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Grassroots Recruiting: Increasing the Ranks with Decreasing Budgets

It will be no surprise to any of you that one of the primary chronic problems facing volunteer and combination departments is the recruitment of new members. With many departments facing tight operational budgets, recruitment programs may unfortunately take a back burner. Luckily, some of the most effective volunteer recruitment methods come at little to no cost for departments.

Through data collected from the Volunteer Workforce Solutions programs, it has been determined that our best recruitment tools are right in front of us: our current rosters of volunteer firefighters and EMS providers.

These current, happy volunteers will be the best salespeople possible to bring new members on board. Have your current members take just a short amount of time to determine the needs of a prospective volunteer and how the department can help meet some of those needs. When potential volunteers' needs are asked about, this helps to assure them that the member doing the recruiting is someone they can relate to. This personal connection from a current volunteer can vastly increase the likelihood a potential volunteer will apply.

These types of opportunities can happen anytime your members interact with the public. Turning everyday events into recruitment opportunities not only allows for positive interactions between your members and the public, but also can potentially bolster your ranks. This can happen at the grocery store as crews purchase their daily meals, on calls (using common sense as to when it is appropriate to talk recruitment) or even at youth public-education events where teachers or parents might be approached about volunteering.

To ensure your members can follow up with those they've interacted with, make sure you provide them with the ability to invite interested parties to follow-up events—anything from open houses and ride-alongs to interest sessions and informal visits to the firehouse.

Another way to connect with potential volunteers is through a strong online presence, and this is generally free of cost to the department. While the world of social media can seem like scary, with social media policies in place and properly enforced, social media can be a powerful tool.

Social media allows for an open environment for your department to connect with not only your current members and other agencies, but also the community as a whole. The ability for a prospective volunteer to interact with members online and learn more about the department in a very noncommittal way can be effective in drawing these individuals in for that personal ask from your members.

Finally, it's extremely important for your department to consider the skills and potential for departmental benefit from community members who aren't interested in an operational role but still want to volunteer their time. These may be trades people who can help with the upkeep of stations and apparatus, graphics and web developers who can help in recruitment and public-education events or accountants and lawyers who can help with the business side of the organization. These may also be retired individuals who are looking to give back to the community with some of their newfound extra time.

With some open-minded thinking about recruitment and proper utilization of your most valuable resources—your current membership—you can be well on your way to a robust recruitment and retention program at little to no cost.

Keep Your Current Members Happy

  • Recognize their hard work and achievements. Make sure they know you appreciate them.
  • Train, train, train. Not only does it increase the operational effectiveness of your department, but it also keeps members interested.
  • Take an honest look at the leadership. What ways can you improve yourself and your fellow leaders to make it a better department for everyone?
  • Consider developing a mentor program. Connecting senior and more-junior members as mentor and mentee can improve the performance of both members while building lasting relationships.
  • Meet the needs of your people; if the department and leaders do their best to meet those needs, your people go out of their way for you as well.

Volunteer Workforce Solutions

VWS partners with local, state and regional organizations to offer turnkey solutions to support initiatives focused on the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters. Currently, the VWS program has active programs in the commonwealth of Virginia and the state of Connecticut.

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