This story is featured in CityBeat's May 17 print edition.
Most folks know that volunteering is a win-win — good for the community, and good for the individual. A 2021 New York Times article titled “An Overlooked Cure for Loneliness” points to studies that suggest volunteering reduces stress, loneliness, and isolation. But if you’re not already in the habit of volunteering, getting started can feel daunting.
Concerted is aiming to change that. The Cincinnati-based “nonprofit social tech platform” makes it incredibly easy to find volunteer opportunities nearby, and it adds an irresistible incentive — free tickets to your favorite events.
The process is simple: make an account on the Concerted website, search for volunteer opportunities by neighborhood, complete your volunteer hours, then cash them in for tickets. Concerted partners with most of the area’s event promoters, so there are tickets to everything from Cincinnati Reds games to festivals at Riverbend Music Center. Most events will cost you two volunteer hours.
“This is a one-of-one. There’s no other organization doing this,” says Concerted founder and executive director Sarah Murray. Murray launched Concerted in Cincinnati this past January, but she’s been dreaming up the concept for a while now. She’s had the idea (and a time-stamped note on her phone to prove it) for ten years.
“I just saw this gap of nonprofits struggling to retain volunteers, to get people involved,” Murray says, “and then the lack of accessibility to shows.”
Murray’s background is a conglomeration of experiences that fuel the vision of Concerted. She’s been in the music industry since she was 17, working everywhere from indie music label Saddle Creek Records to Spotify. She has a Masters of Public Administration with a focus in Public Policy and Nonprofit Management. And after college, she did AmeriCorps for two years, working at University of Tennessee Office of Sustainability.
“[I] saw how important service is,” Murray says. “Not only to the communities you’re serving, but also [for] like dismantling beliefs that you have about systems and how people live.”
Since its launch, Concerted has helped nonprofits like Last Mile Food Rescue and COVunity Fridge in Covington find and retain more volunteers. Murray says that their nonprofit partners have shared positive feedback. For instance, in the first three months of partnership with Hoxworth Blood Center, volunteers donated enough blood to save 400 lives, according to Murray.
Nonprofits often struggle to build a team of recurring volunteers, which is ideal when training or background checks are required for each new recruit. The Concerted platform helps get around that challenge by allowing nonprofits to list either episodic volunteer opportunities or recurring volunteer opportunities. This also makes it easier for members to build a habit of volunteer work.
“The nonprofits are citing really good retention,” Murray says.
Murray — who is just as much a proponent of concert-going as she is of volunteering — explains that accessibility to live events is also a key part of the Concerted mission.
“There are stats around sense of self, sense of belonging, sense of community when you both volunteer and go to live events, because you’re connecting with your community in real life,” Murray says.
Concerted works to make events more accessible in two ways, starting with the free tickets. According to Eventbrite, the average ticket price in Ohio between January 2021 and June 2022 was $39.
“It’s getting more and more difficult to get into shows based on cost and the economy and inflation,” says Murray, who gave up live shows due to costs during her two years in AmeriCorps.
But a $50 Matchbox Twenty ticket will only cost you one volunteer hour. And if you want to embrace your inner emo kid at the next Ohio Is For Lovers festival, you can bypass the $113.75 ticket and instead spend three hours tutoring kids or volunteering at a summer camp. Plus, you’ll benefit from the “helper’s high” that researchers link to volunteering.
“Finding ways to use live entertainment and things that excite people to really catalyze service and togetherness is cool,” Murray says.
Murray also points out that making things more accessible could increase diversity at events, which may help build cultural tolerance.
“The more people you get into the same rooms for a show or to a baseball game or to volunteer, they’re going to talk to each other,” Murray says. “They’re going to get to know each other, and hopefully foster a bit more tolerance, because we all need more of that right now.”
The other move towards accessibility involves a new partnership with Go Metro. Now, also thanks to Concerted, Murray says “volunteers can get to and from both their volunteer events and live events for free through Go Metro.” Volunteers simply download the Transit app, text Concerted the email address they used to create their Transit account, and then the Concerted team gives them a free pass to get to the concert that they earned through volunteer hours. The website will be updated with icons that show the most accessible opportunities by bus.
Greater accessibility is good news for artists and promoters, too. They want more people to attend their events, and Concerted makes that possible.
“We partner with event promoters and artists themselves, and they’ve all been really stoked to find ways to get more folks to their shows without, you know, breaking the bank,” says Murray, who makes it clear that artists are still getting paid. Concerted covers the cost of the tickets that they give to their volunteers.
“We’re going to find a way to make sure that our artists are supported regardless,” Murray says. “That’s something that’s very important to us, too, because without the artists none of this would exist.”
Concerted has partnered with over 150 nonprofits, and continues to grow. This summer, the platform will expand to serve four new cities — Boise, Idaho; Omaha, Nebraska; Des Moines, Iowa; and Louisville, Kentucky. Murray says they’ll keep their headquarters in Cincinnati regardless of how much they grow.
“There’s just such a wonderful community in Cincinnati that I think is very, very underrated from all the places that I’ve lived,” Murray says. “Cincinnati is not a major music market, but I think it’s a really wonderful city that has embraced us.”
For more information about Concerted, visit concertedusa.org.
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