Digital Volunteers and Micro-volunteering

We’re familiar with the case study of the Red Cross utilizing digital volunteers during natural disasters. However, digital volunteers aren’t just limited to emergencies, and Red Cross isn’t the only organization that’s utilizing international volunteers. ‘Virtual’ volunteers are contributing to development projects around the world. The advent of widespread ICT usage means that volunteers can contribute to a project that’s happening in a different country (or even continent!) just as easily as a project in their own.

Several websites, such as VolunteerMatch, have been used the concept of digital volunteers to drawn attention to projects that require assistance. Users can find projects that interest them and determine what type of activities they can fit into their schedule. Typical volunteer opportunities include translating documents, research, writing blog entries/newsletter articles, doing grant research etc.

This is an extremely useful tool for NGOs in developing nations, since it increases their access to support. For example, international development projects can be a challenge because of the language barrier.  If there isn’t a local volunteer who can assist with translation, then the organization may be able to find someone with the desired skillset through one of these websites.

Virtual volunteering has also spawned the idea of ‘micro-volunteering’, which applies crowd-sourcing to volunteer tasks. Instead of crowd-sourcing news or reports, these organizations allow a large number of people to do small tasks that help a cause or organization. An example of this would be Wikipedia, where millions of contributors assist by editing and adding new information to articles. Other websites have lists of small tasks that can be completed in anywhere from five minutes to an hour, depending on how much time the volunteer decides to set aside.

I’m glad our guest lecturer brought up the digital volunteers case study. Virtual volunteering is definitely something that appeals to me. It means that I can offer my assistance on a development project that I really care about, but I don’t have to leave my apartment or deal with commuting to and from the location. I only took a cursory glance, but there are a lot of opportunities that I think would appeal to some people in this class. It’s definitely worth looking into!


3 responses to “Digital Volunteers and Micro-volunteering

  • rwoolworth

    The idea of digital volunteering is really cool and will appeal to many. However, I believe the reason many people volunteer is to interact with different kinds of people, experience a new way of life etc, so I wonder if these factors will play into the popularity of digital volunteering?

    • hpohnan

      I agree, you definitely have a point. When I’ve volunteered locally in New Orleans I think the most gratifying moments have been meeting and working alongside members of the community. In most cases I think people would prefer to be able to interact with the community they are serving. But for cases where people have busy schedules (work, school, etc.) or are unable to travel, this poses a possible solution for those who still wish to contribute.

  • zgoldmann

    I really like the idea of virtual volunteering as well. I also think it could be very helpful in some ways to organizations because I think it opens the door to find people with highly specialized skills even if they aren’t in your area. So if an organization has a small task that would require a skill that they don’t have in their area, the fact that people can volunteer without having to be in close proximity could be very helpful.

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