One weekend in April, two UK events attracted similar numbers of runners; one of them was the London Marathon

marathon medals

Cast your mind back to the Virgin London Marathon coverage on TV. Can you hear the music? Can you see the masses of bobbing heads filing through the starts? It is a pretty impressive site on TV and even more so if you actually go and line the route to cheer on the runners. On the 21st April I was lucky enough to be volunteering at the point that is the highlight for everyone that completes a marathon – the finish. As part of the team that collects the timing chips and presents the runners with their medals, we experience marathon emotion at its most acute. Hanging medals brings you very close and personal to the elated, sweaty, tearful faces. We were putting medals round necks at a rate of 240 per minute at the busiest time and in total, the London Marathon counted 34,256 runners through the finish.

The day before another running phenomenon in the UK did not make the headlines and was not on TV. It had 34,881 finishers*. These runners had run 5k not 26.2 miles. The finish line was actually 196 different finish lines all over the UK. But never-the-less more runners completed a parkrun on Saturday 20th April than completed the London Marathon on Sunday the 21st.

I am enormously proud to be part of the parkrun movement that is sweeping the country and empowering volunteers to set up timed 5k runs for their local community (see “The Volunteering phenomenon of the decade”). These events are non-elitist, friendly and informal. And they are bringing communities together.

On the weekend of 20-21st April 2013, two events took place in the UK that involved similar numbers of runners. One of them was the Virgin London Marathon. But if you know someone who might like a friendly, local 5k to start with, tell them about parkrun!

*Number is total parkrunners worldwide, with the majority in the UK

 

 

Dedicated to my event volunteers

Now we have deflated the finish gantry on the 7th, and my final, Clandon Park Run, I would like to say thank you to the 100 volunteers who have helped on the day – every year. When they agreed to help 7 years ago, many had no idea what was in store and I’m sure this is the only time they put on a high-viz, stand in a field and cheer. I would like to pay tribute to their loyalty.

The Clandon Park Run is like any other charity run. It attracts serious and fun runners and it relies on a lot of volunteers to hand out race numbers and marshal runners round the course. Compared to many charity runs Clandon needs a generous number of volunteers to look after the hundreds of under-18s that take part. What started as a school fundraiser has gained a life of its own as a community event and I think this is what has made it so popular. Every year we are reminded that the local and school communities want to be involved either to run or to volunteer and some volunteers keep coming back long after their children have left the school.

Thank you to all our volunteers – it has been a pleasure to work with you.

We try to look after our volunteers. Here are some of the things we have done that might have helped them to keep coming back:

  • We tell volunteers what they will be doing in advance
    • We describe the different roles and let them choose
    • We tell them that the outside jobs may be in the rain and mud
    • We tell them what hours we need them
  • We prepare them
    • In the first couple of years we held briefings.
    • After that the majority were repeat volunteers and so we dropped the briefings
    • We give “marshal captains” one to one training
    • We tell everyone what to bring on the day
    • And we give written instructions and a map
  • We organise them on the day
    • We put new race marshals near to experienced ones
    • We put groups of volunteers under the leadership of “marshal captains” who check they know what they are doing
    • We organise lift shares if needed
    • We give everyone a drink and some cake!
  • We say thank you afterwards and share some positive feedback

And to let the runners have the final word:

“I really enjoyed the race, and thought it was very well organised. The family particularly enjoyed the atmosphere.” One of the winners

“I wanted to thank you for hosting such a professional, friendly and superbly organised event. From the moment we arrived in your car park to the moment we drove away, the experience was a very special one.  Thank you for all the thought you had clearly put into the organisation and for the warm atmosphere you created on arrival and around the whole 10km course. Well done and a very big thank you.” A group of novice runners supporting a local hospice charity

 

Glasgow2014 reminding me of the excitement of volunteering

I’ve just been invited for an interview for the Commonwealth Games being held in Glasgow next year. And when that message landed in my inbox I felt a buzz. I am one of the 50,000 who had applied to volunteer at Glasgow2014 (and I’ve been an Olympic Games Maker so I know the routine) and yet I was surprised and really very excited by an e-mail called “Interview Invitation”.

As a Volunteer Manager, I’m more used to being the person who does the inviting. And when we contact our would-be volunteers, even though we are approaching registered volunteers – and not cold-calling random people – it is easy to think that we are intruding on their time. Why are we so hesitant to ask for help? What makes us reluctant to make a request? After all, we are taking up an offer they have previously made.

Volunteer Managers – be bold; be confident; be positive! Remember we are making the contact that our volunteers have been waiting for. We cannot guess what motivated them to offer: we shouldn’t make assumptions about their response. We should speak to every volunteer as if we are giving them the exciting news they have been looking forward to.

There are 15,000 places for the 50,000 applicants. Will I make it through? Watch this space!

 

 

parkrun volunteers get cold fingers and toes and a warm feeling inside

parkrun is a growing movement that organises 5k timed runs for thousands of people every week. I first talked about it in my blog post The volunteering phenomenon of the decade. Since then the numbers have grown, and currently 253,000 people take part in parkruns at 170 locations around the UK.

If you are not familiar with parkrun, this is how it works: Each event will have a Run Director who leads a team of helpers, and these helpers can be runners or local community members. Runners can help as much or as little as they like; there is no obligation to help. Results are published and there are tables of fastest times and numbers of runs. parkrunning is addictive and competitive – not in terms of medals or places as it is not a race – but in terms of how many you have completed. There is a small but growing band of stalwarts who get to wear “250″ t-shirts. Some events find it easy to get enough volunteers, others find it harder. Apparently only around 10% of active parkrunners volunteer. Anyone that wants to run just needs to register for parkrun and can turn up and run every week for free.

There has been a debate recently about the right level of recognition and reward for volunteers. Should volunteers get more recognition? Should volunteers not get any reward at all? Should all parkrunners be made to take a turn?

“It is absolutely our belief that volunteering should be done simply for the pleasure of doing it, not because you think you will receive some kind of material reward. ….I firmly believe that we should engage in volunteering because it is something we would love to spend time doing, and not because we will receive material goods in return. That doesn’t mean I don’t think volunteers should be recognised, they’re changing people’s lives every day through their amazing actions.” says UK Country manager, Tom Williams, who deals with the issues surrounding volunteers on a daily basis. parkrun weekly-newsletter-30th-January

Tom adds “They are contributing to the greater good of a healthier society, building communities, bringing friends and families closer together, creating true quality time in a World where that is lacking and building toward a greater good for altruistic reasons. Surely that is reward enough?”

Anyone who reads this blog will know that I believe that volunteering is not at all about “doing good” but instead it’s all about “making things you believe in happen” and enjoying yourself while you do. I think volunteers need to get something for themselves out of what they do. But this something is not a material reward. It is usually satisfaction, camaraderie, or a sense of community. If you are volunteering out of obligation then you won’t do it with good grace, you probably wont enjoy it and you certainly won’t keep doing it.

But despite all this, I had started to think of parkrun as more of a cooperative – that everyone who took part was obliged to take their turn organising, rather than truly volunteering. As a runner, and a Run Director, I had even started to fall into the mindset of feeling that I was “sacrificing my runs in order to volunteer”.

Whatever happened to altruism? I’m pleased to say that Tom has helped me to find it again. I enjoy my runs, but on my Run Director days I am happy to get cold fingers and toes and a warm feeling inside.

 

The good, the bad and the ugly of volunteering

The good:

The nine basic rules for volunteer recognition published by http://handsonblog.org/. Simple and succinct advice about giving volunteers the honest, appropriate, timely recognition they deserve.

The bad:

1st Feb: If you want to volunteer to help at the Ryder Cup in Perthshire, Scotland, in 2014, you will be asked to pay £75 to register. Gleneagles Ryder Cup Volunteer Plan “Unacceptable” 

The ugly Postscript:

By 2nd Feb, the Ryder Cup had received 9000 volunteer applicants BBC News. There’s golf for you!

 

Do you have a dream or a plan?

Be inspired by Simon Sinek’s view in How great leaders inspire action that ….

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

What applies to business is even more important for recruiting in the voluntary sector – so we should start with “Why”. Volunteers, Sinek says, buy into why you do something, not what you do.

Organisations looking for volunteers and volunteer managers everywhere – talk about what you believe in. Talk about your dreams if you want to attract those who agree with you.

In 2013, will you be selling “I have a dream” or I have a plan?

 

Be who you are and say what you feel ..

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. Dr Seuss

If you lead a passionate, meaningful life, you will also create a spectacular ripple effect of inspiration in the lives around you @iownjd

Sports clubs – looking for new volunteers?

Is your Clubmark club seeking new helpers?

Here are two sources of young volunteers that you may not know about:

  1. Young people taking Duke of Edinburgh programmes
  2. Students taking community sports leadership courses
DofE (Duke of Edinburgh) programmes are run by Schools, Further Education Colleges and other groups. You probably know that young people go on an expedition as part of the award. But you may not be aware that the award also has physical, skills and volunteering components. Young people do regular, long term stints as volunteers:
  • 3 months volunteering for Bronze – aged 14+
  • 6 months for Silver – aged 15+
  • 12 months for Gold  - aged 16+

There is a very helpful DofE website.

Sports Leadership courses are run by Schools, Colleges and Universities. Here is an example of courses.

How do you go about finding these volunteers?

Firstly, enquire among your own membership to see if there are any family members who would be interested in doing their volunteering with your club. It’s always easiest to start with people who know you and know what you do.

Secondly, it is worth building up a relationship with local organisations that deliver DofE and Sports Leadership courses. Bear in mind that DofE and education course programmes run to strict annual timetables and the students will be required to do their volunteering in a specified time window. So clubs need to plan ahead. Don’t expect an e-mail this week to generate a group of helpers for your event next weekend!

To start with, you are best to contact your local school or college – for attention of person in charge of DofE or Sports Leadership training - and let them know briefly:

  • the name and location of your club
  • what type of activities you organise
  • what regular volunteering opportunities arise
  • the likely times and duration of these opportunities
  • an e-mail and mobile contact number for the volunteer coordinator
  • the club’s website address

If you manage to make contact with the right person you can ask them about their needs and, most importantly, their time-scale. The ideal situation for a club to be in, is to be ready to give relevant information at just the right time for it to be distributed to potential volunteers.

Are you worried about what to say to students? Just describe your volunteer roles in language they will understand – and don’t assume they know anything about your club or sport. And be aware that they will be much more interested if they can work in pairs or small groups.

It might sound like a lot of trouble, but schools and colleges work on annual cycles and like to repeat what works. If you can get the right contact, build up a good working relationship and deliver worthwhile opportunities you could be setting up a system that runs for years.

And, while these young people may start as volunteers, their experiences with you may turn them into participants, members or even ambassadors for your sport. So make sure you look after them well.

CRB checks – new name – new system

It is good news for volunteers that CRB checks are to become portable. So if you have a CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) check for one charity, school, club or job you can use it for another. This change will save volunteers time and inconvenience and save taxpayer money.

The CRB has now been replaced by Disclosure and Barring Service and so checks in future will be known as DBS checks.

See further information from the Home Office.

Make a resolution to do something for yourself

… by volunteering?

Forbes Ten Resolutions The Most Successful People Make And Then Keep

#4 Resolve to find your purpose

“Starting a career, a company or any kind of journey that is based firmly on your purpose is foundational to success and happiness. If you don’t know your ……purpose, finding one is the worthiest of resolutions.”

A good way to find your purpose is by volunteering. What are you passionate about? What do you care enough about to want to change? Could you volunteer to make something you believe in happen in 2013?

#5 Resolve to support a cause

“If you’re reading this, chances are you are one of the rare people who know how to start things. Fortunately, there are people like you who have already started causes that make the world better—they feed the hungry; they save the rain forest; they fight cancer; they do good things. There is virtually a cause for everyone, and contributing will make your year happier. Promise.”

Good causes need time as well as money. How about supporting your cause by donating some of your time in 2013?

Whatever you do, I wish you a happy and fulfilled 2013.