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VOL. 130 | NO. 59 | Thursday, March 26, 2015

Interactive Volunteer Program Launches in Memphis

By Andy Meek

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A new program that launched this week in Memphis is built around bringing a big dose of innovation to local volunteerism.


Volio, a service unveiled by Memphian Sarah Petschonek’s existing program called Volunteer Odyssey, is a kind of virtual volunteer fair, built around an interactive platform that includes engaging videos. The point is to amplify in a big way the work already under way by Volunteer Odyssey, the volunteering platform for job seekers Petschonek launched in 2013.

As Volunteer Odyssey progressed, she eventually noticed along the way a kind of blind spot in the now 2-year-old service, related to engagement and return on investment. The traditional notion of building a volunteer platform and corralling participants would involve things like visiting fairs and kiosks and signing up for e-mail lists. All of that, though, tends to be built around a gamble – the participant signs up for something when they’re not necessarily entirely sure what they’re getting into.

And not enough people, Petschonek decided, were getting plugged in and connected to long-term, meaningful volunteer experiences. So she decided to do something to take that element of uncertainty away.

Volio tries to provide a better starting point for that interaction between a volunteer and an organization. It features an interactive platform with immersive video tours that transport the volunteer straight to the source. So, for example, the volunteer can get a visceral sense of what it’s like to hop on a bike with the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry while they deliver food to the homeless or do other things like welcome a refugee family at Memphis International Airport with World Relief Memphis.

Each video takes the volunteer through the front door of a nonprofit and includes a welcome from the volunteer coordinator.

“Volio (is launching) with five featured non-profit organizations: Habitat for Humanity, Urban Bicycle Food Ministry, Dorothy Day House of Hospitality, World Relief and the Carpenter Art Garden,” Petschonek said.

Through Volio, volunteers will not only be able to contact those nonprofits directly, but both Volunteer Odyssey and the nonprofits can track the interactions and keep record of how many people are volunteering.

Memphis-based advertising and marketing firm archer-malmo designed Volio’s technical infrastructure and brand. The platform is available to nonprofits via a subscription-based model, and it’s free to users and prospective volunteers.

Carpenter Art Garden founder Erin Harris said that through its association with Volunteer Odyssey, the garden found its first full-time employee as well as new volunteers. It’s eager to start recruiting more through Volio.

Dorothy Day House of Hospitality executive director Sister Maureen Griner said her organization already has welcomed more than 20 volunteers through Volunteer Odyssey. Some, she said, have continued their association with the organization and even introduced others to its ministry to homeless families.

As part of its work, Volunteer Odyssey includes programs for job seekers, a calendar of volunteer opportunities, a volunteer happy hour and corporate volunteer experiences.

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