A Dozen Ways to Recruit the Next Generation of Volunteer Firefighters
1. Improve the Appearance of Your Website’s Homepage
Attracting volunteer firefighters is a lot like online dating. It takes perseverance and a great picture. In this case, the picture is your website’s home page. It’s the first place a potential volunteer is going to look to form a first impression. Having a professional online presence says that you are part of the 21st century, that you take pride in your department and that you are interested in engaging the community. Interesting photos of equipment, shots of events, pictures of the crew, etc. will invite visitors to stay on the site to learn more. And creating a website doesn’t have to be a hassle. There are a number of service providers that specialize in fire department websites to make it fast and affordable.
2. Pack Your Site with the Right Information
To mix mtephors: A picture is worth a thousand words, but content is still king. Make sure to organize sections of your website so it’s easy to navigate and include detailed information on the department, its members, events and most importantly, why volunteering is the best thing since Netflix (slice bread doesn’t cut it anymore). Make it easy for potential volunteers to find contact information, or better yet, design a form that they can easily submit.
3. Put Your Best Facebook Forward
Having a great Facebook page is just as important as your website and it’s often easier to keep it up-to-date. In fact, put your Facebook feed right on your homepage to keep your site up-to-date! Posting about incidents, events and your people provides excellent insight into what it means to be a part of your department. Videos are now rated as the most engaging content on social sites so create an active YouTube channel and develop a library of content: clips of current volunteers talking about what it means to be a firefighter, scenes from an incident or members of the community saying thank you! And just when you thought you’d mastered Facebook, now Instagram is surpassing its old brother for being the most popular social site. With everyone carrying a cell phone camera, you can get all crew to help provide Instagram images.
4. Create Targeted Facebook and Instagram Campaigns
For as little as $25 a month, you can create an ad or boost a post on Facebook and Instagram that attracts potential volunteers and directs them to your website. You can create a targeted audience of men and women in your geographic area by age range and interests. When you create your ad, make sure you optimize it for viewing on mobile devices where 80% of these ads are seen.
5. Attract the Next Generation with Smartphone Apps
And speaking of mobile devices, the next generation of firefighter expects to have the latest technology where they expect to find it – on their cell phone. A department that wants to demonstrates their technical prowess should give volunteers the ability to access preplans and hydrant locators, communicate with other members or integrate with GPS and GIS systems on their phone. Incident response apps are easy to deploy, easy to use and super affordable.
6. Use Technology to Address Commitment Anxiety
One of the biggest fears expressed by potential volunteers is that they won’t be able to meet the high-level of commitment required to be a volunteer firefighter – believing that they have to be available 100% of the time, a daunting proposition to say the least! Today, smartphone apps make it possible for volunteers to easily set their status to unavailable when they have other obligations, and in the event that a call comes through in the middle of their kid’s soccer game, they can respond that they are not available with one touch of the app screen. Mobile technology can also provide the GPS location of the volunteer, giving incident command information to know that a volunteer is not in the area.
7. Make Use of National Online Resources
The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), through a federal SAFER grant, has developed a website where you can access national recruitment and retention campaigns to put research-based, ready-to-use tools and resources in the hands of local departments. You can customize marketing materials from postcards and posters to email invitation and access training resources and tracking tools.
They also manage a site called MakeMeaFirefighter.com that provides an easy-to-use search tool.
8. Leverage Free Advertising Opportunities - On Air and Online
Local TV and radio stations often have air time set aside for public service announcements. They’ll also be open to promoting events so be sure to send out press releases for all open houses and other department events. Church bulletins are always looking content and are usually willing to put in announcements. Every local paper and local online sites offer Calendars of Events to list your programs at no charge. And every tv, radio station, church and organization has a website that might be willing to run a free banner ad on their homepage that can link directly to your web page.
9. Employ a Recruiting Professional
According to a study by the Virginia Volunteer Workforce, departments with a dedicated volunteer recruitment coordinator, a centralized application process and standardized policies and procedures were more successful in their recruiting efforts. Creating a formal recruiting plan and a resource to make it happen will increase the odds of success. Granted, hiring a full-time recruitment employee is probably unrealistic for most budget-constrained departments but a local marketing agency might take on the job pro bono. Search profiles on Linked In to find marketing talent in your area.
10. Start Early and Follow Through
Engaging potential volunteers can start as early as kindergarten. We’ve all heard stories of how a visiting fireman who spoke at a school planted a seed for a lifelong interest in firefighting. Create opportunities to speak at schools, hold a touch-a-truck event, plan a kid’s carnival or a fire station tour for scouting organizations or other clubs. Create YouTube videos targeted to younger audiences about fire safety. And to reach older kids who might be closer to the age of volunteering, you can participate in career days at high schools and create relationships with guidance counselors. Adding junior volunteering to a college application would certainly be looked at favorably. And don't forget the local community college - with signs in the student union, on college websites, their Facebook page and Reddit forum,
11. Find the Leaders of the Club
Studies have shown that the typical community volunteer is between 35 and 45. While volunteer firefighters may tend to start earlier, someone who is already involved in local organizations and shown a desire to help others could be a great potential recruit. Reach out to rotary clubs, church groups, Lion’s clubs, athletic clubs, little league coaches and hospital volunteers. Some groups may even be willing to send out a targeted email on your behalf.
12. Put up Virtual and Physical Signage
Marrying the new with the old, put up physical signs outside the station and around town and post your volunteer opportunity online on sites like VolunteerMatch.com, Idealist.com, HandsOnNetwork.com and CreatetheGood.com. These are the “signs” of the times.
Looking for the 21st tools for better incident response; need help designing a website? Call Spotted Dog Technologies, a leading provider of mobile incident response solutions. The company's ROVER mobile app is used by over 25,000 volunteer firefighters in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
For more information, visit www.SpottedDogTech.com or call (833) 4 DOG APP.