.
Nowadays, though, new technology and new networks have made helping out more accessible, and more varied, than ever.
You can still lend a hand in real life — by donating to a food bank, planting a tree or even taking part in a flash mob — but the majority of microvolunteering now happens online, according to Help from Home, a Wales-based organisation that claims to have the world’s largest directory of active, non-skilled opportunities (they also created Microvolunteering Day). Proofread a page of an e-book, print out and display a peace poster, donate your computer’s processing power to medical research, complete a questionnaire, record observations of the night sky: all things you can do, as Help from Home puts it, in your pyjamas.
Online volunteering is great for fitting in to a busy schedule, and ideal for people who want to do something but can’t commit or aren’t physically able to turn up at a specific place. It has allowed organisations to tap into talent from afar and to work with a more diverse pool of volunteers. For some people though, getting away from a screen and meeting others is part of the appeal. So, if you’re in the UK, here’s one recommendation, based on personal experience: FareShare. They collect surplus food destined for waste and redistribute it to charities and community groups who need it. You can volunteer in 20 centres across the country, and you can sign up for just one session of a few hours, with no need to commit to more than that. Sorting is fun, physical and satisfying, and it’s a world away from most people’s desk jobs. Plus you might even get some past-their-best-before-date Easter eggs to take home.
Read my guide for charities looking into microvolunteering over on MissionBox.