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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Micro vs long-term volunteering: finding a role that fits


Brian Reeves on lessons that can be learnt in Scotland following a successful experiment in micro-volunteering down south

It’s undeniable that volunteers play a huge part in the success of charities, with many increasingly reliant on the spare time of others.

Unfortunately, at a time when economic and societal pressure is putting so much demand on the third sector, it is becoming harder to recruit volunteers or encourage people to give up their time and skills using traditional methods.

At the RSPCA we are highly reliant on volunteers, and a few years ago we realised that we needed to change in order to continue attracting them. Traditionally, we have only offered roles which involve background checks, obtaining references and training once recruited.

However, in 2020 we decided to introduce smaller roles that were a lot more accessible and flexible, and didn’t require all of the same checks meaning volunteers could start sooner and can crack on with their volunteering role.

With the introduction of these micro-volunteering roles, we have seen first-hand how a charity can adapt to the evolving volunteering landscape and appeal to different demographics who are keen to support in new and innovative ways. By having a combination of micro and long-term volunteering roles, charities can make sure they are offering something suitable for everyone.

Finding the best fit

When deciding to start helping at a charity, it’s imperative that volunteers look at how much time and energy they can give before applying for a role. This could depend on their employment, their family status and even their mobility, however it is important that they find a role that best fits how much they can commit.

Micro-volunteering has helped the not-for-profit sector to welcome people that want more flexibility and convenience – ideal for younger generations who want to volunteer in smaller, bitesize roles, they can pick up at a time that suits them, while on their daily commute, from the sofa or later in the evenings.

At the RSPCA, we introduced our Wildlife Friends app in 2023 which aimed to reach more volunteers that wanted to help in small doses. The app provides information on how to take simple actions in protecting and encouraging local wildlife and what to do if you find an injured animal. It also has a list of activities which people can choose from to suit their availability and ability, such as how to create a habitat or sharing tips on social media about how to care for certain animals.

The app allows our volunteers to engage at times convenient for them rather than volunteering for a dedicated time each week or month.

After launching the app, we saw more than 1,000 people sign up in one of our biggest and fastest recruitment drives, proving the impact that introducing these roles can make. For example, we called upon micro-volunteers to collect information on their local councillors for a campaign which they completed in two weeks, something which would have typically taken our team 10 weeks to do.

Achieving more

It must be said that micro-volunteers are no different to long-term volunteers. They are just as important and valued by charities, and both types of roles have their pros and cons.

At the RSPCA, micro-volunteering roles have helped us carry out tasks we couldn’t previously do. We have been able to attract a younger demographic of volunteers, those who might be in full-time education or employment and therefore don’t have a lot of time to undertake full training or dedicate hours to volunteering.

Micro-volunteering means they can help us between their other responsibilities and commitments and often can be done remotely or through their mobile phone – making it even more convenient than traditional volunteer roles.

Introducing flexibility has ultimately been the key to continued success at the RSPCA. However, it can mean that we have a lot of people to manage and our roster is forever changing.

We still need and value volunteers who can work in our shelters to walk dogs and care for rescue animals, clean enclosures or foster animals that need temporary homes. But we also recognise that we need volunteers to share advice on social media or help raise awareness of our work too.

When taking long-term volunteers on board, we have the security of knowing they will be with us for a while. Our teams can dedicate time to train them and provide roles they can get stuck into, such as working as an animal rescue officer or charity shop volunteer.

Undertaking a long-term volunteer role can be ideal for people with more spare time, looking to expand their community or learning a new skill and there are many benefits in doing so for both the charity and volunteer.

By starting in one of these roles, which can last from a minimum of three months up to a year or longer, a volunteer has the chance to feel part of a team that shares the same passion as them, while also gaining new skills. There is also the opportunity to try out new things, potentially helping them in their careers or with personal goals.

We’ve certainly noticed that there is a role to suit everyone - whatever their availability and skillset.

Assembling volunteers

Due to the constant change in volunteer numbers, charities that offer both micro and long-term volunteer roles must find a way to manage them. When we launched Wildlife Friends we knew we needed a digital solution that would make it easy to manage volunteers and help them easily see the tasks available to them.

By working with Access Assemble from The Access Group, to build the app, it was easy to welcome new micro-volunteers who wanted to help without having to take time out of their day for training – they could get started straight away and see what roles needed to be filled.

By being able to easily contact all volunteers, whether that be those who are undertaking micro or long-term roles, charities can make sure all tasks are being completed successfully, while also seeing what areas may need more support.

At the RSPCA, we are constantly dealing with sudden incidents or issues that we need to raise awareness for. By using the app we have been able to provide real-time information to our volunteers that they can access from anywhere via their phones and tablets.

They can then sign up to tasks to help their local welfare officer or share community news among local WhatsApp or social media groups, a role which these days is just as important as actually going out and physically helping.

As we have seen over the past few years, both micro-volunteering and long-term volunteering play a vital part in the success of a charity.

Both have their benefits but there are also a lot of elements that need to be carefully considered.

If charities are looking to increase their volunteer numbers, they need to be willing to open themselves up to welcome new roles and new ways of doing things.

Brian Reeves is head of volunteering at animal welfare charity, the RSPCA.



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