Make Recruitment a Priority During National Volunteer Week
March 21, 2016
National Volunteer Week is coming up on April 10-16. This is a great opportunity to both recognize the achievements of your existing volunteers as well as alert the community to your department’s need for more recruits.
Volunteers are a crucial component of our nation’s fire service. 69 percent of firefighters are volunteers, and there are many additional volunteers providing support through local auxiliary programs such as Fire Corps or junior firefighter programs. However, a 2014 national survey by the NVFC showed 41 percent of respondents did not know if their local department used volunteers, and 79 percent did not know if their department was seeking new volunteers.
The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) recently launched the Make Me A Firefighter recruitment campaign to help raise awareness among the public of the need for volunteers as well as provide departments with the tools and resources they need to recruit new members. Departments can register for free at portal.nvfc.org to post your volunteer needs and access customizable outreach materials, ready-to-use PSAs, a recruit tracking tool, and more. The portal is designed to be your one-stop shop to implementing and managing a local recruitment campaign.
The public can go to www.MakeMeAFirefighter.org learn more about the volunteer fire service, find local volunteer opportunities, and connect with their fire or EMS department.
When planning volunteer recruitment events, it is important to understand that finding and recruiting potential volunteers is a multi-step process that requires dedication, follow-up, and follow-through. Think of it as a marketing funnel that goes through the following five steps.
Step 1: Interest
Educating the public and raising awareness that your department utilizes volunteers and needs more volunteers is an important first step. Additionally, finding new audiences to target with your efforts can help broaden the scope of your recruitment campaign.
The NVFC’s 2014 survey uncovered positive news: 29 percent of respondents indicated an interest in volunteering as an emergency responder. That number was even higher among the highly sought-after 18 to 34 year old age group, with 45 percent indicating an interest in volunteering as an emergency responder. In addition, it revealed that women are just as interested as men in volunteering as emergency responders, and that minority groups also have high levels of interest in volunteering. These currently under-represented groups are areas of opportunity for fire department recruitment efforts.
Step 2: Invite
Current recruits are almost always invited, and effective invitations are typically personal. Oftentimes interested participants cite a lack of invitation as one reason they never considered becoming a volunteer emergency responder. Finding ways to reach target audiences and providing them with a specific invitation to join your department or learn more about the volunteer opportunities available is a key step in increasing your pool of potential volunteers.
Step 3: Sample
Interested individuals often get involved after having a chance to sample what it’s like to be a volunteer. Sampling activities such as ride-alongs, Explorer programs, open houses, and other recruitment events can help interested individuals connect with departments and build the confidence and excitement that is needed to truly consider the opportunity. Be creative!
Step 4: Commit
At this stage in the marketing funnel a potential recruit will have an opportunity to decide if they are willing or unwilling to commit to the department. Follow-up is key at this stage. Don’t let interested individuals fall through the cracks due to a lack of follow-through. Let them know they are wanted, and that your department is a place they can belong.
Step 5: Train
Training new recruits is time-intensive and can be overwhelming. Offer flexibility whenever possible. It’s also a good idea to assign mentors to help new recruits acclimate and learn. Recruits that feel a personal connection to the department through a mentor program and/or bonding with other recruits through shared training experience are more likely to want to remain an active member. Feeling like part of the fire service family can help make the necessary hours of training feel less burdensome.
Utilizing National Volunteer Week
National Volunteer Week is a great opportunity to start potential recruits through the marketing funnel. Your department can conduct outreach efforts to raise awareness and create interest. Use the PSAs and marketing materials from portal.nvfc.org and make sure you have added your volunteer opportunities to the searchable database so that potential recruits can find you. Opportunities for getting the word out include a press release in the local paper, flyers, social media, department and community group web sites, blogs, billboards, and more.
You can also use National Volunteer Week to invite community members to learn more about your department or to attend a department event. Issue invitations through mailings, email, your existing members’ personal networks, community groups, high school or college programs, or other methods. You can easily create invitations using the invitation generator at portal.nvfc.org.
Host an open house, participate in a community fair, or consider holding another in-person event during National Volunteer Week. Invite community members to attend, and show them what it is like to be part of a volunteer fire department. This will help them sample what it means to be a volunteer and take that next step through the marketing funnel.
Don’t forget to follow-up with the potential recruits that you reach during National Volunteer Week. Use the recruit tracker offered at portal.nvfc.org to keep track of all of your potential recruits, where they stand in the marketing funnel, and what follow-up and next steps are needed.
Volunteers want to feel included and appreciated. Remember that every firefighter, EMT, officer, and Chief was once a new recruit. Welcome new members into the department and help them adjust to their new calling. Retaining new recruits through the training process and beyond is just as important as getting them through the door.