Volu’s app, created by Skaneateles native A.J. Richichi, allows nonprofit organizations to track the progress of their volunteer efforts.

Getting involved: Skaneateles native creates Volu software to connect organizations, volunteers

By: Jonathan Monfiletto | Skaneateles Journal

SKANEATELES | Last year, A.J. Richichi said, there were 1.2 million nonprofit organizations in the United States with the Internal Revenue Service’s 501c3 designation, and those groups accounted for about $2 trillion in revenue.

But, Richichi said, 95 percent of that income was used “simply to keep the lights on,” while the remainder goes to cover last year’s budget or fund the next year.

“It seems like a lot, and it is a big number,” he said of the revenue. “It’s a very hard business to be in for them. Because of that, there’s not a lot of innovation in the nonprofit space.”

If organizations have a choice between providing people with food and shelter or purchasing volunteer management software, Richichi said, they will choose helping the community every time.

But, that is where the Skaneateles native said his latest project comes in.

Richichi, the creator of the ChronicleMe social media platform aimed at curbing cyberbullying and promoting positivity, also created Volu, volunteer management software that he said is meant to be both comprehensive and cost-effective to help organizations manage their volunteer bases.

He said last year generated more than 60 million volunteers in the United States alone — about one in four Americans — and the vast majority of organizations manage their volunteers with “spreadsheets, a landline and Post-it notes,” he said.

Volu, meanwhile, simplifies that process by allowing nonprofits to post events, building comprehensive reports and integrating with external services such as Facebook and MailChimp.

There is also an app that people can use to find the closest volunteer opportunities based on a map showing their location. They can click on the event and either register for it or sign into it.

“It’s a very simple app that gives anyone the tools to find a volunteer opportunity and get involved in their community,” Richichi said.

Richichi said Volu is currently working with 10 local organizations for beta testing of the program, including the Salvation Army, the Alzheimer’s Association and Believe In Syracuse.

“We’re receiving a lot of attention and a lot of traction,” he said.

He noted Volu won the New York State Business Plan Competition and Centerstate CEO’s Grants for Growth and is participating in the Germinator, a two-year incubator program in which six teams compete every six months for investment funding for their startup companies.

Volu is also gearing up to host its first-ever VOLUnteer Drive in April as a civic engagement challenge in which volunteer teams across Onondaga County will compete to see who can tally the most volunteer hours at local events during the month.

While writing $5,000 in microgrants to nonprofits to help them host fun and interactive events throughout April, Richichi said Volu will host several volunteer groups from young professional groups in Syracuse such as 40 Below, Believe In Syracuse and Young Leaders United.

He noted the groups are competitive since they all host different events and compete for the same people.

“It’s been a really, really awesome experience,” he said. “They all have a similar mission, and that’s to make Syracuse a better place.”

But, rather than the groups simply competing, Richichi said Volu helped create a committee of the most influential young leaders from the different organizations in Syracuse, including Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College.

“It’s not only helping us build the project and get that word out there about Volu, but also we use it as a way for them to communicate for the first time and for them to find ways to collaborate rather than have a bit of a cold war,” he said. “That’s going to be really rewarding for me to see.”

During the VOLUnteer Drive, Richichi said participants will sign into their events using the Volu app that will track how long they were at the event and then compose a leaderboard of the teams based on their numbers of hours.

There will also be a leaderboard showing the participating nonprofit organizations based on the volunteer hours they accumulated for their events.

In the end, organizations will receive grants just for competing, the winning team earns a trophy and “eternal bragging rights for being the No. 1 volunteer organization in upstate,” Richichi said.

“It’s just a really fun way for people to get involved in their community and compete against one another but also a great networking opportunity,” he said. “We have people from different backgrounds, different companies, different schools, just backgrounds in general, and those people are going to be able to network and be able to talk over something that does tremendous good for central New York.”

Even if a nonprofit organization is not volunteer-based, Richichi said it could still receive a grant in the hopes that the money is used to create an event or opportunity, even one intended just for teams to learn more about the organization and what it does.

The goal of the VOLUnteer Drive, he said, is to foster strong bonds between the organizations and the volunteer who seek to serve them.

“We’re just trying to really connect volunteers with nonprofit organizations,” Richichi said. “We’re not really that interested in one-time flings. We want to create lasting relationships between volunteers and nonprofits.”

Skaneateles Journal Editor Jonathan Monfiletto can be reached at jonathan.monfiletto@lee.net or (315) 283–1615. Follow him on Twitter @Skan_Monfiletto.

Originally published at auburnpub.com.

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