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You’re a few years removed from graduation and starting to look for ways to reconnect with your alma mater. In part, you’re fueled by your own undergraduate experience where you felt the support of a close-knit, caring community of student peers and faculty. And perhaps you’re at a place in your career now where you want to show current students the same support that you had.

Maybe you think the only way to support current students is to give back financially, but the reality is there are other things you can do to enhance the student experience. 

Don’t get us wrong, financial gifts to Mount Royal create transformative experiences for students and support excellence in teaching and research. But alumni can engage in other ways that further their own development and boost their alma mater. Some other forms of engagement include: 

  • Staying informed on institutional news and stories (communication),

  • Gaining experiences and knowledge (through alumni events and rich intellectual programming) and

  • Seeking volunteer opportunities (to pay it forward to the next generation of alum).

Let’s take a look specifically at micro-volunteering, a relatively new and effective approach to volunteering that benefits recipient organizations and has proven to be rewarding to folks offering their time and talents.

Trends in Alumni Volunteering

All universities rely on the support of volunteers, who serve on a board of governors or an alumni association, run events, help
fundraise (yes, there it is again!) and act as institutional ambassadors in the community.

From an alumni programming perspective, the most dynamic engagement programs usually have one common trait: alumni volunteers are at the heart of the most popular activities or initiatives. After all, aren’t you more likely to participate if like-minded people have designed a learning opportunity for you, with your interests in mind? 

Jay Le Roux Dillon, chief alumni officer and strategist at the University of California, Berkeley, writes that volunteers have “the highest levels of connection and engagement” with their alma mater.

When it comes to one’s own alumni identity, “nothing is more influential than volunteering.” - Dillon 

Successful volunteer programs are challenging to run. In the 2022 CASE Insights on Alumni Engagement report (MRU participates in this survey of North American higher education), Canadian institutions reported a 10 per cent decrease from 2021 in the number of alumni engaged through volunteer opportunities.

Similarly, the University of Maryland’s Do Good Institute reports that “non-profit volunteerism has not rebounded post-pandemic, as organizations report difficulties recruiting volunteers and decreased volunteer workloads, even as demand for their services has increased.”

So, let’s face it. While there are many upsides to volunteering and giving back, the flipside is that many roles come with tedious, time-sensitive tasks that aren’t always exciting — endless board meetings, monotonous spreadsheet data entry, or sharing time and space with a fellow volunteer who insists on showing you their niece’s latest TikTok videos.

Universities like Mount Royal have found that micro-volunteering opportunities can eliminate the challenges of traditional roles that turn away potential volunteers and instead offer episodic, accessible options that mutually benefit the institution and alumni.

What is micro-volunteering, you ask?

Simply put, the term originated in 2008 (credit is given to, a website non-profits use to access a network of online volunteers) to describe short-term, low-commitment volunteer opportunities. didn’t stick around for too long, but the micro-volunteering concept has.

Today, Volunteer Canada says “definitions vary on the specifics of micro-volunteering, but all center around a few key aspects:

  • A short time commitment

  • Quick projects

  • Primarily done on one’s own (contributing pieces to a larger project)

"What makes micro-volunteering innovative is the time commitment. Community organizations know that people are busy - these opportunities hope to capitalize on the limited free time that someone has.” - Volunteer Canada 

From my research and lived experience, plus support from The Social Town here are the advantages of micro-volunteering:

Recognizing the challenges of recruiting volunteers to longer-term commitments in the post-pandemic era, schools like Cornell in the U.S. and Dalhousie in Canada have developed micro-volunteer programs as an easier engagement gateway for their alumni. Cornell, one of the most comprehensive alumni engagement strategies globally, calls them “Done-in-a-Day” volunteer opportunities.

And Dalhousie University’s Dal Insight Circle is the school’s first-ever borderless, flexible and digital alumni volunteer program. In 2021, more than 750 alumni participated in 10 surveys surrounding a variety of strategic initiatives and projects for the University. 

At Mount Royal, alumni volunteers co-designed a revised alumni awards program together with the Office of Alumni Relations in 2023. This group of alum volunteers joined three virtual focus group meetings to provide candid feedback and insight, which was incorporated into the new awards program. 

“Being able to say that the Outstanding Alumni Awards was designed with the input of alum volunteers adds a different credibility to the recognition,” says Tia Hagen, chair of the MRU Alumni Council and president, MRU Alumni Association. “It demonstrates that the university values alum.”

What kind of similar opportunities can Mount Royal alumni participate in?

One initiative that utilizes micro-volunteering for young and mid-career alumni is through the Office of Alumni Relations’ Alumni Classroom Takeover (ACT). Piloted in 2022, the program has proven extremely popular with MRU alumni and current students alike.

In Classroom Takeovers, alumni return to campus as one-time panelists, guest speakers or instructors to connect with students in a meaningful way, sharing knowledge and experiences on career exploration they’ve accumulated since graduating, reflections on adjusting from campus life to “office” life, helpful industry insights and life lessons to help students prepare for their future and start building their network.

To date, more than 157 alumni have participated, and the next installment will take place in March 2024.

ACT is an accessible micro-volunteering opportunity that can make a powerful difference, passing on your wisdom and life lessons to the next generation of MRU students. You don’t need to be an expert public speaker and it’s a safe and welcoming environment to develop those types of skills.

Another MRU micro-volunteering opportunity is to serve as an occasional alumni storyteller by writing stories or blogs, recording videos, creating content for social media, taking photos and sharing your narrative.

Or, if connecting with prospective students is more your vibe, there are opportunities to talk one-on-one about your Mount Royal experience with high school students at an Open House.

Whether a micro-volunteer opportunity like ACT appeals to you or you want to commit to something longer-term, there are a bunch of ways to get involved at Mount Royal. Visit MRU Alumni’s main volunteer landing page or specifically the Classroom Takeover page for more details.

Article written by Matthew Fox
December 20, 2023