Volunteering Sauce

Volunteering your time on your terms.

Volunteering Sauce

The kind of volunteering I’ll be looking at is a mutually beneficial relationship that adds value to the life of the volunteer as well as helps the charity offering the opportunity to reach their goals. If it doesn’t help both parties, it doesn’t qualify.

Charities and non-profit organisations need more volunteers to help with their work than ever before. At the same time people today are super busy and have a million other things to do besides volunteering. This does not necessarily mean that they don’t want to volunteer – the opportunities simply aren’t packaged in a way that suits them.

Herein lies the challenge to the charities…

How to offer meaningful opportunities for people to volunteer their time at 2am in the morning when sleep is eluding them? How to help volunteers develop the skills they really need if they can only offer up three random days a year? How to get the entire families involved and still get enough work done?

Many charities are already providing numerous opportunities like these. This blog is going to look at the existing opportunities and see how the charities are connecting with the groups of people who consider volunteering if it is offered in a more flexible and accessible manner. How to mobilize these new resources?

Featured post

In search of micro-volunteering…

I am a busy person. I work full time, spend several hours a day on commuting, go to the gym, meet up with friends, feed my two cats, watch the occasional movie…. I don’t have a lot of time to give to volunteering. Does that sound a bit like you?

Not to worry, more and more charities are experimenting with online short-term commitment-free volunteering opportunities. After having listened to Ben Rigby go on about micro-volunteerism I went to to see if I, too, could make a change in the one hour I had left over late one Thursday night.

It is extremely easy to get started as a volunteer.


Simply pick some causes that you really care about…


…list the skills you’d like to volunteer…


… and you’ll be offered a variety of currently live challenges, matching your previous choices, that you could help tackle.

I ended up designing a poster, providing the charity with a new angle to communicate their message. It felt great!

  • I got to work on my design/marketing skills
  • I got to contribute to a cause I genuinely believe in
  • I received almost instant feedback from the charity that posted the challenge, making me feel as a valued participant
  • I can develop a relationship with the charity if I want to but it is not compulsory. The choice is mine!

I am likely to go back to them next time I have a bit of free time on my hands and see what else I can help them with.




If the idle processing power of computers can be used for achieving a greater goal, so can the time people spend on procrastination, commuting, standing in queues, staring at nonsensical status updates on Facebook…

One of the first people to come up with a way to use this untapped resource was Ben Rigby, co-founder of  His TEDx talk ( is thought-provoking and inspiring.Micro-volunteerism

This theory of micro-volunteerism is based on three principles:

  1. Convenience – it is possible to volunteer on the devices that are already in your pocket
  2. Small pieces – break bigger projects into easily and quickly achievable smaller tasks
  3. Network model of management that allows for peer review to implement quality control

Ben talks about a global system of volunteering that is completed via internet on a variety of digital platforms. Non-profits can upload a task and people from any corner of the world can volunteer their skills.

However, many non-profits often actually need people to be physically present to assist with tasks. Using the same three principles, the term micro-volunteering also applies to other types of one-off flexible volunteering that can be fitted around a very busy schedule. Drop-in, visiteering and speed volunteering are just three names used to describe the same idea.

Micro-volunteering can be used on a global scale but it can just as easily be implemented in just one organisation  or even one part of an organisation. It is easy to set up, simple to manage and as such can be developed from the grassroots up to engulf whole non-profits, networks of organisations, and take over the world of volunteering as we know it now.

Some examples of microvolunteering include MapSwipe

Computers can volunteer flexibly, why not people?

SETI@home is one of the best-known distributed computing projects in the world. It is an internet-based public volunteer computing project, hosted by the Space Sciences Laboratory, at the University of Berkley. The purpose of this project is to analyse radio signals, searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

SETI@home was released to the public on May 17, 1999, making it the third occurrence of technology like this being used for volunteering. The project uses the idle processing resources of thousands of personal computers owned by volunteers who have installed the relevant software on their systems.


When the volunteer downloads the software every time they aren’t using their computer it analyses some data and sends the results back to SETI@home. While each individual part may not mean a great deal, when amalgamated at the other end it allows them to have a much deeper and broader understanding of the universe around us.

Intrigued? Have a look on their website to find out more:

In addition to a cool screensaver where volunteers can track basic data regarding their input to the project SETI@home quickly developed a competitive side. Volunteers started to compete with each other on league tables about who could process the most work units. The competitive aspect of the project has definitely played a part in encouraging long-term involvement.

Successes of SETI@home:

  • engaging the audience  – there has always been an interest and a wonder in the question of extraterrestrial life. Think about Independence Day, E.T., Alien … who wouldn’t want to know for sure!
  • very easy to get involved – just download BOINC software and leave your computer to it.
  • uses idle power  – just imagine what people could achieve if they did a bit of microvolunteering instead of spending hours scrolling through Facebook?
  • going strong since 1999. In 2013 there were 1.4 million computers registered in the system.
  • benefits for the volunteer – getting the feel-good factor without actually doing much.
  • SETI gets masses of computer time – essential for an underfunded project like this.


  • the software needs to be redeveloped as computers advance – though using new systems and processes these days is part and parcel of everyday life
  • single focus platform – SETI@home is research based, used for analysing and processing data
  • involvement of people is minimal – depending on the purpose of volunteering, in our super-busy lives today this might actually be a positive aspect.


Blog at

Up ↑