How did you spend your last twenty minutes? Mindlessly browsing social media sites or watching videos online? Online window shopping for that new gadget you would never use? You could have been micro-volunteering, helping your favorite cause and flexing those professional muscles you’ve been building for years.
Sparked.com allows skilled professionals to help out not-for-profit organizations, one small project at a time. What started as an app has now been turned into the world’s first “micro-volunteering” network. Micro-volunteering allows users to contribute the small amount of extra time they have, whenever they have it. According to CEO and Co-Founder of the Extraordinaries, Jacob Colker, the website allows for more skills based volunteering than the app did. Created by the Extraordinaries, Sparked.com hopes to engage the 73% of Americans who do not volunteer, mostly because of lack of time. “At Sparked, we hope that micro-volunteering will become as widely accepted as micro-finance,” said Colker, “Give a little bit of money and time to have an impact.”
Sparked allows large corporations like United Way and The American Red Cross or small businesses like The Family Center in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, to spread the word of their services without losing funding for them.
Not-For-Profit organizations list individual projects that they need help accomplishing and volunteers can work on these tasks in their spare time. Already teams of volunteers from organizations like Google and Kraft Foods have jumped on board and contribute regularly to the challenges.
Volunteers sign up and list all of their skills and causes in which they are interested. From there, Sparked suggests challenges to perform. My skills include social media, graphic design, marketing, PR and copy writing. Suggestions for me have included brainstorming a pitch letter to send to bloggers, offering suggestions on how to maximize output from social media and many opportunities to give feedback on company websites.
Since signing up, I have already started to revamp a logo for the 24th Street Theatre in LA, taken a survey for StudentMentor and helped choose a tagline for Reading Matters. Total time spent volunteering… maybe an hour. But if everyone contributed an hour to projects they are already good at and do not need training on, to-do lists around the world would dwindle.
Working, even when you’re not
Personally, I feel like this type of volunteerism could really take hold. People have reduced their lives to 140-charachter tweets instead of those dreaded holiday family bulletins and sound bytes instead of lengthy presidential speeches. I think the same goes for this area of their lives. People spend thousands of hours every week doing nothing but browsing the web. If they could take this time and transform it into productive volunteerism without the annoying acclimation period of typical, time-consuming charity, I think they would.
From the perspective of a busy PR student, I think this is an opportunity to build portfolios like never before. We are taught today, in every field, that internships and experience are key to finding a job after graduation. Without clips and a portfolio, you will be overlooked. Sparked could allow students to do actual work on projects pertaining to their areas of specialty while maintaining the ability to sleep until noon. Creating a new logo for a not-for-profit or writing a pitch letter to bloggers holds major weight in the job market and because of Sparked, can now be done from your dorm room. I have already suggested Sparked to classmates who are athletes or world travelers and do not have the availability for a summer internship.
For those who cannot find or are between jobs, contributing efforts to not-for-profits shows dedication to your craft which can only enhance a resume.
The not-for-profits then benefit from all of these efforts by getting excellent services for free. Instead of spending large chunks of small budgets hiring contractors or consultants, these organizations can utilize a large talent pool, and use funds for the programs they are trying to benefit.
“Sparked dramatically reduces management for the not-for-profit,” Colker said. “Making it easy to post projects and get work done without the hassle of applications, vetting, and training.”
One last comment about Sparked: they’re big on thank yous. I love this. They recognize that you could still be mindlessly browsing through albums of photos of that acquaintance whom you met that one time you can’t remember and impulsively added as a “friend.” So after completing a challenge, you receive a thank you note! And who doesn’t like to be appreciated?
About the Author:
Kara McIver is studying Communication at Purdue University. She loves triathlons, reading, snowboarding, twitter, toasted peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and dogs.
photo credit: thanks to Kevin Zollman via flickr
By Kara McIver