The power of micro-volunteering

Give a little time, make a lot of impact

There’s no doubt that OU students are a busy bunch – balancing academic work with day jobs, caring responsibilities, health issues, and myriad other commitments is a stretch at the best of times. Combine that with home-working, home-schooling and the many other challenges of the past year and it’s no surprise that many of us simply don’t have the time to even think about taking on the responsibility of a regular volunteering role. Here’s where micro-volunteering comes in:


What is micro-volunteering?

Micro-volunteering involves one-off, “bite-sized” activities that benefit a particular cause without the need to commit to future involvement. These activities can be on-line or in-person and can take anything from a few minutes or a day. Whether it’s baking brownies for a cake sale, signing a petition, or writing a blog post for World Mental Health Day, most of us have engaged in some form of micro-volunteering even if we don’t know the term. 

The events of the past year have seen a huge surge in demand for micro-volunteering opportunities, both from organisations needing that little bit more support and from individuals strapped for time. Over 750,000 people answered the call for NHS volunteer responders, giving a little time here and there to pick up food and medicine for those who are self-isolating and lending a listening ear to those experiencing loneliness. Thousands more have done the same for members of their local communities without being affiliated to a particular organisation.


Covid brought out the best in people with thousands stepping up to help vulnerable members of their communities with tasks such as shopping, delivering medication, and even dog walking...


Why volunteer?

Two reasons – it does the community good, and it does you good. 

It’s easy to dismiss the benefits of micro-volunteering on communities. On an individual level, we know that small actions can make a big difference; a smile, a compliment, a cup of tea at the right time can all make a bad day good. The same applies to volunteering – that last signature on a petition, a few minutes spent cleaning the local park, a story shared on World Mental Health Day – these small actions add up to make a monumental change. 

In a time where many of us are isolated from our friends and families, volunteering is also a fantastic way of feeling connected and even making new friends. That ‘warm glow’ we get from helping others is also a very real phenomenon, with studies showing that volunteering and other altruistic activities reducing feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, and can even give your immune system a boost. Micro-volunteering in particular can feel very empowering because you remain in control of your time and which causes you get involved in at any one moment.


A quick like or share can help boost a vital message from a cause you care about...


How can I get involved?

The OU Students Association is launching a brand-new micro-volunteering role! It’s a perfect opportunity to give volunteering a go and we’ll be offering a wide variety of activities and mini-projects ranging from writing articles and quizzes, conducting research, and helping out at community events. Applications open at the start of February and you will find a full role description and application form here.

If you are looking for a more local opportunity, Covid-19 Mutual Aid has a directory of local groups, many of whom need volunteers to offer occasional help such as shopping, befriending, or sorting donations at foodbanks. 

If nature and the environment is your thing, the RSPB has lots of ideas on how you can give nature a home in less than an hour.

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Ellie Milnes-Smith
Ellie is a member of the Students Association staff team.

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