Volunteers: A View from the Other Side

ImageI’ve run a few races by now and I must say that a race is sometimes only as good as its volunteers. Not enough volunteers to man the many stations, runners suffer. No race coordinator should ever want to be in that position.  Volunteers should definitely be appreciated.  It’s been a couple of weeks; maybe I’m just recovering from the experience (just kidding).  I finally had my first volunteer experience! It was for the Nike – DC Half Marathon two weeks ago.  Actually I had to reflect upon the experience.  Did I enjoy it? Was volunteering all it was cracked up to be? Would I do it again? Let’s run the numbers.

The sign up – I had previously spoken about the volunteer “black hole”. I’d applied to volunteer often, but never heard anything back.  This time, my sister reached out to the volunteer coordinator who said I was “in the database” and would receive an email.  Gotta love sisters who go out of their way to help your dreams come true! Two days later, however, no email in my inbox, I emailed the coordinator myself.  A day later, she returned my email, with an email that said I was in the database and that she would email me the next day with instructions. An email telling me I was getting an email? Sadly enough, I was so excited. Unfortunately, not only did I not get an email, but when I showed up at volunteer check-in my name wasn’t even on the list.

Volunteer day – After telling the volunteer coordinator which position I had signed up to volunteer for (my name wasn’t on the list), she waved her hand in the direction of the T-shirt pick up tent.  After about 10 minutes of instruction with the section leader, I was stationed at my own corner of T-Shirt pick up handing out unisex t-shirts. I’d arrived!

The shift – The spectrum of runners was pretty interesting.  I would definitely say that if I had dropped $170 plus for a race, I would expect perfection too. I would want the shirt size I ordered and if I looked at it and it was too small, I would want to trade it in.  Unfortunately we, the volunteers, were not empowered to make the change on our own.  The first day volunteers were, but the coordinators were afraid of running out of the larger sizes by the second day. There were some runners that were awesome, others that told me that they were going to cause a problem until they got what they wanted. One person stood in the middle of the tent and loudly proclaimed her appreciation for volunteers! Awesome!

The other volunteer leaders – I think sometimes the power can go to the head of some leaders.  While some treated the volunteers with respect, others treated the volunteers like they were uneducated children.  Their tone really didn’t work for me. Nor, did I really like them standing close enough for me to hear them making fun of certain volunteers. That really didn’t work for me. All I can say is “karma”. We are volunteers, not idiots.  Other volunteer leaders are terrific. They know exactly how to get the best work out of people and they are a pleasure to work with. 

Anyway, the shift work ebbed and flowed. I talked to a lot of great people. Shared some race experiences (I have those now) and generally had a really great time.  Would I do it again? Absolutely! Looking forward to it!

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About diawalker

Join my journey. I’m a young-at-heart, grandma who decided to start my journey to running my first full marathon exactly a year after turning 50 years old and first 5K. I’m well on my way to earning my super-grandmother cape. I work full-time in the Human Resources field, serve as president of HRA-NCA (a local SHRM chapter), write two sites and serve as the Launch Manager for BellaOnline.com. I’m also a single mom of three fantastic kids and recently became a grandmother – that’s all in my spare time. I recently decided to take up running. Join me on my journey as I prepare to run a half marathon.

Posted on May 7, 2014, in Marathons and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Great post! I was on board immediately with the Michael Scott quote. Great hook!

  2. runnikewomen@obexp.com <– The contact info for the Nike race.

    I asked them where to send volunteer feedback and they answered right away. I was also going to send them the link to this post, but thought you might want to expand upon your experience. They should be expecting your feedback ;)

    I think some team leads get so drunk with power (or being in the know, or just plain overwhelmed), they forget that they are working with people. If their volunteers walk off the job or don't even bother to show, they would be in real trouble.

    I also think that runners need to get a grip and not bully the volunteers. No one forced us to fork over $170 to run. Anyone who has ever tried on a piece of Nike clothing knows that their target audience is a size 2/4 college girl. Size up ladies. No one will see the tag. Read the rules before the race. If they say bring ID, it is not the volunteer's fault that your forgot it.

    So, Di, thanks for volunteering! It was a wonderful event.

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