Everywhere you look, there are stories about the volunteer recruitment and retention struggle in fire and EMS departments across the country. It is difficult, but it is not impossible. Using these tips from success stories will help your department with two of the biggest challenges – marketing and engagement.
Get the Grant
FEMA’s SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) offers departments an amazing funding opportunity over multiple years for a variety of recruitment needs. Now is a great time to start looking at ways your department can benefit from this program. You can use SAFER funds in the Recruitment & Retention category to fund recruitment marketing programs, member progression incentives, PPE for recruits, and more.
Leverage Google for Nonprofit Programs
If your department can become qualified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, it can qualify for amazing benefits from the Google for Nonprofits program, including $10,000/month in search advertising. You can use that for recruitment, fundraising, event promotions, and more. Plus, you will get unlimited free email accounts for your organization, Google Drive storage, shared calendars, YouTube enhancements, and more. It’s just a few steps to sign up and a huge value.
Make Recruitment the Mission of Your Website
You might believe that social media has replaced websites, but your department website is still more important than a Facebook page or Tik Tok video. Consider social media as the GPS for getting potential applicants to your website and all your recruitment information.
For recruitment, you need a robust website – not just a page with contact information – packed with information on the how, why and what of becoming a volunteer firefighter, EMT, or support/auxiliary member. Your department website needs to be the one-stop shop for a potential applicant to learn about your department, what positions are available, what to expect for training, the benefits they can receive, and to complete either an interest form or an application. Your website is the first impression for a potential applicant, so don’t blow it with a lack of information.
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Be Inviting with Videos
Every fire or EMS department loves showing their work, but videos of crews responding to calls have limited value as a recruitment tool. Potential applicants can quickly get the gist of the work, but they want to see if your department has members like them! They want to find out what life is like inside the station, how friendly and social everyone is, and if there is a place for them. Your videos need to highlight all of your membership roles. Support and Administrative members have just as much to offer as those responding to emergencies. Your members, community engagement, and department culture tell applicants why they should choose your department over another, and this is especially important to applicants with no experience.
Capture Attention with Social Media
Facebook is among the easiest ways to target potential volunteers with advertising messages about your department, drive them to your website, and collect those recruitment form leads. As a bonus, you can also push these campaigns to Instagram.
You can budget as little as $25/month and get an immediate impact from recruitment campaigns on Facebook. You can target by specific demographic, age ranges, those interested in volunteering and causes, and more. Then, you can “boost” posts on Facebook (such as status updates, videos, and photos) or create unique campaigns targeting your selected demographics.
Your local television and radio stations may have programs to support local nonprofit and community organizations. These may include the opportunity to secure free advertising for your recruitment efforts. You can quickly let prospective volunteers know about you and drive them to the recruitment information on your website. Start by contacting the main number of your local media outlets and ask them who the appropriate contact is within their company for community relations and public service announcements.
Creating recruitment and marketing materials is easy and free thanks to the National Volunteer Fire Council’s Make Me a Firefighter program. You will have access to invitations, postcards, posters, social media images, and more, which you can customize to your specific needs. It’s all free from the NVFC.
Get To Know Your Interested Applicants
Hosting recruitment events is a great way to get recruitment prospects through the door. An initial station visit can get them started on the application process, but only if the process is ready and easy to follow. Handing out materials such as a Prospective Member Guide and application packets, and having plenty of time to answer all questions is vital for this first visit. After this, they can schedule a ride-along or the next step in your process. Setting a fixed schedule (once a month, once a quarter, etc.) and posting those dates in advance and regularly on your website, social media, signs in front of the station, and more, will not only help recruits know when to come but make it easier for your internal membership team to coordinate.
Recruitment events are not limited to taking place in your station. Fire service events, career fairs, open houses, and events at your local high schools and colleges are opportunities to create a welcoming and engaging atmosphere to meet potential applicants.
Do Not Lose the Leads!
Keeping track of potential applicants is more than updating a spreadsheet. Being engaged with recruitment leads is part of the retention process. When someone decides to join your department, they are looking for direction and engagement from you on day one of the application process. Staying in touch with potential applicants helps explain more about your department, the membership process and training, and keeps up their interest. The last thing any applicant wants is to be left drifting alone after completing an interest form or application. Leaving them alone is a sure way to have them lose interest and give your department a poor review. There are many easy-to-use, cost-effective solutions for accomplishing these objectives and saving tons of valuable volunteer time.
Keep prospects engaged throughout the entire recruitment process with emails and phone calls. Provide them with a clear point of contact (email, phone, etc.) if they have any questions, concerns, or issues that arise during the recruitment process. Consider assigning them to a mentor or member who can help walk them through their first experiences in the Fire/EMS service. Create a “New Member Guide” with your various checklists, progression information, copies of primary response maps, key forms, and other critical details they will need to know.
By following a combination of the above strategies for marketing and engagement, your department can expect to yield its best possible results for recruitment and retention. For assistance in selecting and implementing the best strategies for your department, contact First Arriving.