by David Aft

Okay—first, a few disclosures. I have been around philanthropy and charitable enterprise most of my life. I am the son of a career community services professional and have made my living working in the nonprofit sector for almost thirty years. During this time I have had the pleasure of watching civic and humanitarian pursuits of all shapes and sizes blossom. These causes have been led and supported by countless volunteers, who pour hours of time and energies into various missions and pursuits.

It is rare that I witness a new, worthy model of volunteering emerge, and even rarer that a new approach finds footing and success. Yet, that is precisely what has happened with micro-volunteering, a term I first heard in 2009 as I drove home listening to an NPR broadcast about The Extraordinaries (now known as Sparked).

Micro-volunteerism opportunities are convenient, bite-sized, low-commitment services that benefit a worthy cause. Most micro-volunteerism tasks can be accomplished via a smart phone or tablet. Simply put—it’s where charity meets brevity meets technology, and that’s why I believe the concept has taken root. Volunteering has always been synonymous with the investment of time, and not everyone who is inclined to volunteer has large chunks of time to offer. Micro-volunteerism makes the act of voluntary participation possible throughout the day—a few minutes here and a few minutes there—from wherever you are.

After browsing a micro-volunteerism database (helpfromhome.org), you may choose to use your smartphone or tablet to tag photos and videos for a museum in your spare time. Have an extra thirty minutes before you pick the kids up from soccer practice? Why not help a high school senior fill out his or her college application via Skype.

Another micro-volunteerism service named, Be My Eyes, allows blind or sight-impaired individuals to reach out through cyber space and be paired with a reader who can read food or medicine labels over a two-way video connection. To date, over 24,000 sight-impaired individuals have registered with the service and almost 325,000 people have volunteered to be part of the sight response team.

In our busy worlds, setting aside hours to volunteer is difficult, but taking five minutes to read a food label for a blind person or take a look at a young job seeker’s resume and provide feedback or even translate a document from another language, is quite do-able.

Now I know micro-volunteerism will never be an effective way to build a new ball field or clean up a polluted stream or river, but the idea that people can use technology to unite those with a need with volunteers willing to help who have a few minutes of spare time, is a novel idea whose time has come.

I believe every act of charity is an act of hope—hope for the hopeless, as well as hope to better ourselves through service to others. Through micro-volunteerism, no act of kindness or goodwill toward mankind, is too small.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development.