Volunteering in Your Jammies?

The new Web-based platform Sparked is using the tagline “Online volunteering for busy people,” encouraging busy professionals to volunteer for the causes they care about right from their computer. 

The platform aims to connect tech-savvy volunteers with organizations around the world, and will soon feature mobile integration. Sparked is for all ages, but is specifically designed to engage millennials—those who grew up in the age of cell phones and social media.

Many nonprofits lack the resources for effective means to reach out to the online community, from language translation to graphic design to effective social media campaigns, so Sparked provides a great resource for nonprofits to crowd-source such projects. The Web site has already had a number of successes, from helping a Kenyan village gain access to fresh water to redesigning a Romanian tech organization’s banner ad.

This all sounds great, but I’m a bit troubled about this trend.   Is there a downside to volunteerism that requires no personal engagement with an organization’s membership?   Aside from the services I provide as a volunteer, the best extrinsic value for me is the feeling of accomplishment I derive from interacting with an organization’s stakeholders.

Technology is like a two-edged sword.  It provides tools to communicate in ways that we couldn’t even imagine 5 years ago.  Technology offers applications that allow us to care for and do business with colleagues all over the world.

However, technology also isolates us.  Instead of taking a walk, enrolling in a class, or going out with friends,  you can go online and play board games or throw virtual pottery.  Because I work in a remote office, sometimes the only people I see on weekdays are the folks where I volunteer.  I look forward to those interactions as a break from my solitude; I can’t imagine trading that in for an online volunteer opportunity!





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