Washtenaw County area non-profits welcoming ‘micro-volunteering’

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Recent social and demographic changes have made micro-volunteering popular because it offers convenience, ease, speed, flexibility and choice of tasks for volunteers, according to a 2012 Institute for Volunteering Research survey study.

Micro-volunteering involves non-skilled tasks done in a few hours or one day’s time by an individual or group of people benefiting a non-profit organization.  They usually don’t require any training or ongoing commitment by a volunteer.

For Robert Klingler of Ann Arbor, this type of volunteering fits perfectly into hisbusy schedule.

“I help when I have time and when I can use my skills,” said Klingler, a member of Professional Volunteer Corps in Ann Arbor.

Micro-volunteering gives him a chance to work on specific projects and meet fellow volunteers-some who have become his friends.  It also allows him to pursue his passion for making a difference in the lives of others, Klingler said.

In choosing projects, he considers how agencies assist people and looks for opportunities to help human service organizations solve community issues.

“I like to help agencies that make an impact on problems in Ann Arbor such as Peace Neighborhood Center and Ronald McDonald House,” he said.

According to a 2012 Help From Home report, “Micro-volunteering-Evidence of Impact,” small efforts by a large group of individuals make reaching a common goal possible.  One example is clicking on a link to donate money to a non-profit agency.

“The trend toward short-term volunteering from the weekend or one-day warrior to the micro-volunteer is no longer a trend but a fact,” noted Susan J. Ellis, a blogger for Energize Inc., in the article “The Rise of Micro-volunteering.”

Major research studies document this shift toward micro-volunteering.  According to a 2002 study “Emerging Trends and Issues in Volunteerism and Volunteer Program Management,” changing demographics with aging baby boomers, two-career families, geographic and employment mobility, technology, and competing opportunities available for busy people, are key factors in the growth of short-term volunteering.

A 2006 Corporation for National and Community Service issue brief, “Volunteer Growth in America: A Review of Trends Since 1974,” cites a rise in community service, service learning in schools, higher education levels, delayed child bearing, and longer life expectancies as reasons for this change.

Locally, the United Way of Washtenaw County — which held its annual volunteer luncheon promoting the theme, 2013 Mission: Possible on Sept. 12 — links agencies with individuals needing help.

CEO Pam Smith said, “Our 211 community help line generates over 1,000 calls a quarter from people that need help.”

There are many ways individuals become involved in the community.  For example, we have a successful building project committee that assists families needing access ramps for their homes, she said.

“We have lots of groups that contact us to help out for a specific opportunity or day.  (United Way) does a National Day of Caring every June that brings together thousands of volunteers nationwide to help local nonprofits with just about anything they ask for.  Businesses, in our area, have corporate social responsibility policies.  We work with them to put their employees into action, volunteering to help make significant change happen where they live and work,” Smith said.

Food Gatherers, a food rescue agency in Washtenaw County, is another organization that welcomes short-term volunteers.  Some micro-volunteer opportunities people do include group activities such as food drives and off-site events. Design, photography and marketing professionals also donate their services for specific projects.

“With more than 5,000 volunteers annually, we have developed effective and efficient training for many of our tasks so volunteers can get to work pretty quickly. They’re here to help out and they appreciate that we use their time effectively,” said Mary Schlitt, director of development and marketing for Food Gatherers.

“Volunteers are looking for work that connects to our mission and they are looking for high-quality training in order to perform their jobs effectively.  They appreciate our commitment to a safe and welcoming environment,” Schlitt said.

Girl ScoutsHeart of Michigan recently expanded its short-term volunteering opportunities.

“Today’s volunteers are trying to balance work, home, and volunteering with Girl Scouts, and sometimes other youth organizations,” said Adult Recruitment and Membership Specialist Janice Amin.

The leader position, created in the 1950s to meet the needs of stay-at-home-moms, no longer works. The majority of current volunteers are now employed outside the home or are in college full time. As a result, we’ve needed to provide more support for troops, she said.

To solve the problem, Amin led a team of six volunteers to redesign the volunteer support system for the Ann Arbor area.  After studying the issue, micro-volunteering positions were added to the recruitment, engagement, and ongoing support areas of the Girl Scouts.

“Volunteers are looking for an opportunity where they can make a lasting impact on girls and have fun doing it,” Amin said.

They also want flexibility and choices on how they work with youth.  In response to those needs, we tailor opportunities to fit the calendars, skills and interests of individuals, she said.

Girl Scout micro-volunteers work directly with girls or behind the scenes with other adults to support troop volunteers.  Individuals interacting with girls become involved in the camp, event, travel, program and troop areas.  People working with other adults do tasks in the administration, council, learning facilitation or fund development areas.  Some volunteer jobs are designed for working independently while others involve working in groups.

Volunteers are crucial to Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley’s mission of providing affordable homeownership opportunities to families in Washtenaw County.  They contribute more than 30,000 hours per year.

Habitat for Humanity attracts many volunteers seeking short-term opportunities.

“People think of the organization right away as a place they can make a tangible difference. They see the impact of our work in the community and want to be part of something bigger than themselves,” said Margaret Porter, development director.

Micro-volunteers build and renovate houses, and work at ReStore, which sells recycled building materials and supplies.  They also perform administrative tasks in the office and serve on committees involving retail store operations, family services, and fundraising.  Some jobs require contributing ideas and others hands-on action.

Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds–people with full-time jobs, youth, college students, the middle-aged, and senior citizens have a place at Habitat for Humanity.

Committed volunteers derive great satisfaction from their jobs.  Those doing construction see the immediate results of their work.  They also get to know the staff, other volunteers, and families receiving a new home, Porter said.

In Ann Arbor, Professional Volunteer Corps offers micro-volunteering opportunities for single people.  The group provides assistance to non-profit agencies in Washtenaw County who serve the community in the environment, human services, cultural arts, and health areas.  Volunteer support helps agencies stretch their limited resources so they can accomplish their missions.

PVC works with many organizations, including the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, Washtenaw Literacy, American Cancer Society, and Natural Area Preservation.  Members choose from a variety of projects that match their interests and schedules such as silent auction fundraisers, mailings, park maintenance, sorting food, clothes and toys, run and walk events, cooking and serving meals, and ushering for concert performances.  Volunteer opportunities are set up on weekends, with an average time commitment of three hours per project.

“Volunteering has become an integral part of my lifestyle, requiring planning and organization, said PVC member Bill Kidd of Ann Arbor.

Kidd started micro-volunteering after discovering issues that needed to be addressed and realizing he could only do so much by himself.

“Selective volunteering enables me to join like-minded individuals or organizations to further understand these causes and contribute beyond myself.  It is also helping me develop additional skills in leadership and advocacy,” he said.

Kidd sums up his experience this way: Micro-volunteering keeps him active and engaged, gives him a chance to meet new people, provides a sense of balance with work and family, and brings a feeling of pride and ownership in the community.

Professional Volunteer Corps holds monthly membership meetings at 7:30 p.m. on the second Friday of the month at the NEW Center, 1100 N. Main St., in Ann Arbor.  At the meetings, members discuss projects, conduct business, and participate in social opportunities.  There is an information session for prospective members at 7 p.m. before each meeting.  Anyone who is single, widowed or divorced and at least 25 years of age can join.

For more information on short-term volunteering opportunities visit Food Gatherers, Girl Scouts Heart of MichiganHabitat for Humanity of Huron Valley, Professional Volunteer Corps, and United Way.

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