The rise of micro-volunteering

There is no single fixed definition of micro-volunteering but most would agree
that micro-volunteering opportunities are quick to complete and require little
on-going commitment. While such voluntary action is not necessarily new in
itself and can exist outside of the internet and new media, developments in
technology have led to a growing interest in utilising internet-connected
devices to develop flexible and mobile forms of micro-volunteering.

An initiative that exemplifies the recent development of micro-volunteering is
Orange’s Do Some Good smartphone App. The App, launched in 2011,
provides five minute volunteering opportunities – or ‘actions’ – through
smartphones. These have included, for example, answering a survey for
Samaritans to help them better understand the needs of their target audience;
reporting incidents of bullying to help CyberMentors map bullying around the
UK; donating photos to an online image bank which charities can use for free;
and uploading reports of environmental crime to LoveCleanStreets who then
work with local authorities to respond to the identified violations. As an
incentive, Orange offer music rewards to those who complete 60 actions.

The rising interest in micro-volunteering has also been underpinned by
concerns in increasing levels of civic engagement. Indeed, much of the recent
discussion surrounding micro-volunteering has revolved around its potential in
engaging people who don’t participate in voluntary action and charitable
giving and in providing a catalyst for further engagement in other forms of
participation1. Such sentiments are reflected in the Government’s 2011 Giving
White Paper2, where innovation and technology are seen as key factors in
increasing levels of giving time as well as money.

There is, however, very little evidence of micro-volunteering’s impact and
value; the literature is largely limited to a small number of articles that propose
the potential benefits or merely present the outputs of micro-volunteering
initiatives. More empirical research that examines the impacts and limitations
of micro-volunteering is needed to substantiate some of the claims and ideas
that are driving forward this recent interest.

While it was beyond the scope of the research to address these issues fully,
in surveying people who participated in Orange’s Do Some Good
smartphone App, the study aimed to part fill this gap in knowledge.
Specifically, the research sought to address the following questions:

• What motivates people to engage in micro-volunteering?
• What are the characteristics of those people who volunteer in this way?
• What impact does it have on them personally?
• How does micro-volunteering relate to other forms of engagement?

1
Flouch, H. (2010) ‘Neighbourhood networks & micro-volunteering: new solutions for
spreading volunteering beyond the civic core?’, Networked Neighbourhoods, weblog,
http://networkedneighbourhoods.com/?p=263.
ivo (2010) ‘Can micro volunteering challenge the decline in giving time?’, ivo, weblog,
http://ivo.org/newshound/posts/can-micro-volunteering-turn-around-the-downturn-in-giving-
time.
2
Cabinet Office (2011) Giving White Paper, London: The Stationary Office.

2
Methodology
The survey was hosted through Orange’s Do Some Good smartphone App,
which provided a useful way of reaching a large number of people engaged in
micro-volunteering. It consisted of 16 questions to which participants were
able to select answers from pre-determined closed categories. It went live at
the end of June 2011 and ran until December 2011. In total, following the
removal of duplicates, 3,598 people completed the survey (tables showing all
the results can be found in the appendix).

A note on terminology
Micro-volunteering arguably encompasses a range of volunteering forms
including volunteering through smartphones, volunteering through the internet
and volunteering on a face-to-face basis. For the purposes of this bulletin,
however, the term micro-volunteering is used to refer to quick and low-
commitment volunteering opportunities that exist through smartphones.

Micro-volunteering is often considered in contrast to other, wider forms of
volunteering – that which takes place face-to-face, often in groups, clubs and
organisations, and which may sometimes be referred to as ‘traditional
volunteering’. For the purposes of this bulletin, these activities will be referred
to as ‘wider volunteering’.

Many of the questions relate specifically to the respondents’ involvement with
the Do Some Good App. In such instances, this bulletin will refer to ‘the App’.

Limitations
Although the number of people who completed the survey stands at a
relatively large figure, the sample is limited to people who have the App and
decided to complete the survey, and is thus not representative of those who
engage in micro-volunteering.

Moreover, as noted above, the App is one particular type of micro-
volunteering. While parts of the data have implications for micro-volunteering
as a whole, caution should therefore be exercised when drawing inferences in
regards to other forms of micro-volunteering.

The research is also limited in that it doesn’t explore the perspectives of the
organisations with which participants were involved or those of the
beneficiaries of their actions. This restricts what can be said about the wider
impact of the volunteers’ actions.

Despite these limitations, the study provides a valuable insight into the
perspectives and experiences of those who have used the App and, in doing
so, illuminates some of the key issues and questions surrounding micro-
volunteering.

3
Findings

Who took part?
Participants were predominately from London (15%) and the South East of
England (15%), and tended to be female (56%) and –most markedly – in the
younger age groups (78% between 16 and 34) (table 1). The greater
proportion of younger participants may be partly due to the higher level of
smartphone ownership amongst the 18-34 age group3 and possibly signals
that this age group of smartphone users are more likely to use an App such as
Do Some Good. This arguably points to the potential of micro-volunteering
opportunities in attracting younger people – a group less likely to engage in
voluntary action and charitable giving4.

How much time did participants give?
The participants, on the whole, represent an active and engaged group, with
the vast majority indicating that they had previously participated in some other
form of civic engagement.

Most notably, nearly all (97%) of the participants had previously donated
money to a charity, with half stating that this was in the past four weeks (table
2). Levels of volunteering in person were also high, with just less than three-
quarters (74%) indicating that they had previously done so (table 3). It must
be borne in mind, however, that this figure does leave a notable number
(26%) of participants who hadn’t previously volunteered in person, and,
moreover, of those who had, the greatest proportion (31%) participated over a
year ago. These findings remind us not to overstate the notion that micro-
volunteering attracts large numbers of people who do not regularly volunteer
on a face-to-face basis. At the same-time, however, they arguably further
highlight the possibilities of such initiatives in reaching some of those people.

The App has also engaged people who hadn’t previously participated in virtual
or mobile volunteering, with just under two-thirds (65%) indicating they hadn’t
volunteered online before using a different smartphone app or a computer
(table 4). This may be the result of a number of factors. Firstly, access to and
knowledge of previous opportunities. Secondly, the effectiveness of Do Some
Good’s marketing. Thirdly, participants not defining their previous participation
as volunteering. In regards to the third point, it is worth noting that less than
half (41%) defined their use of the App as volunteering (table 5).

Possibly highlighting the recent development of the App and/or that
participating in surveys is an appealing form of micro-volunteering, over half
(57%) of the participants in the survey stated this was the first time that they
had used this App (table 6). Of those who had used the App before, the
frequency of use varied, perhaps indicating the flexible and tailored form of

3
The Future of Mobile and Mobile Marketing (2012) UK Smartphone Demographics and
Stats, The Future of Mobile and Mobile Marketing, weblog,
http://txt4ever.wordpress.com/category/smartphones/ .
4
Mohan, J. & Bulloch, S. L. (2012) The idea of a 'civic core': what does the Citizenship
Survey suggest about the overlaps between charitable giving, volunteering, and civic
participation in England and Wales? TSRC Working Paper. 73

4
participation that micro-volunteering facilitates (figure 1). For instance, just
under one-fifth of the participants revealed a frequent rate of participation, with
7% stating that they have completed an action on most days and 10% once or
twice a week. Of less frequent involvement, 14% stated that they have used
the App a few times a month, while 11% indicated that they have used it less
than once a month.

Figure 1: Frequency of completing an action

On most days
1-2 times a week
Few times a month
Less than once a month
First time

How and why did participants get involved?
The data suggest that participants got involved in using the App through quite
different means and for quite different reasons to those often linked to wider
volunteering.

While participants indicated that they heard about the App through various
ways, by far the most common way was directly through Orange (73%) (table
7). Notably, only 7% stated that they heard about it via ‘word of mouth’ – the
most commonly cited way of hearing about wider volunteering opportunities5.
This possibly reflects a key difference in the nature of micro-volunteering and
wider volunteering. Whereas wider volunteering tends to consist of face-to-
face interactions and can involve group activity (in which existing volunteers
might recruit further volunteers), the processes of micro-volunteering – from
the initial stages of being recruited to actually undertaking the activity – can
exist solely through smartphones and can be undertaken in isolation.

The differences between micro-volunteering and wider volunteering may also
partly explain the way in which participants thought about their motives to use
the App. The findings indicate that most participants weren’t driven to
participate by altruistic and instrumental factors often associated with wider
volunteering (table 8); only 8% indicated that they completed an action to give
back to my community/help the environment, while just 13% selected the
range of charities to support, and 0% stated that they completed an action to
learn or improve a skill. Furthermore, indicating that most were not

5
Low, N., Butt, S., Ellis Paine, A. and Davis Smith, J. (2007) Helping Out- A national survey
of volunteering and charitable giving, London: Cabinet Office

5
incentivised by the music reward, only 4% stated that the reward was the
reason why they participated. Further signifying this, just over half (51%)
stated that the reward wasn’t important to them, and just over a fifth (21%)
indicated they weren’t aware of the reward (table 9).

Rather than being motivated by altruism or self-gain, it could be said that the
central factors driving participation are the opportunity to fill some spare time
and the convenience of the activity – key aspects commonly voiced in regards
to micro-volunteering. For instance, the most common reason for completing
the action was the ease and speed of volunteering (30%), followed by the
range of activities to do (24%) and having a little spare time (21%).

These findings suggest that the participants, on the whole, were more
concerned about the process of undertaking the activity than the outcome of
their actions; a point reflected in the possible factors that would stimulate
further participation in micro-volunteering.

Factors encouraging further micro-volunteering
The data indicate that most participants were supportive of micro-volunteering
and will continue to participate in this form of engagement, with the vast
majority stating that they would recommend micro-volunteering to friends and
family (83%) and that they plan to use the App in the future (94%) (tables 10
and 11).

The findings suggest that the key factor that could cultivate this seeming
appetite for further micro-volunteering is the activity itself (table 12). The vast
majority (81%), for instance, stated that different/more activities would make
them want to use the App more often. In comparison, only 8% indicated
different/more charities would do so, while just 3% stated receiving more
information on the difference their time made for the charity would, further
suggesting that the cause and outcome of the action was of less importance
for most participants.

The greater importance placed on the process of activity over the outcome
may also be indicative of how most participants valued the quick and low
commitment nature of micro-volunteering and saw their participation as an
isolated activity. This was reflected when participants were asked what
information they would like to receive after completing an action on the App
(table 13). The greatest proportion (37%) stated that they wouldn’t like any
information, while a very small minority (6%) said they would like follow up
feedback from the charity about the difference they had made.

Notably, just under a quarter (24%) stated that they would like information on
further volunteering opportunities with the charity they support. This is in
comparison to just 5% who indicated they would like information on
volunteering opportunities with other charities. While it was suggested above
that the cause and the choice of charity was not a central factor in driving the
participants’ participation, this indicates that to some extent the charity itself
may shape people’s actions.

6
Micro-volunteering and other forms of giving
As the findings suggest above, micro-volunteering differs in relation to wider
forms of volunteering, both in terms of its function and people’s motivations.
Similar distinctions were further drawn when participants were asked to select
which statements they agreed with in relation to micro-volunteering (table 14).
The greatest proportion (46%) agreed that micro-volunteering was easier than
volunteering in person, again pointing to how the ease and flexibility of the
activity was a key factor in facilitating participation. In slight contradiction,
however, only 10% agreed that micro-volunteering involved less commitment
than volunteering in person.

While the convenience of micro-volunteering may be viewed as a key benefit
over wider volunteering and most participants expressed a desire to continue
micro-volunteering, this shouldn’t be interpreted as indicating an
abandonment of wider volunteering. For instance, only a very small minority
agreed that micro-volunteering is a good replacement to volunteering in
person (3%) and that it can have the same benefit for the charity as
volunteering in person (5%).

What these findings may point to is how the participants conceived the value
and function of micro-volunteering in different terms to that of wider
volunteering. More specifically, it could be suggested that participants
perceived the strength and use of micro-volunteering as laying not so much in
its potential impact and benefits, but in its convenience and capacity to fill
spare time. In this way, rather than seeing micro-volunteering as a
replacement, participants possibly viewed it as complementing their
engagement in other forms of participation.

The second most popular statement was ‘it has changed my opinion of
volunteering’ (32%). The survey lacks the data to gauge in what way micro-
volunteering has changed participants’ views. The data suggest, however,
that it would be misleading to interpret this apparent shift in opinion as
signifying an inclination to increase participation in wider-volunteering; only
4% agreed that they were more likely to volunteer in person as a result of
micro-volunteering. Similarly, the findings highlight the need to be wary of
assuming that micro-volunteering acts as a catalyst for further charitable
giving; just 1% agreed that they were more likely to donate money to a charity
as a result of micro-volunteering.

7
Emerging conclusions
This survey has shed light on who is involved in micro-volunteering and why,
and its relationship with other forms of volunteering and charitable giving. In
doing so, it has questioned some of the central suppositions that have framed
much of the recent discussion on micro-volunteering and illuminated a number
of key issues that surround this form of volunteering.

Engaging the disengaged?
Critically, the study has highlighted the danger of assuming that micro-
volunteering attracts large numbers of people who don’t engage in other forms
of volunteering and charitable giving, as those who participated in the survey
represented an active and engaged group. This is not to say, however, that
the findings totally refute claims that micro-volunteering has the potential to
reach those less likely to participate in voluntary action. Indeed, there was an
indication that the App had engaged people who do not regularly volunteer in
person, and the greater proportion of younger participants points to the
potential of micro-volunteering initiatives that utilise smartphones in reaching
and captivating groups who are less likely to engage through more ‘traditional’
means.

A gateway to further participation?
The research lacks the data needed to ascertain whether the participants’ use
of the App and involvement in micro-volunteering more widely has stimulated
further activity in other forms of volunteering and charitable giving.
Furthermore, in considering that most participants had previously participated
in other forms of civic engagement, it could be argued that an increase in
levels of participation would be less marked and less expected. While it is
important to recognise these issues, the findings do raise the need to be
careful in overstating and assuming that involvement in micro-volunteering will
automatically result in increased participation in other forms of giving.

Complementing not replacing wider volunteering
While it is difficult to say anything conclusive about the participants’ future
participation, the findings do indicate that they will continue to engage in
micro-volunteering. There is no suggestion, however, that this would result in
the abandonment of wider volunteering. Indeed, the data suggest that most
participants perceived wider volunteering as providing a valuable role which
micro-volunteering is unable to fulfil. In this way, rather than replacing wider
volunteering, it could be said that micro-volunteering will complement other
forms of engagement, constituting a mix of styles that can be selected
depending on their function and the context.

Motivations to micro-volunteer
The majority of participants conceived the value and role of micro-volunteering
not so much in terms of the outcomes for themselves or beneficiaries but the
convenience of the activity and opportunity to occupy a short period of time.
The inconclusive question here is, with so many other smartphone apps that
provide a similar function, why were participants drawn particularly to micro-
volunteer? It could be suggested the newness and individuality of the App

8
attracted people. Alternatively, while the cause of the charity and potential
outcome of the activity may not have been the over-riding factor, participants
may still have identified with the values and ideas associated with
volunteering and charitable giving and have used the App to express this,
albeit it in a more transient and tacit way.

Managing and retaining micro-volunteers
The complexities surrounding the participants’ motives ultimately raise
questions about volunteer retention and micro-volunteer management. The
benefits of volunteering for the volunteer, whether that would be learning skills
or gaining a sense of satisfaction through helping others or building
friendships, are recognised as key factors in motivating and retaining
volunteers. Arguably, these outcomes are less evident in the process of
micro-volunteering. This possibly highlights the need for micro-opportunities to
be designed and targeted in different ways to wider volunteering if
organisations are hoping to ensure that they facilitate the continual and
meaningful involvement of volunteers. Here it could be argued that a greater
emphasis should be placed on the activity, creating new and different actions
that are easy and quick to complete and potentially feed into peoples values
and interests.

The possibilities and limitations of smartphones
The most common way of hearing about the App (via Orange) possibly
indicates the effectiveness of the internet in providing a direct avenue to a
large group of people and facilitating a quick and convenient route to
participation. While such processes offer many possibilities, they also carry
potential limitations. Namely, participation is limited to those with
smartphones, narrowing the pool of possible volunteers. In this way, while
micro-volunteering through internet-connected devices has the potential to
reach those who do not engage in other forms of participation, at the same
time it also has the effect of potentially excluding those who don’t have the
access to the necessary tools.

9
Further research
While this research has helped address a gap in knowledge around micro-
volunteering, it is not a conclusive study of this growing and varied form of
engagement. Further research is needed to advance our knowledge and
understanding of micro-volunteering and to inform policy and practice. The
themes and issues to emerge from this study, as well as its omissions, point
to a number of key areas that require further exploration.

• The potential of micro-volunteering in reaching those who do not
regularly engage in volunteering and charitable giving, focusing on how
internet-connected devices increase or restrict participation and how
this is stratified across different social groups.
• Patterns of participation over time and how micro-volunteering relates
to and possibly stimulates engagement in other forms of giving.
• The extent to which micro-volunteering translates into meaningful civic
engagement and tangible societal benefits.
• The motivations of micro-volunteers, examining how different activities
engage different types of users.
• The management of micro-volunteers, exploring the possible need for
alternative models of management for different types of engagement.
• The relationship between different forms of micro-volunteering,
particularly how activity that exists on a face-to-face basis relates to
activity through internet-connected devices.
• The relationship between micro-volunteering and the use of social
media for other purposes.

10
Appendix

Table 1: Characteristics of participants
Age Percentage
15 or under 5
16-24 41
25-34 37
35-44 13
45-54 3
55-64 1
65 or above 0
Prefer not to say 0
Base= 100% 3579
Gender
Male 43
Female 56
Prefer not to say 1
Base= 100% 3592
Region
Scotland 7
Wales 5
Northern Ireland 1
North East of England 6
North West of England 11
Yorkshire and The Humber 7
East Midlands 9
West Midlands 9
London 15
South East of England 15
South West if England 10
East of England 4
Prefer not to say 1
Base= 100% 3596

Table 2: Previously donated any money to a charity
Response Percentage
Yes, in the past 4 weeks 51
Yes, in the past year 37
Yes, more than a year ago 9
No 3
Base= 100% 3597

11
Table 3: Previously volunteered in person for a group, club or organisation
Response Percentage
Yes, in the past 4 weeks 19
Yes, in the past year 24
Yes, more than a year ago 31
No 26
Base= 100% 3586

Table 4: Previously volunteered online before using a different app
Response Percentage
Yes, in the past 4 weeks 10
Yes, in the past year 16
Yes, more than a year ago 8
No 65
Base= 100% 3592

Table 5: Described giving time through the App as volunteering
Response Percentage
Yes 41
No 23
Not sure 36
Base= 100% 3598

Table 6: Frequency of completing an action using the App
Frequency Percentage
On most days 7
Once or twice a week 10
A few times a month 14
Less than once a month 11
This is the first time I have used the app 57
Base= 100% 3598

Table 7: Method of hearing about the App
Method Percentage
Word-of-mouth 7
A charity 2
Magazine/newspaper 6
Orange 73
Website 10
Radio/TV 3
Event 1
Employer 2
Other 17
Base= No. of respondents* 3001
*Percentages may sum up to more than 100 as respondents could select more than one
answer option

12
Table 8: Motivations to complete an action on the App
Motive Percentage
The range of activities I can do 24
The range of charities I can support 13
The ease and speed of volunteering 30
To give back to my community/help the 8
environment
The music reward I would receive after 4
completing 60 actions
I had a little time to spare 21
To learn or improve a skill 0
The association with Orange 2
Other reason 3
Base= No. of respondents* 3403
*Percentages may sum up to more than 100 as respondents could select more than one
answer option

Table 9: Importance of receiving a reward after completing 60 actions
Level of importance Percentage
Very important 7
Fairly important 21
Not very important 33
Not at all important 18
I didn’t know there was a music reward 21
available
Base= 100% 3596

Table 10: Recommend micro-volunteering to friends and family
Response Percentage
Yes 83
No 2
Maybe 15
Base= 100% 3592

Table 11: Plans to use the App in the future
Response Percentage
Yes 94
No 0
Maybe 5
Base = 100% 3593

13
Table 12: Factors encouraging further use of the App
Factor Percentage
Different/more activities to do 81
Different/more charities to help 8
Ability to influence the choice of 3
actions/charities
Quicker actions 4
Longer actions 1
More information on the difference my 3
time made for the charity
Receiving a music reward for doing 3
fewer actions
Ability to donate money to the charities 1
No, none of these would make me want 7
to use the app more
Base= No. of respondents* 3243
*Percentages may sum up to more than 100 as respondents could select more than one
answer option

Table 13: Information after completing an action using the App
Information Percentage
Further volunteering opportunities with that charity 24
Volunteering opportunities with other charities 5
Online volunteering opportunities 19
Opportunities with Orange RockCorps 10
Follow up feedback from the charity about the 6
difference I made
No additional information 37
Base= No. of respondents* 3485
*Percentages may sum up to more than 100 as respondents could select more than one
answer option

14
Table 14: Attitudes to micro-volunteering
Statement Percentage
It has changed my opinion of volunteering 32
It is easier than volunteering in person 46
It involves less commitment than volunteering in person 10
I am more likely to volunteer in person as a result 4
It can have the same benefit for the charity as 5
volunteering person
It is a good replacement to volunteering in person 3
I am more likely to donate money to a charity as a result 1
I do not agree with any of these statements 4
Base= No. of respondents* 3417
*Percentages may sum up to more than 100 as respondents could select more than one
answer option

15
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