National Volunteer Week: A Time to Say Thanks, Connect with the Community, and Think About Recruitment
April 14, 2020
National Volunteer Week is coming up on April 19-25, but many fire and EMS departments may be delaying their recruitment efforts due to COVID-19 response and restrictions. While you may not be able to conduct typical outreach programs at this time, there are still ways you can connect with the community as well as work on a long-term outreach plan.
You can use National Volunteer Week as an opportunity to thank your volunteers, recognize their achievements, and alert the community to all that they do. Showcase their work in announcements, social media posts, and press releases to local media. Ask your local officials to issue a National Volunteer Week proclamation recognizing the volunteers in your community. Show your appreciation with a “thank you,” handwritten note, pin, challenge coin, certificate, or other token of gratitude.
Even though in-person recruitment events are not advised at this time, you can still let your community know you need volunteers through online outreach, such as through your department’s web site, community newsletter and/or message board, social media, and web ads. Use the NVFC’s Make Me A Firefighter department portal to post your volunteer opportunities, generate materials and messages for your online campaign, and find tips and training to plan future recruitment initiatives.
The NVFC will be hosting a live Facebook chat on April 21 at 7pm ET/4pm PT about recruitment challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, tips for a writing a successful SAFER grant application to support recruitment and retention initiatives, and tools and best practices for online recruitment efforts. Join us at www.facebook.com/nvfc1.
Find best practices, tips, research, and success stories to help your recruitment and retention efforts in this NVFC supplement for Firehouse magazine. Check out this article by NVFC member John Kowalski for more marketing tips and best practices. Tiger Schmittendorf from First Arriving has also written an article with tips for recruiting volunteers during times of adversity.
In a discussion thread in the NVFC’s Volunteer Voices forum, NVFC members highlighted some marketing and community outreach ideas that have worked for their departments. Some of those ideas are provided below and may be helpful as you consider future recruitment, outreach, and fundraising efforts. Check out this and other discussions, or start a new discussion, by logging into Volunteer Voices. If you’re not a member, join for just $18 to get access to the community.
It might seem like everyone understands the importance of their local volunteer fire department, but it may not be in the forefront of everyone’s mind. Demonstrating your value and reminding your community of the important work you do is crucial in increasing donations, recruiting new volunteers, and even securing more funding. Educate the citizens you protect on the number of calls you respond to, the cost of turnout gear, and that your department is staffed by volunteers.
“Get [members of your community] to understand the value and to take a vested interest. It is in their best interest to have a functional fire department for when their time of need might come.”
– John Kowalski
“If the citizens realize how much you do for them, they will respond. Conversely, if your department only takes, you will have a resentful citizenry that will not support you.”
– Mike Ayers
Organizing or attending local events can be a way to both increase visibility and educate your community on the benefits and services provided by your department. This could mean attending local festivals or parades such as National Night Out, organizing a fire department open house, hosting a BBQ, cookout, or bingo night, or putting on events such as a raffle or auction.
A drawback to community events in that they require substantial commitment from volunteers. Tailor your participation and commitment to the resources of your department and take into consideration the demand that will be placed on personnel. If possible, utilize members of auxiliary or Fire Corps programs, or recruit community volunteers for help in order to ease the strain placed on volunteer firefighters/EMS providers so they can focus on protecting their community.
“We believe that engaging in community events, responding to requests to tour our facilities, [and] having a sustainable fire and life safety public education program… provides our firefighters the opportunity to ‘market’ our department in a way that gains us the support needed when major capital purchases are undertaken, demonstrates that we are a successful organization which helps our annual recruitment drive, and shows that we are truly a community service organization.”
– Dave Ferguson
“We conduct firehouse tours, public safety education, and elementary school fire safety with an average of 2,500 persons taught something about fire safety yearly.”
While in-person outreach is important, getting your message out to a wider audience is key. Creating and maintaining a social media presence can be useful for reaching a larger audience and recruiting younger volunteers, while radio PSAs and direct mailings are options for engaging with the community you serve offline. Marketing strategies such as these can be less expensive and time-intensive than attending or hosting community events and could allow you to reach a larger audience.
“We use Facebook, targeting our local middle-age and up audience. We use Twitter for our national audience, and we use Instagram for our younger audience. We produce monthly Fire Safety Tip PSAs with our local radio station…which is a hit!”
– Mike Ayers