Volunteering in the Gig Economy: Changing the World From Your Kitchen Table

volunteer from home

The gig economy is growing, as more skilled workers choose one-time jobs and freelance projects over typical 9-to-5 jobs. This trend has also made its way into the world of volunteering. 

With just an internet connection and a laptop, people can offer their skills digitally to organizations around the world. Here’s a look at how the gig economy and volunteering are intersecting in fascinating ways.

Gig Work Lets People Reconfigure Their Work-Life Balances

Whether as full-time freelancers or part-time contractors, many Americans are involved in the gig economy. Statista estimates that there are about 57 million workers in the U.S. gig economy

Some turn to gig-economy work out of necessity, others out of a desire for flexibility. As Freelancers Union founder and executive director Sara Horowitz explains, 85 percent of freelancers wouldn’t return to a full-time job because they value the freedom of freelancing. 

“A lot of freelancers are saying: I want to spend time with my family, volunteer for political organizations or follow my interests, and I don’t have to knock out 40 hours a week just for that,” Horowitz says.

With flexible scheduling and remote-work options, even a 40-hour work week leaves opportunities for people to get involved with charities and nonprofit organizations — opportunities they might have missed out on if they had a typical 9-to-5 schedule.

I love the fact that people are realizing that they can forego the perceived safety of full-time employment to contribute their unique skills, experience, education, and passions to the world at large,” says Trevor Foster, founder and CEO of the talent platform Fulcrum. 

And just as the economy has begun to make room for remote work, there are remote volunteering opportunities available, says virtual volunteer researcher Jayne Cravens. Nonprofits often rely on digital contributors at least as much as they rely on in-person volunteers.

Walking dogs job

A Gig-Based Approach to Volunteering

Being a freelance worker means you can pick and choose your clients. Over time, you shed the clients who are poor fits and nurture the working relationships that are good fits. The same dynamic applies in volunteering.

Not all volunteer-organization pairings will be a good match, and that’s completely normal. A volunteer might find the work boring, or they might discover that an organization doesn’t match the expectations they had going in.

For organizations, it’s burdensome to keep working with unenthused, checked-out volunteers. So, if volunteers have the opportunity to try out multiple opportunities and settle into relationships with organizations they’re passionate about, it’s a win-win.

The solution, then, is to create small opportunities for volunteers to get involved without too big of a commitment from either side. Volunteers can take on tasks on a gig-by-gig basis to assess an organization. Organizations, meanwhile, get to collaborate with people before they invest in extensive training or onboarding programs, and those short-term collaborations help volunteer coordinators see whether they are delegating and managing work in a clear, orderly manner.

There’s a word for this gig-based approach to volunteering. It’s called “microvolunteering.” 

Microvolunteering: Letting People Donate the Time They Have Whenever They Can 

Busy schedules are one of the biggest deterrents to volunteering, says Matthew Boyd, CEO of the volunteering marketplace Vollie. He points out that today’s volunteer organizations need to be flexible if they want to attract skilled and passionate workers.

This is where the idea of microvolunteering came from. Microvolunteering, also called ad hoc volunteering or episodic volunteering, refers to volunteer tasks that can be accomplished in small increments of time, Deirdre Reid at the American Bar Association says.

These short, infrequent volunteer opportunities are usually completed from a computer on a remote basis, Latasha Doyle writes at GuideStar. Microvolunteering opportunities range far and wide, but they usually involve one-off activities that can be performed in a few hours or less. 

Examples of microvolunteering include tweeting about an organization or event, baking a cake, picking up garbage in the community or signing a petition, writes Sam Kriviak at Volunteer Alberta. 

Organizations can also use microvolunteers to conduct research, an essential albeit time-consuming task, Julie Dietz at Higher Logic writes. Volunteers can ask members to provide feedback and give their opinions, for example. Such input is valuable for creating content across an organization’s websites and social channels. 

Simply creating opportunities that can be completed remotely and within a short amount of time can increase the number of volunteers you attract.

Woman picking up trash. #trashtag

If Your Team Could Use Help, Create Opportunities For Microvolunteers 

For organizations, offering more microvolunteering tasks can expand their volunteer base by attracting busy people. This results in a large, more diverse volunteer base that, while constantly changing, is equipped to meet the organization’s needs at any given time.

What’s more, any big pool of volunteers can strengthen your base of supporters, say Eileen Cunniffe and Ruth McCambridge at Nonprofit Quarterly.

Similarly, gig economy volunteers often have other valuable skills to contribute both now and in the future. Since many nonprofit executives started as volunteers themselves, expanding opportunities to a wider base of workers can increase the chances of finding future leaders, says iVolunteer Philippines.

But first things first: You need to connect with these kinds of volunteers, and you need to assign them work that they can easily fold into their schedules. The software engineer and the freelance graphic designer who have come forward to volunteer might not be available for a day-long fundraiser, but they might be able to support your social media outreach or send out emails to donors. 

Delegating these kinds of tasks might require a new approach to managing work. This means ditching spreadsheets and embracing collaborative tools like team-management software. Organizations that can make room for gig workers and their erratic schedules, however, will find whole new communities of people who are on board with their missions and ready to help.

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