In a recent* parkrun newsletter, Tom Williams talked about volunteering and said:
“I still hear the term ‘giving up their time’ when referring to volunteers. I do believe that one of the biggest barriers to people getting involved with volunteering is the incorrect assumption that by doing so you are somehow making a sacrifice. Volunteering is a hugely enjoyable and life-affirming thing to do and just as with all the other brilliant things (that we each have the choice of spending our time on) it shouldn’t be described in such a negative way…. volunteers do wonderful things for their communities and they spend their time doing something they love that allows other people to do something they love. That’s amazing and a wonderful gift that any one of us can give. But they’re not giving up their time,”
Hmmmm. They’re tricky things, words. I agree with Tom wholeheartedly that ‘giving up my time’ implies some sort of sacrifice, but I’m not convinced that ‘giving my time’ is any less flawed. If you think of me as ‘giving’ my time, if you buy into the idea that I love volunteering for the sake of volunteering, if you resolutely refuse to believe that there is any element of sacrifice involved, then you run the risk of accepting my offer to volunteer even if you could run your event perfectly well without me because you don’t want to deprive me of the chance to don a high viz vest.
Now I won’t lie. There are occasions when I want to volunteer because I can’t run and on some of those occasions only one parkrun venue will do and “Please, pretty please, may I be unnecessary marshal number 72?”. Usually though, it’s a little more complicated than that.
(1) At Eastleigh and Basingstoke, I was injured so couldn’t run, and I really wanted to share a parkrunday with a friend of mine, Zoe Wright. There was absolutely nowhere else I would have wanted to be at 9am on those parkrundays, and had I not been volunteering, I’d have been there just to go “woohoo”.
(2) At Queen Elizabeth, Ashford and Fulham Palace, I was injured so couldn’t run. They were my first choices (either because I knew other people running or because I wanted to do something local to them afterwards) but had their volunteer rosters been full, I’d probably have volunteered elsewhere instead.
(3) In Summer 2013, I was injured and couldn’t run and would have volunteered quite happily at any parkrun that needed me.
(4) At Hilly Fields, I had a night-time ultra later in the day and volunteered to stop myself from being daft. That said, had all of the logistically doable parkruns had full volunteer rotas, I’d have chosen daft over useless-in-high-viz.
(5) On Christmas Day, my planned training run didn’t fit easily with any of the available bonus parkruns, so I decided to volunteer at one of the ones which was close enough to Christmas dinner to be feasible.
(6) Another “don’t be daft” decision, this time before Spitfire Scramble. I’m not sure whether I’d have run if their roster had been full.
(7) A friend of mine was running a marathon near a parkrun I’d run before and I thought it would be easier to volunteer at the parkrun, see him off, go for my long run and then watch him finish than to set my alarm for stupid o’clock, long run, parkrun and then cheer. That said, had they not needed another volunteer, I’d probably have opted for the stupid o’clock alarm call.
(8) A milestone parkrun for a parkrun friend at a parkrun a fair distance away from home. Again, it was a choice between volunteering and then running, or going for a disgusting o’clock alarm call to allow me to get in some additional miles before parkrunning. Very much six of one, half a dozen of another so had they said they didn’t need volunteers, I would have opted to parkrun instead.
For me, parkrun volunteering isn’t about giving or giving up, it’s about choosing how I want to spend my Saturday morning. Usually, I want to run. If I don’t, for whatever reason, then I know that I’ll have a great time volunteering. I volunteer because I want to, but part of that desire is the feeling of being needed. If I offer you my time and you don’t need it, please say “thanks, but no thanks” because nothing is guaranteed to bug me more than being unnecessary marshal number 72 at your parkrun when I could have run, or volunteered elsewhere instead.
* October 2014.