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It used to be that nonprofits’ resources were limited mostly by what they could afford. But now, nonprofits are faced with a new challenge: find the time and manpower to use (and learn to use) the many low- to no-cost tools available online.

Whether it’s watching webinars over lunch, monitoring social media to better understand the context of their work, or using Google for donor research, nonprofits are increasingly turning to free and low-cost tools on the internet to make up for small budgets. The problem, of course, is that it takes time to master these new tools and to use them well. Simply piling these things onto employees that are already stretched thin is no solution.

Organizations—and their leaders—must carefully choose what is worth their scarce time. The core constraint has changed—money is still a limiting factor, but increasingly time is the real constraint.

This time constraint is true both for nonprofits and for those they’re trying to engage. For donors, volunteers, and stakeholders, time and attention are the most precious resources in today’s information economy.

thumbs upThe Extraordinaries has taken the concept of pinching minutes to a new level. Through their network, Sparked, the idea of micro-volunteering is preached and practiced. Companies and individuals can take their professional skills and volunteer for their favorite cause, just a few minutes at a time. It’s skills-based, passion-driven volunteering without a lot of time commitment.

“All the names in your data base or on your email list—nonprofits can empower those supporters to add countless new hours of human energy to help you advance your mission,” says Jacob Colker, co-founder and CEO of the Extraordinaries. “Through crowd-sourced mass collaboration, you can leverage just a few minutes of your supporter’s time to achieve big results.”

Nonprofits can get help with marketing, fundraising, idea generating, and more by enabling small donations of people’s time. It’s a win-win: people feel great about using their time and talents for good, and nonprofits can engage people on new, changed terms. The Extraordinaries are offering a response to the changed constraints with savvy, by leaning right in to the new reality.

Are you pinching your minutes as wisely as you pinch pennies? If time is the new money, how are you increasing your time and where are you investing it? How are you helping your stakeholders do the same?

(image courtesy Flickr user Mike White |, Creative Commons)

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Holly Minch is LightBox Collaborative’s chief engineer and founder.