I’ve been writing this charity blog for over two years now, and there’s a passion of mine I haven’t yet mentioned. Can you believe it?
Today, I want to tell you about the phenomenon that is parkrun, and what I believe charities can learn from it.
At 9am every Saturday, in parks up and down the country and round the world, people young and old, fast and slow, gather together to run 5km around a park. It’s fun and it’s free, and each run is staffed by a team of dedicated volunteers, be they marshals, timekeepers, or barcode scanners.
But I want to tell you about my parkrun, in St Albans. Everything you need to know is in this picture. Every Saturday, around 350 parkrunners run through my local park, three times round the lake, and alongside the river that you can see here.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
Look again. In the foreground, you can see the father, proudly running with his son. And – look – a little further back, you can see the club runner in the red vest, checking his progress on his stopwatch. And then on the right, you can see three walkers. Everyone goes at their own speed. Participating is everything.
But what do I think charities in particular can learn from parkrun? Read on. I’ll tell you.
It’s all about the individual
What parkrun does so well is appreciate that everyone who participates has their own personal goals, whether it’s plucking up courage to take part in the first place (celebrated in the results with a “First timer!” exclamation) or working towards a faster time. It’s about the individual, and everyone is celebrated. Do we do this enough in charities with our supporters? I’m not sure we do. Do we truly celebrate the contributions of all of our donors, no matter what size their gift?
It’s made so clear that each parkrun is only made possible by the efforts of its volunteers, and they are rightly celebrated. Volunteers are more likely to be awarded the monthly prizes, and in fact many runners thank the marshals as they go past. This is what community is about. It’s lovely. Now, do we celebrate our volunteers as well as this? How well do we thank our trustees for their contribution? What about the volunteer fundraisers? Just like parkrun, our organisations could not function without voluntary activity, and we need to say thank you. Tell your volunteers how important they are.
It’s part of who I am
I was thinking recently about the brand arc developed by Google. We start with “I have heard of the name” and progress through to “You help define who I am.” And I feel this way about parkrun. Everything that it represents, about participation, about volunteerism, about personal achievement and a sense of community chimes closely with who I feel I am as a person. Look at me, proudly wearing the T-shirt I have earned by volunteering over 25 times.
And this is where I think we need to get to with our supporters. How many of them would happily say “you represent me”? How many would defend us when times are tough, as they have been in the charity sector, particularly recently?
Let’s learn from parkrun, and build that fierce loyalty.
Let’s appreciate our supporters, celebrate them, and really learn to understand what motivates them as individuals.
Only then will they be able to say “supporting you helps define who I am.”