Grade: Middle

#4737. Microvolunteering: Guide For Teachers

Social Studies, level: Middle
Posted 10/25/2013 by Mike Bright (Mike Bright).
Help From Home, Cardiff, UK
Materials Required: Pen and paper
Activity Time: 1 hour
Concepts Taught: Volunteering and responsible citizenship

Microvolunteering is a relatively new term to describe a form of volunteering that has been with us for ages, but since the internet age has taken on a new meaning. You are not likely to get much response from your class initially as it will be an unfamiliar term for them. They will struggle to come up with answers and so at first the discussion will need to take the form of an introductory talk. Start it off by playing a video, available from this webpage:

What is Microvolunteering?

A quick scout around the web reveals many definitions, but 2 of them seem to be taking more prominence than the rest. These are:

- 'easy, quick, low commitment actions that benefit a worthy cause'
- 'convenient, bite-sized, crowdsourced, and network-managed'

The first definition will be the one this Teacher's Guide will be focussing on, mainly because it's easier to understand!

The actions might be a task that could be accomplished as a whole unit from start to finish by one person within 30 minutes or it might be an action that could be broken down into its component parts where an individual is just one of many people performing the same task to achieve an end result. Some tasks actually take just 10 seconds to complete!

Microvolunteering encompasses many forms of volunteering like online volunteering or virtual volunteering, craftwork and campaigning. It is usually associated with actions that can be completed remote from the organisation managing the opportunity. It can be accomplished in various environments too numerous to mention here, but include:

- at home, perhaps in your pyjamas!
- in school during a prescribed class lesson
- on the bus
- via a smartphone or the internet
- in workplaces during people's lunch breaks
- on holiday

Traditional Microvolunteering!

This sounds like a contradiction in terms, but the following exercise is aimed at encouraging your students to realise that they may be microvolunteering within their lives already.
Ask your class whether they have performed any of the following actions:

- held a door open for somebody with a push chair
- used both sides of a piece of paper
- put gum in the bin
- helped their parents with small tasks around the home

Explain to your class that the above actions have all benefited either a person, the environment or the society they live in. It's only taken up a tiny bit of their time and they're already doing it in their everyday lives anyway. For more easy activity ideas, visit

Modern Microvolunteering!

You have now demonstrated that your students engage in a form of microvolunteering almost every day.

Modern microvolunteering is about making a conscious decision to devote a bite sized amount of time of between 10 seconds to 30 minutes, whenever and wherever your students want to, in order to benefit a worthy cause.

The volunteering opportunities can be conducted to suit a student's own lifestyle, at their own convenience, where they can dip in and dip out, mostly without any commitment at all.

Microvolunteering Activities

Explain to your class that you will now describe various activities that fit within the microvolunteering concept, after which they will be invited to discuss who benefits from such actions.
So, what's out there?

- donate hair to disadvantaged children suffering - from long term medical hair loss
- use the spare processing power of your pc to
- fight cancer or predict climate change
- play online games where a donation at no cost to you, will be donated to charity
- write a letter to a seriously ill child and put a smile on their face
- contribute to abolishing slavery by signing an online petition
- help astronomers classify galaxies with your pc
- knit, crochet or sew items of clothing for the elderly or needy people
- participate in plant, bird or insect counts for bio-diversity research projects
- put up free posters that engage people to think about peace and not war
- proofread a public domain publication to ease it's conversion into an ebook
- donate excess plant seeds so that they can be distributed to worthy organisations
- write a letter to key personnel campaigning for better animal rights

For more microvolunteering ideas, visit

Microvolunteering Beneficiaries

Lead an open discussion session to discover who the beneficiaries are of microvolunteering actions.

With few exceptions, they should mirror those that are normally associated with traditional volunteering opportunities. A few examples include:

- elderly, sick people, drug users, alcoholics, visually impaired, lonely people, the homeless, refugees, people with learning difficulties, prisoners, living in poverty, bullied

- animal welfare, pet abuse, habitat conservation, global warming, those affected by natural disasters, uncontrolled deforestation, recycling to conserve world resources

- slavery, fair trade, genocide, civil rights, humanitarian issues, human rights

This should demonstrate to your students that microvolunteering is essentially no different to traditional volunteering when it comes to the worthy causes it benefits. It's just the delivery method that's different.

Pros + Cons

Using what they have learned from this lesson, arrange your class in groups of 3 and ask them to think about the advantages and disadvantages of this type of volunteering as compared to more traditional forms of volunteering.

Ask them to list down the pros and cons of microvolunteering on a sheet of paper. Inform them that each group should appoint a spokesperson who will read out their list to the class.

For ease of comparison the main pros and cons are summarised below:

The Pros
- Can be conducted anywhere, at any time.
Impact: Control of environment = safer

- Most micro-actions are non-committal.
Impact: Dip in and dip out = less barriers than traditional volunteering to participate

- Shy people will feel more comfortable, as they can now volunteer in their own company.
Impact: Wider range of people = more inclusive society

- Can be squeezed in between more traditional volunteering commitments.
Impact: Less time restrictions = do more good

- Empowers people to realise they can make a difference on their own terms.
Impact: More flexibility = more control regards impact achieved

- Can be conducted while watching tv, on the bus or in your pyjamas.
Impact: No more meetup commitments = volunteering goes wherever you go

- Huge diversity of actions that traditional volunteering opportunities just simply do not cover.
Impact: More actions = more good

- Enables more disabled and housebound people to feel they are contributing to society.
Impact: More involvement = more self worth

- People can be pooled from the whole world to help out, rather than just a local or national area.
Impact: More people = more good

- Micro-actions are easy and simple to accomplish. Might encourage people to explore even more actions.
Impact: More curiosity = more people discovering ways they can help

- Usually no requirement for a criminal record check.
Impact: One less hurdle to cross = greater participation rate

- Practically all microvolunteering opportunities require the minimal of training. Read the instructions and go.
Impact: Simpler actions = no more excuses not to volunteer!

The Cons
- Many micro-actions are computer based and can be performed by an individual acting on their own.
Problem: This could be perceived as a lonely occupation

- Micro-actions are small tasks which when combined with other people's actions produce an end result. The volunteer is therefore divorced from seeing any direct results.
Problem: Could be frustrating if you're the type of person that wants to see instant results

-There is usually no contact with the recipient of your action. You don't get to see their smiles when you have helped them out.
Problem: Could be quite off-putting for some people

-Even though your actions are combined with others and you are therefore acting within a team, there is rarely any direct interaction with other people performing the same action.
Problem: You may not feel a part of a team - not to everbody's tastes

- You can normally see proof that a result has been achieved with traditional volunteering. With micro philanthropy you are normally reliant on what a website tells you they have achieved.
Problem: What proof do you have that your micro-action has achieved something

- From an organisation's point of view, there is less control and interaction over the people they are reliant upon, in helping them out.
Problem: It may need more effort spent in convincing, motivating and encouraging people to help them out

- On the whole, people aren't aware that worthy causes can be benefitted via micro-actions, so they don't go looking for them. Organisations wanting to benefit from people performing micro-actions have an uphill struggle to gather a pool of people to help them out.
Problem: Time spent encouraging and finding people to help them out may be better spent on other things with more effective results

- There are many areas where micro philanthropic actions will never be an effective substitute for more traditional opportunities, eg. caring for the elderly.
Problem: Micro-philanthropy is only effective up to a point -- it will never solve all of the world's problems

In Closing Then

Invite students to share which benefits of microvolunteering they consider important. This may lead into a broader discussion about the whole topic of microvolunteering, so encourage students to reflect and comment on what they have learnt from this session.

It is important for your students to appreciate how easy it is to participate in some real live microvolunteer actions. Please visit the following webpage for some examples of actions that can be conducted in the classroom in real time. A computer and internet connection are essential for participation in these actions: