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Review: Micro-volunteering

June 24, 2010

QUICK! What do you see?!? If you type fast, you too could be a volunteer for the Library of Congress.

When it’s my job to help people to learn how to give back more strategically, I should probably pair my actions to my words.

To be fair, I created a two giving strategies for my company. But sometimes, I just wish I could do something that doesn’t necessarily involve painting schools, tutoring kids, or – frankly – talking to people.

And then I heard about something that appeases my inner-ADD: Micro-Volunteering.

I attended a Donors Forum event yesterday when I first heard of the concept. For those not from Chicago, the Donors Forum is the state’s leading voice on philanthropy and the organization had its annual member luncheon featuring the keynote speaker David La Piana and the panelist respondents Ricardo Estrada (City of Chicago), Nicole Robinson (Kraft Foods, Inc.) and Mae Hong (Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors).

The Extraordinaries is a micro-volunteering web site where you can help a number of nonprofits with quick and easy projects. The site claims to be functional on mobile devices (although I only tested it on a boring desktop), so you could potentially volunteer from anywhere.

Most of the projects are photo tagging, where you add search-able tags to photographs. Photo tagging is essentially creating keywords for photos that make it possible to search for images containing the same attributes. So for example, in the image above, you might write: Harry Wright, Philadelphia, white male, suit, three-piece suite, pocket watch, baseball.

The photo can be historical in nature (such as for the Brooklyn Museum) or more activist in nature (such as helping tag animal abuse photos for Big Cat Rescue). I spent almost all of my fifteen minutes of heroic volunteerism tagging historical photos for the Library of Congress.

The way it works is, you have thirty seconds to write as many tags as you can, then the software matches your tags to the existing tags and remove duplicates. Within a short amount of time, you catch on, and it feels more like a game than volunteering work.

“Oh, just one more,” I heard myself saying. Before I knew it, ten minutes had passed by.

It helps to read the provided descriptive text before you hit the start button. It also helps to be a fast typist. I couldn’t imagine doing it on a touchscreen phone, but that’s probably because I’m used to have a full-size QWERTY keyboard and… I don’t have an iPhone or an iPad. But I’m not bitter…

You can also volunteer to check other people’s work for some quality control. I did this as well and you essentially rate the tag submissions of other users. This is necessary not only to prevent the inevitable joker from entering swear words, but also because sometimes mistakes are made. One submission I rated low included the word “food,” despite the picture being an image of a man from the 1800’s in a suit.

There are other projects besides photo tagging. For example, you can take pictures of playgrounds, any playground, and upload the image and the playground’s location for KABOOM! to use. They’re trying to create a geographical database of playgrounds across the country.

Volunteering here is easy. I do wish that the site made it easier to understand how these micro-projects connect to a larger strategy for the nonprofit.  For all of my Library of Congress assistance yesterday, I did it with the understanding that it must be useful for LOC since they’re participating. But I didn’t have a sense of how my efforts could link in to a larger goal other than that it simply made the world’s largest library “more accessible.” It’s a crucial part of any volunteering program – to communicate HOW a volunteer’s work is important, not just that it is important.

So check it out. You have nothing to lose, except for 30 seconds of your time.

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