June 11, 2012
Got 15 minutes? Be a micro-volunteer
Dianna Hamilton has five children and works as a data analyst for UnitedHealth Group, so she doesn’t have much time to volunteer.
Now she doesn’t need much.
Last year, she was asked to take part in a pilot program in which the Minnesota-based company’s employees become “micro-volunteers.” Working online in intervals as short as 15 minutes, they use their job skills to help nonprofits brainstorm marketing ideas, design logos, proofread brochures, build databases and much more.
“It’s a great idea,” Hamilton says. “I love the idea of doing these small, short-burst projects, especially if you can do them online and at work.”
Micro-volunteerism is a relatively new workplace trend but is already becoming a powerful “employee engagement” tool, some human resources managers say.
Target, Kraft Foods, IBM, Microsoft, Deloitte and scores of other corporations are climbing on board by tapping online micro-volunteer catalysts such as Sparked.com, Catchafire.org and The Points of Light Institute’s A Billion + Change campaign.
'So cool, so smart'
UnitedHealth, the nation’s largest health insurance company, piloted the idea internally last year and had 230 employees sign up to donate $50,000 worth of time.
“This platform is so cool. It’s so smart,” says Kate Rubin, vice president of social responsibility and president of the UnitedHealth Foundation.
The company sees the pilot program as a logical extension of its efforts to encourage workers to volunteer, with more than 5,000 employees donating 169,000 hours of time last year. Recently, 200 employees got together in Minneapolis to build bikes for poor children.
Hamilton is UnitedHealth Group’s leading participant in the micro-volunteering pilot. She’s done projects worth $4,000 in 15- to 30-minute intervals. She built an Excel spreadsheet to tally scores for a fencing club; proofread marketing brochures for another nonprofit; crafted a pet walk fundraiser for a pets-of-deployed-vets program; and created a database of children’s cancer facilities in Denver and New Mexico for another nonprofit.
Before the pilot program, Hamilton says, volunteering “took a boatload of time and you have to be in a physical location for an extended period of time. That’s very hard when you have kids. But this was easy and fun and didn’t take me a lot of time. I love it.”
Making a connection
Catchafire.org and Sparked.com link corporate employees with budget-strained nonprofits. A Billion + Change gets pledges from companies looking to boost their number of employee volunteers.
They let the involved companies take it from there, but keep tabs on their hours of volunteer projects. While micro-volunteering began in fits and starts in 2008, it’s since fanned from coast to coast and beyond.
UnitedHealth employees use Sparked.com to sign up for quick online projects that have helped groups that trained seeing-eye dogs, counseled victims of violence, coached people with autism and fed the poor.
A Billion + Change started as a federal program in 2008, but it relaunched in November and is run through the Points of Light Institute. Since November, it has amassed corporate volunteer pledges worth $1.7 billion in employee time over the next three years.
“Micro-volunteering is one piece” of that equation, says Executive Director Jenny Lawson. “It is a type of volunteering that is increasingly interesting to companies. But it’s a model that is not quite proven yet, so everyone is still learning how to do it.”
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