This past weekend I got paid to volunteer at a race. That is right, an actual paid gig. What a concept! It makes sense, it was a for-profit race, no bones about it, just a straight up race, make the check out to a company, no promises of a donation to anyone. So, why would I volunteer for such a race? Unless I was being completely altruistic (which, come on, how many of us really are) and wanted to help put on a great race for the sheer pleasure of putting on a great event, I wouldn't.
I was cruising around on the gigs section of Craigslist (we all know that race directors won't get wealthy on racing alone) and came across a call for people to help with a scavenger hunt style urban race. The little listing on the bottom said: Pay: $80. $80 for helping out a race? Yes please!
As I am sitting there, in the rain, waiting for teams to show up to the checkpoint, I am realizing that so many other races ask for volunteers, when really they should be hiring people. A race I volunteered for a few weeks ago was the same. I volunteered, and then later realized that none of the proceeds benefit any organization, except the for-profit company that puts on the race.
No other industry would ask for volunteers like this. Do you see Microsoft asking for volunteers to staff their events? How about any trade-show? Those people sitting there are not volunteers and the companies would be laughed at if they were to ask for volunteers.
One could argue that unpaid interns are essentially volunteers but they at least are getting something more valuable out of the experience. They are not, for the most part, being asked to get up at some ungodly hour to shlep water out to some trail, or cut up bananas for the entire morning.
It is a blatant misuse of people hours and should be stopped. If you are putting on a race to benefit something in the community, then by all means, get as many volunteers as you need. If you are a for-profit race, and nothing more, hire some damn people!