In the past few years, Memphis has ranked either first or second in the nation in terms of citizens’ charitable contributions among large cities. Last year, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that in 2012 Memphians had a giving rate of 5.1 percent of their income, second only to Salt Lake City, Utah.
When it comes to volunteering, however, Memphis has not been as generous.
According to the Corporation for National & Community Service report on Volunteering and Civic Life, in 2013 only 6.5 percent of residents volunteered, ranking Memphis 30th among the largest 51 metropolitan statistical areas in the nation. The state fared only slightly better with one in four Tennessee residents volunteering, ranking it 35th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
The survey looked at volunteer activities that run the gamut, from fundraising to tutoring, office services to collecting food or clothing. Unsurprisingly, the largest share of volunteer hours in Memphis was categorized as religious (34 percent), followed by educational (28 percent) and health (13 percent). Volunteering categorized as social service, civic, or sports and arts-related was significantly lower.
Local blogger, Jeff Hulett, volunteers with Room at The Inn.
But there is no shortage of need in Memphis. According to the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence, more than 1,000 nonprofits (outside of churches) are located in Shelby County, and 259,200 volunteers provide 29 million hours of service to those Memphis nonprofits each year. Those volunteer hours a real boon to our nonprofit's bottom lines, as well. That annual volunteer investment is valued at $620 million. Infusing these organizations with volunteers is an important consideration if these nonprofits are to keep delivering services to the community.
Connecting volunteers to opportunities has been the focus of a few local non-profits, and some key groups have been working recently to make inroads in the Memphis volunteer supply and retention mechanism.
Leading the Charge
In early February, Leadership Memphis
announced that it had acquired Volunteer Mid-South
, an organization (originally named the Volunteer Center of Memphis) dating back to 1975. In 2000 it became Volunteer Memphis and then Volunteer Mid-South after a merger with HandsOn Memphis in 2009.
The 40-year-old organization now becomes an action initiative of Leadership Memphis and reverts to the “Volunteer Memphis” moniker. Their primary goal will be to develop, promote and support volunteerism throughout the city.Other initiatives of Leadership Memphis include leadership development programs (Grassroots, FastTrack, Executive), Memphis Talent Dividend, Graduate Memphis, and Success High Schools.
It's a natural move for Leadership Memphis, an organization who has worked for nearly four decades to train city leaders and get them actively involved and interested in civic life. Volunteer Memphis provides an expanded platform for the organization to connect their program alumni to volunteering, in addition to recruiting and training thousands of new volunteers to hundreds of nonprofit organizations.
David Williams, Leadership Memphis President and CEO
“Leadership Memphis will take volunteerism to the next level,” said Leadership Memphis President and CEO, David Williams. “Our mission is to prepare and mobilize leaders to work together for the good of the whole community, and volunteerism is one more way for us to fulfill that mission and make a difference.”
With the acquisition of Volunteer Mid-South, Leadership Memphis and Volunteer Memphis are the official local affiliate of the national organization, Points of Light
, as well as the national HandsOn Network.
“I can’t say enough about the great things accomplished by Volunteer Mid-South over their 40 years of distinguished service to the Memphis area, and about the staff, board and volunteers who gave so much of themselves,” Williams said. “Leadership Memphis is honored to carry the torch forward and continue their legacy into the future.”
Their primary goal will be to develop, promote and support volunteerism throughout the city. That works begins with colelcting information on what the community's needs are, and where volunteer talent is needed most.
Leadership Memphis is currently in talks with local and national partners to identify and prioritize the ways Leadership Memphis can increase connectivity of volunteers to the organizations who rely on them. Williams said Volunteer Memphis expects to respond to needs of the nonprofit community, as well as individuals, youth and families, companies, faith communities and the public sector. A full-time Volunteer Memphis director will be hired by the close of March, and other staff will be added as resources and capacity become available.
But in the meantime, the community can still utilize their website as a resource to find a volunteer opportunity. Their search allows users to isolate experiences that fit their talents and interests, as well as their schedule.
Crafting the Experience
In 2013, Sarah Petschonek began Volunteer Odyssey
to connect Memphians with volunteer opportunism and to share those experiences. Since its inception, the organization has been innovative in its approach to making volunteering work. Building the amount of volunteer service in Memphis requires making volunteering easy, productive, and sometimes fun.
February's featured "Job Seeker" is chronicled completing volunteer tasks.
Volunteer Odyssey's Job Seekers Program
is a unique example. The program is specifically tailored for job-seeking professionals in the greater Memphis area with moderate communication skills and a willingness to serve. While someone is on the job hunt, the program put them to work volunteering for a week for several organizations that fit their interests—and simultaneously writing about their experiences on a blog—which helps them hone skills and stand out in the job market. So far 29 have gone through the Job Seekers Program.
The organization also connects corporate groups to volunteer opportunities, crafting the experience to be both useful for the nonprofit receiving the services, but also the host company. The volunteer experiences encourage team building and facilitate employee engagement.
is a monthly happy hour service event that makes couples a volunteer activity with a social outing. Participants visit a different nonprofit each month to help with a simple task—like stuffing envelopes or assembling gift bags—while sampling cocktails and making new friends.
And for the individual volunteer who is just looking for the best fit for them, the Volunteer Opportunity Calendar provides a comprehensive listing of current volunteer needs in the area.
“With these programs and opportunities we're building the new era of volunteerism in Memphis,” Petschonek said.
VolunCheers meets monthly
Volunteer Odyssey has grown since 2013 to include over 35 nonprofit partners and will be adding an exciting new effort, in addition to the current operating programs Job Seekers, VolunCheers, Corporate Teams
, and the Volunteer Opportunity Calendar. Soon they will be rolling out a virtual volunteer fair, something that Petschonek says is the first of its kind in the country.
“Based on the success of its Job Seekers Program, Volunteer Odyssey has expanded to serve more of Memphis,” Petschonek said. “We believe you live your fullest life through volunteering and we aim to match every volunteer with his or her ideal volunteer opportunity. To do that, we need to be a hub for volunteerism.”
Kindness from Campus
And around for 10 years is Serve901
, which brings in college students on Spring Break to volunteer their time in and around the city at local nonprofits, schools, and community development organizations. The organization works with local churches to house the volunteers.
So far Serve901 has hosted groups with 4,000 people over the years, according to director Jeff Riddle. The students have done things such as tutor, read to children, and build wheelchair ramps.
“The opportunity to volunteer in Memphis is great, because yes there are needs...but also because there are great organizations and people in place to learn from and to support their great work,” Riddle said.
Sarah Petschonek of Volunteer Odyseey
If the leaders of Serve901 got their wish, some of those involved would make Memphis their home, ultimately. Riddle said that he believes that college students are looking for meaningful ways to spend their breaks, and that through their visits to Memphis they get exposure to people who love what they do and love where they live.
“Students get to see individuals who are running towards needs and issues,” Riddle said. “They see people are not just complaining about failing schools and crime rates. They see Memphians running towards these issues as opportunities to lead and serve.”