Volunteer Recruitment Tips: Beyond Open Houses

It’s common knowledge that many departments are currently facing a shortage of volunteers. The fall season is often a time when fire stations hold open houses and focus on recruitment.

Open houses are definitely a great way to recruit new volunteers (make sure to have a designated recruitment table), but recruiting should also be done year-round. The IAFC’s Volunteer Workforce Solutions program has put together some recruitment ideas and tips to consider throughout the year:

  • Your current volunteers are your best recruiters and walking billboards for your department. Make sure they’re trained appropriately to talk about all of the benefits of volunteering. Create a short “elevator speech” that highlights key aspects of the department and volunteer benefits. Take 5-10 minutes to practice this at your membership meetings.
  • When talking to an interested potential volunteer, show them how volunteering will benefit them. Ask them what they want to get out of volunteering at a fire department. What are their goals in doing so? As people evaluate how they balance their time, they need to understand what’s in it for them and know it is worth their time.
  • Highlight that you need all types of volunteers, not just operational volunteers. People with different backgrounds and expertise, from marketing to finance to construction, can be valuable to volunteer and combinations departments.
  • Use social media often and in different ways. Recognize an outstanding volunteer, promote events, share news articles involving your department, or post short videos created by your station. Some social media outlets like Facebook offer relatively inexpensive ways to run ads to target demographic groups. The newer generation likes receiving online information in different formats, so be creative.
  • Reach out to universities and schools in your area; they can help in a variety of ways. Students are often looking for projects to assist with. Ask a university if they can make a recruitment video for you, help with graphic design, build a website, etc. These can sometimes be done for free or at a reduced rate. Work with universities to have a recruitment table on campus or to host a volunteer day event. Colleges need to attract students just like departments need to attract volunteers. How can you work with local universities in your advertising?
  • Don’t forget about local high schools. Run ads in sports programs, have a recruitment table at a Friday night football game, display banners at local schools, make presentations to students and faculty showing the value of volunteering. Studies have shown that most of the public isn’t aware that volunteers make up a majority of the fire service. Educate students on the composition of your department and your dependence on volunteers.
  • Do you have billboards in your area? Some billboard companies will offer special rates or deals for fire departments to advertise their need for volunteers. If a billboard isn’t sold to another group, you might even be able to get it for free!
  • Reach out to local radio stations and newspapers to see if they’re willing to run discounted or free ads for you. Many departments throughout the country have seen success using radio ads.
  • Work with local businesses. They can display or pass out your recruitment materials. Have them put a poster on their store front or bulletin board. Give them brochures with a brochure holder to set on the counter by the register. Is there a pizza place or a restaurant that does carryout/delivery in your area? Ask them to tape a flyer or advertisement about volunteering to their pizza or carryout boxes. Local businesses might also be willing to offer discounts or incentives for your existing volunteers as a retention tool.
  • Reach out to civic groups. People involved with civic groups already have a passion for giving back and will be more likely to volunteer or know others who may be interested.
  • Develop a strong relationship with your local media. Invite them to special events or on a ride-along. Encourage the media to follow and promote your social media pages. The more often citizens see your department in the news and all the great things you’re doing, the more likely they’ll be to join.

Remember, all your recruitment efforts are only worth it if the volunteers stay! Make sure to always think about retention efforts to keep volunteers engaged and happy.

Different volunteers are motivated in different ways. Find what motivates each and every one of your volunteers and make sure you meet those needs. Often, volunteers don’t need or want monetary-based incentives; instead, they want to feel appreciated and valued and have a sense of giving back to their communities.

Recruiting is a process that takes consistency and management, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need to host a big recruiting event every month; rather, make it your goal to do a few small things each month.

Consider forming a recruitment committee if you don’t already have one, and make each member a lead on some form of recruitment activity, such as social media, school networking and local press outreach. Using a variety of recruitment strategies throughout the year will yield the most successful results.

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