Lack of time is the limiting factor preventing many would-be volunteers from offering their skills to a cause. Yet it seems most people have at least some time to waste online.

Micro-volunteering combines those two factors by giving people a way to easily pick up small, online volunteer tasks to do from home in their spare time. So rather than killing time watching a few videos on YouTube, you can help an animal shelter come up with fundraising ideas or assist an African youth association write up a scholarship application.

It’s a perfect fit for tech-savvy professionals who have a lot in the way of skills to offer, but would rather not have to fight through miles of traffic to go across town for just a few hours of volunteer work. Instead, sit at home and tap away at the computer.

The Spanish website Microvoluntarios coined the term micro-volunteering in Spanish when they registered their domain in 2006. The Extraordinaries, now called Sparked, popularized the concept in 2009 with their mobile app, which gave people the opportunity to use their phone to help out by adding image tags to archives.

With the name change, the project expanded its reach. Sparked now connects volunteers and nonprofit organizations together on more than 7000 projects, called challenges. Rather than look for a volunteer to work in a specific position, Sparked is set up to help nonprofits find volunteers for a specific project—online work that requires a clear deliverable and can be accomplished in a relatively short period of time. Like other crowdsourcing initiatives on the web, the idea is catching on fast.

Short-term project-based volunteering is a perfect fit for the wired millennial generation that likes to have a lot of choice and to multitask between those choices. As a skills-based platform, Sparked also attracts busy professionals who have specific skills to offer, but need an easy way to offer them.

Typical ways nonprofits challenge volunteers include: brainstorming fundraising ideas, creating an event poster, setting up a Twitter account, receiving feedback on a website’s ease of use, installing a Facebook Like button and researching other like-minded organizations.

Sparked makes it super easy for nonprofits to get set up and find volunteers. Write up a challenge or pick one from templates that already have all the required information written down. Simply type in a few details and post.

The backend interface neatly lays the challenges out in folders. A maximum of five challenges can be posted at a time, so to add more challenges, one has to be removed from the folder.

According to the Sparked website, eligibility is limited: “For now, to use Sparked you must be a registered nonprofit organization (501c3), school, international NGO, or accredited social enterprise.” But from the sounds of it, will likely be opening up to non-registered nonprofits and non-accredited social enterprises in the future.

The successes that Sparked manifests are small, but significant. To nonprofits that have limited expertise even just a couple of hours of website analytics interpretation or the design of a new logo means a lot. Now, through micro-volunteering, nonprofits can use the web to crowdsource these important skills to get the jobs done.

image: Ed Yourdon (Creative Commons BY-NC-SA)