Vice President of Strategic Services
In Parts 1 and 2 of this three-part series: “Recruiting Volunteers During Times of Uncertainty”, we discussed how to make good use of the downtime created by the COVID-19 pandemic to revisit your plans and processes while you keep recruiting.
Part 2 touched on the opportunity to get ready for the US DHS/FEMA SAFER grant application period coming soon or already in progress. But you don’t have to wait until the end of this crisis, or until you secure a recruitment grant to get started with revamping your comprehensive recruitment and retention program. Here are five more ways to remain relevant in recruiting during disasters:
1. REFRESH YOUR MESSAGE:
Is your recruitment message as stale as the fifty loaves of bread you hoarded at the onset of the pandemic? Lol There’s a fine balance between tried and proven vs. outdated messaging, branding and images. Take the time to brainstorm new recruitment themes that will resonate with your target audience, not just existing firefighters and responders. Your branding should be consistent across all your offline and online recruitment efforts.
Although the two words have very different meanings, demonstrate both the need and want for volunteers. Need by itself can imply desperation and there’s nothing positive about being desperate for volunteers. So, if you’re going to use the word need, use it like this: “You need us. We want you.” That attributes the two verbs to their appropriate parties.
Create messages that promote the values, characteristics, traits and attributes we’re looking for in our next volunteer. Consider resurrecting the age-old mantra of neighbor-helping-neighbor as its being demonstrated during this time of national strife, but do so in a way that’s original, that localizes and personalizes it for your community. Most importantly, keep the message positive.
Not the creative type? Find someone who is. Do what you do best, outsource the rest.
2. RESTOCK YOUR STOCK PHOTOGRAPHY:
Make good use of the downtime to build your own bank of stock photography with new photos of your members (one at a time while the others wait at a safe social distance!), apparatus and fixed objects around the station (gear, radios, equipment, etc.) that you can use for your social media posts and other campaigns.
3. REVAMP YOUR WEBSITE:
Social media posts create important soundbites but a responsive/mobile-friendly and recruitment-centric website is still critical to serving as the permanent clearinghouse for all your volunteer staffing efforts.
You need to create (or re-create) a one-stop shop for everything you want a prospective member to know about joining your ranks. Use your refreshed messaging and restocked stock photography to paint a picture of service that motivates the right people to join your team. And if you and your website are not focused on recruitment and retention, what are you focusing on? All that other stuff is 100% useless without the proper quantity and quality of people to make it work. Your website should reflect that in its mission.
4. BUILD A FOLLOWING:
Make a concerted effort to build your online audience during this “off-season” through polls, quizzes, contests and a modest investment in boosted posts. Tie your recruitment message to every post, related or not. If each of your existing members recruited just one new member, what would be the mathematical impact on your organization? Now imagine if each of your existing members used their personal and professional social media networks to invite their friends to like your page and share your posts and help you build a bigger network. The impact would be exponential, which is really just a fancy word for awesome!
5. PROMOTE YOUR PEOPLE:
Highlight your greatest asset: Your people and the great work they’re doing especially during these trying times. Shine a spotlight on an individual volunteer each week with a photo, some background info, and be sure to include their personal recruitment message, why they volunteer. Be sure to end with their personal call to action as to why others should join them too.
Birthdays, service anniversaries and other benchmarks are simple but effective ways to recognize your volunteers too. Instead of one post listing everyone sharing one of those benchmarks, share a separate post on each of the days those benchmarks fall on.
Don’t be afraid to be a little off-cuff, using selfie photos or self-made short-burst videos that tell your volunteers’ stories in their own words using cell phones or webcams. While all the shiny objects of emergency services may be what draws them in, people connect with people in making their commitment to volunteer. Data may drive some decisions, but people volunteer with their heart.
THREE PART HARMONY (SUMMARY):
Hopefully Part 1 did its job of convincing you to keep recruiting during these difficult times while Part 2 set the stage for stoking your recruitment plan and strategy. Part 3 offered some tactics for taking your recruitment efforts to the masses, even when your in-person touch points are severely restricted due to social shutdowns resulting from this worldwide pandemic.
But just like every other challenge we face in fire and emergency services, we need to adopt an adapt-and-overcome attitude towards connecting with prospective volunteers so that when we come out the other side of this national crisis, we’ll still be the volunteering opportunity that the right people seek, and that other organizations envy us for having the ability to offer.
The time is still now to: “Treat EVERY public interaction as a public service, public education, public relations AND a recruitment opportunity!” Adopt that attitude and we’ll get through this together, ensuring the survival and success of this volunteer service we love and cherish so much.
While Part 1 outlined my perspective on the current recruitment situation, we’ll discuss key strategies and tactics in Parts 2 & 3, aptly titled: “5 Ways to Remain Relevant in Recruiting During Disasters” and “5 MORE Ways to Remain Relevant in Recruiting During Disasters” coming soon.
Tiger is Vice President of Strategic Services for First Arriving, a full-service marketing team supporting the public safety community. He served the Erie County Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Services (Buffalo, NY) for more than 20 years before retiring as deputy fire coordinator in 2018. There he was responsible for the recruitment, training, and mutual aid operations of the county’s 97 fire departments and 6,000+ firefighters. He created a recruitment effort that doubled his own fire department’s membership and helped net thousands of new volunteers countywide. A frequent presenter on leadership, incident management, connecting generations, and recruitment and retention, he is a nationally certified fire instructor and has been a firefighter since 1980. Connect with him at [email protected] or visit his websites: tigerschmittendorf.com, FireRECRUITER.com, RuntotheCurb.com and Soldierfirefighter.com.
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