How to Recruit Volunteers While Reopening from Lockdown: Strategies that are Working Now
By Kellie Dietrich, Public Relations Specialist
This article was published online in Firefighter Nation on August 25, 2020.
Stay-at-home mandates across the country provided volunteer fire companies with the challenge of how to keep recruiting the next wave of volunteers. To overcome this hurdle, fire companies had to change their approach, and now, as fire companies begin to reopen and resume training, they have to alter their approach once again.
Communication Solutions Group is a full-service Pennsylvania-based marketing firm that runs recruitment campaigns for fire departments in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Here are the pointers they shared with those chiefs and how they are adjusting the campaigns as the stations reopen.
Reconnect with inquiring volunteers from lockdown
During lockdown, firefighters and healthcare providers were viewed as more heroic than usual. People were eager to make a difference and volunteer inquiries still came in when counties and states were on lockdown.
When an inquiry comes in, someone should reach out via phone or email within 48 hours to tell them more about their station. Now, as fire companies reopen and drill nights resume, volunteers should connect with them once again, and invite them to tour the station and attend training.
Give potential volunteers the best tour possible
After following up with potential volunteers, consider what opportunities they are interested in and their demographics to pair them up with someone they will connect with. Interested individuals will feel more comfortable talking to volunteers they can relate to. A firefighter in his 20s will be more relatable when recruiting a younger audience. Similarly, if someone is interested in becoming an administrative volunteer, have an administrative volunteer meet with them rather than a firefighter.
Of course, any volunteer giving a tour should be prepared to talk about and answer any questions about the fire company, training and benefits. Keep in mind when giving tours to show the best features of the station first to make a good impression. For example, show them the state-of-the-art equipment at the beginning of the tour and the outdated breakroom later on.
When talking to potential volunteers match the tone of whom you’re talking to. If they’re really excited about volunteering, show excitement when responding to them. Use the emotional appeal to hook them in as well. Many people volunteer because if feels good to serve the community and save lives. Let potential volunteers know how helping the fire department will bring meaning and benefit them. Tell them personal stories they can relate to about the thrill and trepidation of your first 9-1-1 call or how rewarding it was to give a family peace of mind when the fire trucks arrived.
Remember, though, that volunteering isn’t all about work. Mention the relationships you made with other volunteers and how you became a family. Recruits want to hear about the social events too, like fundraisers and barbecues. This advice remains the same when bringing them in for in-person tours too.
Emphasize safety practices
Although organizations are reopening, people are still hesitant to visit many of them. To put potential volunteers at ease, let them know the safety guidelines the station is following.
Communication Solutions Group’s client, Darby Fire Company #1, started bringing in volunteers weeks ago. To ensure everyone’s safety, they are following Pennsylvania’s state guidelines as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which requires everyone to wear masks and social distance. Darby 1 is also promoting its new program that offers free housing to volunteer firefighters.
“The bottom line is that more people will want to volunteer or join the housing program when they know that a fire company is doing everything they can to keep their members and the public safe,” said Leza Raffel, President of Communication Solutions Group.
To inform the public about their health and safety plan, fire companies should update their websites and social media accordingly. Additionally, update these and other marketing materials with photos that show volunteers in masks, socially distancing and following other guidelines.
Provide the media with timely, feel-good stories to promote your volunteers
Even though life isn’t back to pre-COVID times, there are still ways to promote your volunteers. Try pitching a story about the reopening and safety guidelines and the success volunteers are having with the reopening. Communication Solutions Group pitched a story on the firefighters of Gloucester Township’s reopening strategies and the article was picked up by the Sicklersville Sun newspaper.
“These volunteer success stories are just the good news that people want to hear right now. So share these stories with your local press,” said Raffel.
After media coverage, links from these great stories can be woven into your proactive recruitment events and shared on social media.
Invite the community to Fire Prevention Week open houses by appointment
Another great publicity event is holding an open house for Fire Prevention Week in October. To limit the number of people in attendance and avoid overcrowding, require people to RSVP for different time slots throughout the day. Hold the activities outside so it is easier to socially distance and be sure to have a rain date scheduled just in case!
For fire companies interested on how to recruit volunteers on a shoestring budget, Communication Solutions Group offers a one-hour, complimentary consultation. Give us a call at 215-884-6499.
Kellie Dietrich is a Public Relations Specialist at Communication Solutions Group and works on recruitment and retention campaigns for fire company clients. She was previously published in EMS World for her article “For Successful Recruiting Events, Run Your Booth Right.” Communication Solutions specializes in community engagement campaigns for municipalities, first responders, school districts and nonprofit organizations. Visit www.comsolutions.com