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Sparked: A Revolution in Virtual Micro-Volunteering

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This post was co-authored by Amy Neumann.

There are many benefits to volunteering. You feel more connected to the world, and in many ways, empowered to make a difference. You can build a house for the needy, plant trees, tutor students, and help military families -- it's endless.

In a soaring, beautiful post about making a difference, Gretchen Rubin correctly points out:

Volunteering is the right thing to do -- we all know that. And studies show that it boosts happiness; those who work to further causes they value tend to be happier and healthier, experience fewer aches and pains, and even live longer. And it's not just that helpful people also tend to be healthier and happier; studies show that helping others itself causes happiness.

In fact, the rapid rise of microvolunteering has become buzz-worthy for the great conversation -- and progress -- its generating. Jacob Colker and Ben Rigby, the architects of this concept and 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.

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

Sparked was named one of the Top 12 Nonprofit Platforms by Mashable earlier this year and it's easy to see why. 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 take 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 gives positive feedback that encourages more volunteering.

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, fun things in tech). 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.

Sparked is clearly on a roll. Its simplicity and laser targeted skills-to-challenge model is fantastic, 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. Indeed, supporters of the social good are consistently coming up with ways to help volunteering thrive and grow. This model is certainly doing its part, and sparking a great thirst for greater innovation and better efficiency, one cause at a time.

To find out more about Sparked and how you can make a difference, check out their website and follow them on their Twitter feed.