This morning more than 70 corporate volunteer program administrators and CSR executives called into our latest Best Practice Network Webinar on microvolunteering and corporate engagement, with guest hosts Jacob Colker and Joseph Pigato from Sparked.com (formerly The Extraordinaries).
We’ve been cheerleaders for The Extraordinaries since 2008, when Colker and Sparked Co-Founder Ben Rigby first introduced their concept to us. Back then the idea was that nonprofits could use their Web site to develop and post short-term, networked, crowd-sourced volunteer needs. Individuals could download an iPhone app to discover those opportunities, and then complete them directly from the app.
As Colker explained in today’s event, the app was popular but it soon became clear that a bigger opportunity was available to open the platform to a wide variety of skilled projects, and retool it not only to accommodate nonprofits and volunteers, but also corporate brands and employee volunteer programs.
So last year the company relaunched as Sparked.com and changed things up with the intention of providing for a much greater set of needs at nonprofits. This year saw the launch of Sparked Enterprise, their first foray into products and services for corporate volunteer programs.
Where Microvolunteering Fits In
As Colker and Pigato shared, Sparked compliments Web services like VolunteerMatch and sits side by side with highly immersive and structured pro bono volunteering services like Taproot Foundation (I might also add the newer Catchafire in here).
At present more than 1,400 nonprofits participate in the Sparked network, with around 10 each day joining up. But while VolunteerMatch is primarily about introducing a volunteer to a nonprofit for a wide variety of projects and engagement, Sparked focuses solely on short-term (typically less than two-hour) digital tasks like translation, graphic design, or copywriting that can be completed from the Web platform, theoretically making it easier for the volunteer to get in, get out, and re-engage on other projects. Plus other volunteers can weigh in on the work in progress, adding a collaborative element.
Projects are called “challenges,” a fun and energizing “game-based” strategy that spills over to much of the Sparked experience where graphics are emphasized, colors are used liberally, and a Millennial-friendly Web 2.0 style permeates.
Alignment in Sight
For companies, the promise of Sparked is to get more employees involved, unlock more of their most valuable time – their skills – and get more visibility for the corporate program through social sharing of challenges and communications between volunteer and nonprofit.
Colker and Pigato say that teams from Google, SAP, and Kraft are already using the system. Among the success stories they shared, it was great to hear how some Google employees have been particularly engaged, including one group from the Google Adwords team that was excited to be able to provide Adwords support to a nonprofit that has received a Google Grant for free advertising at Google.com. For companies looking to enable alignment between the skills of their volunteers and the needs of nonprofits, this is an easy win-win-win.
While the service is only offered in English, employee volunteers from anywhere on the globe can log in and volunteer. Pigato and Colker related how one Google employee in India had pitched in to provide an Arabic translation of a welcome letter that a Ronald McDonald House chapter in the U.S. gives new arrivals. The two also shared how a Masai tribesmen has gotten technical support for a well-digging project in Kenya. While both projects could have been helped by other services, Sparked’s ease of use and highly collaborative nature certainly helped.
Right now, the service can be white labeled and integrated into a company intranet, or companies can direct employees to Sparked.com itself, where group accounts can be set up to enable administrative control for management as well as friendly competition to do good from groups, divisions, or office locations within the company.
Still a Work in Progress
When it comes to corporate programs, Sparked is still evolving, said Colker and Pigato. One big challenge for CSR administrators is reporting and tracking. While Sparked is collecting a ton of great analytics about challenges met and skills contributed, it sounds as if reporting is still being handled on a somewhat case-by-case basis with assistance from the Sparked team.
The two also shared that currently the service only accepts 501c organizations (verified by the IRS database), but they’re looking to broaden the network to include organizations with a social mission that may not be 501c.
Another area of improvement for the system is integration with other aspects of corporate giving, particularly charitable giving and matching grants. Colker says a solution for companies with robust matching grant needs is in the offing for later this year.
More Details for Companies Interested in Microvolunteering
Is your company interested in adding micro to its mix of employee or consumer volunteer engagement strategies? VolunteerMatch is organizing a discussion group to explore where the need is for our clients. If you’d like to learn more, please email Megan Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.