It is a lazy Sunday afternoon and though I haven’t left the house once, I’ve spent most of my day volunteering for a nonprofit. In the time that it would normally take to browse Facebook or clear out my Google Reader, I was able to help a Czech Internet nonprofit craft their social media strategy, right from the comfort of my own living room.
The site that made this digital volunteering experience possible is called Sparked, and it is the world’s “first micro-volunteering network.” With the tagline “Online volunteering for busy people,” Sparked is CEO Jacob Colker and CTO Ben Rigby’s answer to a problem that many working professionals face: finding free time in our chaotic lives to volunteer for the causes we care about.
"Sparked is really the evolution of three years worth of trial and error," says Colker. Originally coined The Extraordinaries, Sparked began as a mobile app designed by Colker, Rigby, and others that "allowed people to add image tags to archives while standing in line at Starbucks." But, says Colker, "The truth is, after awhile there’s only so many images that one person is willing to tag. While that was a hugely successful platform, it wasn’t the broad sweeping impact we wanted to have for the nonprofit sector."
With Sparked, a web-based platform that will soon boast mobile integration, Colker and Rigby now have a chance to influence the change they believe the web is capable of facilitating. Since The Extraordinaries launched, over 150,000 people have signed up as micro-volunteers, and Sparked itself has between 10 and 30 nonprofits register every day. It helps that the site is remarkably easy to use: when an individual volunteer signs up, he or she lists their skills and the causes they care about most. Sparked then culls challenges from nonprofits that require those skills, and users can choose which ones to take on. The challenges can be anything from critiquing an organization’s tagline to redesigning an entire website. "Sparked is a skill-based platform," says Colker. "We appeal really well to professionals who have years of expertise who are also incredibly busy people."
So far, Sparked has generated a number of successes, from larger projects like helping a Kenyan village gain access to fresh water to smaller but no less impactful ones, like redesigning a Romanian Tech organization’s banner ad.
"74% of the United States doesn’t volunteer, and the overwhelming reason is that they’re just too busy to engage," says Colker. While Sparked won’t convince everyone to transfer their energy from Facebook stalking to social good, it certainly dismantles several of the barriers that prevent working professionals from volunteering—and judging from the amount of hours wasted online each week, finding the time to micro-volunteer shouldn’t prove too difficult.