How To Foul Up National Volunteer Week

So, we all know that volunteer fire and EMS organizations routinely say they’re short of volunteers. Check out any small town media or even fire and EMS websites and social media sites and you see the same stories about organizations struggling for volunteers.

So, you’re with one of these organizations that has volunteers. Maybe you’re even seeking volunteers. As such, you do what all of the self-appointed experts (maybe even me) tell you to do and post on social media. A great idea might be to post something about this week being “National Volunteer Week.” Thank you President George H.W. Bush and the “thousand points of light.” You even get bonus points if you do this in Dana Carvey’s voice.

Now you’ve got your post up on Facebook for National Volunteer Week. All you need to do is watch your Facebook inbox for volunteers, right? No need to close the deal or such, right?

Well, one enterprising paramedic sent such a department a Facebook message inquiring for more information on volunteering with a group. The reply the paramedic got back was “Ok stop by my office and we can talk it just involves a simple application.”

Part of running any organization, whether paid or volunteer, is doing a bit of salesmanship for recruiting. That means selling your organization to prospective members. And when a potential member inquires about membership and asks questions, it pays to answer them as opposed to giving a few generic facts about your department. Speaking somewhat selfishly, if a prospective member is interested and engaged enough to ask specific questions about activity requirements before applying, it’d be smart to answer them and to even offer to reach out via telephone. Instead, some vague answers about the organization’s probationary process that seem almost canned make the potential member think that whoever’s handling social media is either not an actual fire/EMS member of the organization or is completely disinterested in bringing on new members. An offer to make a phone call might go a long way in sealing the deal with the potential member as opposed to the potential member just replying with “thanks” and walking away with a skeptical feeling about your organization.

Compare and contrast this with another organization. When a new member reached out to them, they received a call from a department board member who followed up with an email containing an application, EMS protocols, policies, and department bylaws. (Note to the first department I described: Maybe it might benefit y’all to post the membership application and/or these basic facts on your website or Facebook page.)

Needless to say, you can guess which department got this blogger’s interest and which department got a “thanks” in reply to their amateur attempts to inquire to potential membership.

It’s like I’ve said before. You have to make it possible for people to volunteer. You have to make people want to volunteer. Otherwise, you end up creating the self-perpetuating story of being unable to find volunteers. And eventually, you end up having to create a paid fire and/or EMS department.

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