How to Break the First Rule of Volunteer Fire/EMS Recruitment, Successfully!

There are two rules for success:

Rule #1: Never reveal everything you know.

Rule #2:

While that’s obviously tongue in cheek, what we’re referring to is whether to:

Offer a simple online inquiry form on your recruitment website

vs.

Offering a prospect the ability to download, print, and submit your full membership application right from the start.

Doesn’t sound like a big deal but it could make the difference between whether you’re able to “recruit ‘em early and often,” or you miss out on the opportunity to connect with a prospective member.

Recruiting volunteers is all about starting a conversation. In a public setting, it’s often us who gets to start the conversation in personal interaction with a likely candidate, but in an online setting, it’s usually the prospect who starts the conversation with us. Therefore, you need and want your organization’s website to serve as the clearinghouse for everything you want the prospect to know about volunteering with your team. Share the great opportunities you offer to get involved, the benefits and incentives of volunteering, clear expectations of the organization and the volunteer, and especially how to apply.

We’re actually encouraging you to break “Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment Rule#1” and reveal everything you know…but with one exception: the membership application.Posting your full membership application, typically in PDF format, and making it available for download without first collecting the interested party’s basic contact information allows them to skip an important step in the courting process: the initial contact.

It’s the equivalent of what “allegedly” happens often in some volunteer firehouses:

Firefighter: “Hey Chief, someone stopped by the station today and said they’re interested in volunteering so I handed them an application. Aren’t you proud of me?”

Chief: “That’s awesome. Did you collect their name and phone number so we can follow up with them to see how interested they are?”

Firefighter: “Umm, no…”

Without injecting that first step of asking them to complete a simple inquiry form, you could miss out on a number of seemingly interested candidates who you’d never know are interested because they didn’t fill out the online form first. This is especially critical if your full membership application is thorough and lengthy, which could be intimidating or considered too time-consuming before they’ve even had the chance to speak or meet with your recruiter. It could be a turnoff, a barrier to volunteering.

For example, my volunteer fire department’s full membership application is nine (9) pages long but that’s ok because by the time they’re ready to fill out the application — they’re ready to fill out the full application! They’ve already completed our online or print inquiry form, received a timely initial contact and introduction, station tour, ride-along, and/or meet-and-greet with members; and a prospective member guide that thoroughly explains everything they need to know about volunteering with us.And when we say “simple online inquiry form,” we mean collecting just the basics: name, address, phone, email, which volunteering opportunity they’re most interested in, and how they first found out about volunteering with your agency (source of referral). It shouldn’t take more than a minute or so for them to type in their info and hit the submit button to get the volunteering conversation started.

No online inquiry form can mean no recruitment leads, and it definitely means no tracking of lead sources that can determine whether you’re getting your return on investment for online and offline recruitment marketing efforts.We’re not suggesting that you don’t put your agency’s full membership application on your website, but we are recommending adding an online inquiry form as the first step of contact on the website in lieu of just the full application PDF.

Both can be accomplished by the following means after the prospect completes the online inquiry form:

  1. Manually send the prospect the link to the full fire department application PDF in a separate email as a follow-up touch point. (See below.) *Do not make the full application PDF public but instead simple-password protect it (Ex.: joinnow) and send the password along in the email (It will make them feel special to have the secret password!)
  2. Forward the prospect to a confirmation/inquiry received/thank you page on your recruitment website that includes a link to the full fire department application PDF, and information on what the next steps are
  3. Send an auto-reply email that includes a link to the full FD application PDF and next steps information on what they can expect

If in the end you decide to go without a simple online inquiry form, we recommend that clear directions as to what to do with the full fire department application PDF form once it is completed (including any conditions, means of contact, sub-actions, signatures and affidavits, etc.) be:

  • Added as a cover page into the full FD application PDF document;

AND/OR

  • Added to the appropriate location(s) on the “Join” page of your recruitment website

That being said, the key to taking the conversation to the next level once the prospect has completed the online contact form is timely and thorough follow-up and follow-through. Timely today means you have a maximum of 24-48 hours to respond to that initial inquiry before the candidate loses interest, loses faith in your organization or turns to another volunteering opportunity where the organization is more responsive to your demonstration of interest in learning more about joining.Purposely injecting multiple, but easy-to achieve steps in your recruitment process can enhance your chances of success of “closing the sale.” The more personal interactions you have with a candidate, the more opportunities you have to learn more about them and whether they’re the right fit for your fire and EMS family and your volunteering opportunities. Just as importantly, it offers the candidate more opportunities to “kick the tires” of your organization, making sure you and what you offer are the right fit for them.

If you don’t have a thorough, inviting, and enlightening recruitment-centric website yet; or you haven’t thought about whether to post a simple inquiry form or your full membership application — click or call us and we can start a conversation. After all, that’s what recruiting is all about.BY TIGER SCHMITTENDORF, VP of Recruitment & Retention Services

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