It’s one that has been asked of me several times before and has opened cans of worms, and although hot and bothered, Anne makes an equally good point in her response.
The way I see it is – if someone gives of their time freely, for the benefit of a charity – then they are a volunteer. Anne’s benchmark of the task description is a good way to actually quantify the value of the volunteering. So although a person who signs petitions once is realistically merely a ‘supporter’ it is still worth recognizing that many people may give time in this way – ‘micro volunteering’ (eek I hate that term). You can’t really put a cost benefit to this, or a time sheet, or ask a person to write a PDP of their experience, so you wouldn’t realistically report back that you’ve have 10,000 volunteers involved in a campaign if 9,990 were the people who logged on to sign your petition. You might however want to discuss the importance of this sort of micro activity on more general levels. On the other hand someone who writes petitions, actively encourages others to sign them, and does other activities in this area is surely a Campaigning Volunteer?
Personally I’d argue that a marathon runner does qualify as a volunteer. They are giving up considerable amounts of time, to prepare and fund-raise, and all along the way spreading your charities message and vision through the information provided to them, but if so, are organizations treating marathon runners in the same way as other volunteers i.e. induction and support, collecting E&D information, asking them to log their hours and activities, or give an exit interview?
Sorry I’ve talked myself in to a corner here! – Anyway, my point is, volunteering minutiae really is in the eye of the beholder. What is more important is clear and consistent reporting, and collecting data and using it in a way that you feel is meaningful and of value to your service.