THE BLOG

Micro-Volunteering: How Less Became More for Charities

04/09/2014 14:22 BST | Updated 03/11/2014 10:59 GMT

As the first day of September dawned, it signified many things: the kids were back at school, the nights were drawing in and the Ice Bucket Challenge was soooooo last month.

While some hardy souls have continued to keep the craze going (I'm looking at you, Fudge the dog) there's no doubt that Peak Bucket has been and gone. In fact, according to Google Trends, the peak number of searches for words associated with the challenge was on August 21, the day after David Beckham got his top off for an icy drenching. Funny that.

It has been THE social media phenomenon of the summer, filling our Facebook feeds with friends, famous types and a fair few businesses. In the process, the challenge has raised millions of pounds and, just as importantly, awareness of Motor Neurone Disease, or ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) as it is called in the US.

We've seen Arsenal football players get revenge on the referee with a nomination; Alex Salmond nominate David Cameron at a time when the Scottish independence campaign is at its height; and we've seen Sir Patrick Stewart add a touch of finesse to his ice bucket challenge by drinking an iced cold beverage and writing a cheque.

There is some debate surrounding the origins of the challenge but what is certain is that, in mid-July, former baseball player and ALS patient Pete Frates began tweeting about what was going on and, rapidly, ALS became the focus of the challenge.

Money began pouring in to the US-based ALS Association and its UK equivalent, the Motor Neurone Disease Association. In the month between July 29 and August 29, the ALS Association received $100million... more than five times what it received in the whole of 2012.

And here's a thing: those huge figures were not the result of a well-planned, well-executed and well-targeted campaign. They were the result of millions of people giving up a tiny amount of time, making a small effort and donating a modest sum.

This was the Crowd in action, demonstrating how small things can have a big impact, if there are enough of them. Many of those who bemoaned the Ice Bucket Challenge for being shallow, self-aggrandising spam found themselves in different Crowds: Water Aid saw a huge leap in donations, driven at least partly by people registering their frustration at the water being wasted in the challenge.

There were three key reasons why the challenge was such a huge success: Firstly, the Internet allowed the idea - and proof that the idea worked - to spread rapidly. Secondly, the viral element was embedded from the moment the first challenge was issued. Thirdly, this was something that people could do easily and that they wanted to do; they wanted to be part of this new 'club' and membership cost just a few quid and some goosebumps.

The money was raised without anyone having to train for a 10k run, without anyone having to sign a Chugger's direct debit mandate, without anyone setting out to organise a Comic Relief or a Live Aid.

This was micro-volunteering, doing some little thing that we are good at or enthusiastic about, for someone else's benefit. No, it didn't involve driving a youthclub minibus or marshalling at a sponsored walk, but it did involve fundraising and, as any charity will tell you, that's always one of the big headaches.

This, of course, does not mean that traditional volunteering is a thing of the past. For example, the effects of Motor Neurone Disease - a progressive neurodegenerative disease which affects a person's ability to walk, talk and eat, and essentially traps sufferers in their own malfunctioning bodies - mean that a large support network for patients and loved ones is needed. The MND Association has more than 3,000 active volunteers, and thousands more members.

Our own charity, Fcancer, is a micro-volunteering specialist. Through our website, Fcancer.org , we are leveraging the trend of online social giving to attract a community of volunteers who are pledging their skills to various cancer charities.

It's a wonderfully simple idea: you let us know what skills you have, and how much time you want to spend helping, and we connect you with cancer charities seeking those skills. Whether your skill is web design, animation, proof reading or plastering, chances are there's a charity out there that you could help just by doing what you're good at.

Charities registered with Fcancer include Maggie's, Children with Cancer UK and Breast Cancer Campaign, amongst others, with skills for projects required across lots of disciplines including graphic design, PR and social media.

One of those who recently signed up is Anne Noble, who says she was attracted to the volunteering community because of the flexibility in the amount of time you can donate.

She added: "When I heard about it, I immediately wanted to sign up because I've always wanted to volunteer but, with a busy job, I don't have a lot of time, so the minimum donation of 5 hours really appealed."

With the digital revolution extending its influence over the charity sector, the choice of how to donate is vast. Whether it's a trending challenge or a micro-volunteering donation, it's clear that social media is opening up a world of opportunities for individuals and charities to unite.

And the best thing is, you don't have to shake a collecting can, run a marathon or join a committee if you don't want to. Heck, you don't even have to involve a bucket of cold water.