Why “Micro-Volunteering” is the Future of Digital Alumni Engagement

by

It’s all about time, isn’t it? The White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland once lamented about not having enough.

And we all feel the White Rabbit’s pain. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to balance our work life and responsibilities at home. No time to say, “Hello, Goodbye.”

But then again, maybe we’re not quite as busy every second of every day as was the White Rabbit. We all waste 15 or 20 minutes here and there. Let’s face it; we both know that watching the Real Housewives of Wherever on Bravo from 8-10pm after putting the kids to bed isn’t exactly important. There is time available for most people, just maybe not to attend an event or appear somewhere in person.

As administrators, we can’t capitalize on these spare minutes our alumni have available because all the volunteer opportunities we offer require much more time. Events typically require no less than 90 minutes to attend when factoring in travel time. Volunteering as a Club Leader or Class Agent requires an even greater commitment. How could an alumnus help out in 15 minutes or less?

Steve Rittler of CounterMarch Systems turned me on to the term, “micro-volunteering.” We were emailing back and forth about some of the digital engagement concepts my team has been working on here at U.Va. that involve crowdsourcing content for the UVA Global Network website. The term itself has a Wikipedia page so it’s not exactly new, but the idea is to create digital volunteering opportunities requiring only a few minutes of time to participate.

Our approach to micro-volunteering here at the University of Virginia is to provide an easy to use content submission form that allows users to share links to websites, articles, blog posts or Youtube videos that have already been created, rather than asking for new content. Those submissions are tagged and curated to appear on the nearest UVaClub webpage. Upcoming events in that city, state, region or country also show up in the sidebar. So volunteers can help their local UVaClub just by sharing interesting links.

Micro-volunteering, used in this way, pulls alumni into the pipeline. Giving time in the form of content submission allows for alumni to contribute to advancing their alma mater without significantly impacting their current allocation of time and money. When an alum submits content, they see a direct benefit to their peers as they comment and share the information. Their contribution enhances the value of the website to which they contribute and also positively impacts the growth of their regional alumni group. This process also leaves the alumnus or alumna with a positive interaction with their university.

Those of us who work in alumni engagement must treat alumni micro-volunteers as valuable volunteers. Micro-volunteering should not imply micro-stewardship. If we engage the alum and express how much we appreciate the time they carved out to add value to a digital project, then we start to build the relationship that may lead to longer volunteer commitments at events or a monetary donation when those resources become available.

Micro-volunteering opens up the arena of alumni engagement to include small digital contributions from a wide swath of alumni who had been left without the means to contribute previously. Just like in fundraising, tiny contributions from many sources add up to a much greater value in the whole than would be present in the individual sources alone.

We aren’t getting any less busy these days, even as our digital tools multiply and our productivity goes up, but we can now offer increasingly diverse ways to contribute to our communities. Engagement professionals expand the base of alumni they work with to advance the institution with digital engagement, and alumni can more easily keep their university integrated into their busy, daily lives when micro-volunteering is part of the pipeline, even if it’s just long enough to say “Hello, Goodbye.”

Special thanks to my colleague, Alaric Hammell, for his assistance with this post.

Ryan Catherwood is the Director of Engagement Strategy at the University of Virginia and Co-Host of “Advancement Live.” You can follow him on twitter @RyanCatherwood and connect on Linkedin.

From our sponsors: