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Volunteering Can Be Icky -- A Success Story for National Volunteer Month

Memphis, Tennessee - (NewMediaWire) - April 21, 2021 - Volunteering is awesome, right? 

But here’s the real truth:  for volunteers, volunteering is icky.  It can be hard to find the right opportunity, the one that fits your schedule, feeds your soul and makes you feel like you’ve done something meaningful without intruding too much into your life.

For nonprofits, volunteers are icky.  They’re unreliable and hard to manage.  It’s hard to screen them and harder to keep them busy.  And don’t get us started on groups that want to volunteer only when it’s convenient for them or who do work that has to be redone by staffers.    

Everyone may say volunteering is awesome – especially during April, National Volunteer Month – but it can really stink.

One woman in Memphis found that out the hard way.  Almost 10 years ago, Dr. Sarah Petschonek volunteered 30 consecutive days at 30 different nonprofits.  She chronicled the experience in her blog.  The punchline is, it wasn’t easy.

So she set about to make volunteering better for an entire city. 

Memphis consistently takes one of the top spots in rankings of the nation’s most generous cities, in spite of it being one of the poorest large cities in the country.  But until Petschonek got involved, Memphis also ranked in the bottom five in national rankings of volunteering in large cities. 

Petschonek founded Volunteer Odyssey.  The nonprofit tackles the ickiness of volunteering from both sides.

She uses software that connects volunteers to experiences based on their interests, skills or the neighborhoods they want to impact.  She selectively partners with more than 50 Memphis nonprofits, providing software to recruit volunteers and track their impact.  She applies the principles of psychology to match volunteers to their ideal opportunities.  Plus she and her team manage on-site volunteer activities, ensuring the volunteers and the nonprofits get what they both want:  a high-quality, impactful experience that leaves the volunteers fulfilled and the nonprofits better. 

Volunteer Odyssey has adapted to volunteering in the age of COVID.  In early 2020, the organization quickly shifted to help nonprofits and volunteers connect to work virtually.  Petschonek and her team are managing the strategy and logistics for COVID vaccination volunteer efforts in the Memphis area.  And later this week – on April 23 -- Volunteer Odyssey is hosting its second Virtual Volunteer Day of the pandemic.  In partnership with Memphis-based Forever Ready Productions, the first Virtual Volunteer Day provided an interactive virtual volunteer experience, garnering a regional Emmy nomination.    

Today, Memphis still ranks at the top of rankings that measure charitable giving.  But the city has moved up from the bottom five to the top half – and climbing -- on national rankings of volunteering at large cities.  Petschonek won’t take all the credit for that, but she is proud of the impact Volunteer Odyssey has had.  Her website touts more than 260,000 hours of service and almost 52,000 acts of service with a value of $6.1 million dollars. 

About Dr. Sarah Petschonek

Dr. Sarah Petschonek is founder and CEO of Volunteer Odyssey. In 2014 American Express named her one of the 50 Under 40 Social Entrepreneurs in the U.S.  She founded Volunteer Odyssey based on two landmark projects. In 2012, she began Mission Memphis: 30 consecutive days volunteering with 30 non-profits, chronicled on her blog, Confessions of a Volunteer. Afterwards, she launched Volunteer Bound – a cross-country volunteer tour researching volunteerism in nine U.S. cities spanning from Portland, Oregon, to Jacksonville, Florida. Volunteer Odyssey has grown to include more than 50 nonprofit partners, the most comprehensive Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities in Memphis and the country’s first virtual volunteer fair.  She has also given a TEDx talk on the power of meaningful volunteer experiences.  Dr. Petschonek earned her PhD in industrial organizational psychology, an MS and an MBA from the University of Memphis.  Before founding Volunteer Odyssey, she worked for the U.S. Navy and St. Jude Children’s Research hospital.  She was also an adjunct professor of business in the MBA program at Christian Brothers University. 

Contact Kim Cherry, 901.230.8121,

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