Friday, May 20, 2011

Sparked: Virtual Microvolunteering For Busy People (Like You)

How did busy lives and  constant connectivity spark a microvolunteering revolution?  Jacob Colker and Ben Rigby, the founders of Sparked, took a look at a few things they figured would make volunteering faster, easier and more fun.  Built to work with a love of technology and  fast-paced schedules, it’s way to help give back while adding a dose of passion to your day.

Sparked came about from feedback of over 300,000 volunteers on their initial Extraordinaries platform, as well as from the nonprofits those volunteers helped.  Jacob and his team shared why Sparked has become a big hit.

"With budget cuts the struggle is to do more with less.  If nonprofits need services like graphic design or document translation, or marketing expertise they’d normally pay outside sources to do, they can now get it for free.  It also brings new supporters into the mix with the social sharing side.  Nonprofits can both save a lot of money and also build impact by using Sparked.   Sometimes the best way to do fundraising is to cut costs." Colker explained.

Volunteers wanted ways to be more directly tied to core mission.  Months of research revealed the most clear need - skills-based volunteering with deep expertise.   Now that Sparked already had more than 3000 nonprofits using its service, there are hundreds of fresh, skilled volunteer opportunities every week.

The real paradigm shift with virtual mircovolunteering is that it can be any time, anywhere, and your skills or passions can be directly matched up to a need for that skill.

You really can do virtual microvolunteering anywhere.

The real paradigm shift with virtual mircovolunteering is that it can be any time, anywhere, and your skills or passions can be directly matched up to a need for that skill.

You really can do virtual microvolunteering anywhere.


“It’s an eHarmony for volunteering.  We find the perfect task for you based on your skills, interests, and past behavior.  And each time you do a challenge the system gets smarter.” ~ Boris Korunsky, Lead Engineer
Sparked was named one of the Top 12 Nonprofit Platforms by Mashable earlier this year.  Some highlights that helped get it there:
  • Volunteer “challenges” can be done in 2 minutes to 2 hours, or in other words -- fast.
  • You pick the type of cause or the organization, and the specific type of skilled work to do.
  • You can see other people’s responses, which fosters your own learning and creativity.
A few popular types of volunteering are graphic and logo design, social media consulting, marketing and PR guidance, website and mobile design and tools, language translation, and reviewing materials to give feedback.

For nonprofits, Sparked creates an instant talent pool without requiring scheduling, screening, training, or other pieces of volunteer coordination that time a lot of time.  A nonprofit can simply post a challenge, get responses, choose what they like, then send a "Thank you" Award of Excellence.  If you're a nonprofit, you can have your first challenge live in minutes!  And Sparked's feature of thanking every participant immediately after a challenge is closed gives positive feedback that encourages more volunteering.

“It’s the Web 2.0 version of the old adage, ‘Two heads are better than one.’  And in Sparked’s case, it’s hundreds!” ~ Jill Carlson, Room to Read
For companies, it helps with some traditionally tough volunteering challenges.  Since it can be done from anywhere, there's no time out of the office.  Virtual skills-based volunteering also allows employees to use or enhance key skills, and even skills they may enjoy using but don't use regularly on the job (think second languages, creative writing, techy fun things). Everything can be tracked and shared, so a company and its employees can see the impact they're having... and so can everyone they know.

    Team Sparked: Ben Rigby (left), Joseph Pigato (center), Shauna Carey (center), Boris Korsunsky (bottom),
    Jordan Snodgrass (via Skype on laptop), Jacob Colker (right).

    “Companies like Google, SAP, Kraft and LinkedIn are finding it a great way for employees to come together globally and work as team for the greater good.” ~ Shauna Carey, Nonprofit and Community Manager 

    Want to Volunteer?  - Go here and Try this:  Tab through the very brief quiz to select skills and interests, then find a challenge immediately!  Total time: 3 minutes

    Are you Nonprofit? - Go here and try this:  Enroll, then select and edit a pre-made Challenge Template in an area you need help with - done!  Total time: 7 minutes

    Are you Corporation? - Try this:  Contact for ideas on how to leverage your employees' business and tech skills to give back without travel time.  Track it all with metrics for a concrete measurement of your company's ROI - Return on Impact.

    Sparked is a win-win for volunteers, nonprofits, and business.  Its simplicity and laser targeted skills-to-challenge model make it fast and fun.  And the fact that you can easily share your accomplishments with friends and contacts makes it even more significant as a way for new people to discover great nonprofits.
     “Talented employees can use high-level skills to dramatically increase the social impact, and share it on Twitter and Facebook easily.”  ~ Joseph Pigato, VP Business Development
     Find out more at and follow them on Twitter @Sparked.

    You can also follow the author, Amy Neumann, @CharityIdeas.

    How do you see Sparked helping with your volunteering, or your organization?  Let us know in the comments section!