Sunday, May 1, 2011

Volunteer Fire Departments 2.0 (7 of 9) Organization

This is part 7 of a multi-part series. You should have read the preceding parts: Part One, Part Two, Part ThreePart Four, Part Five  and Part Six before moving onto this one. Today's subject is Recruitment in the Volunteer Service.
 Thousands of words have been written on this subject by many authors and organizations. I will not repeat those words here. My readers are smart enough to go seek that material out and review it if they need to. There are tons of good ideas and programs already in print and ripe for the taking. I do suggest, that if Recruitment is an issue in your Department that you indeed go and look at many of these great resources.
 No, instead, in this post I will try to focus on why some Departments have little trouble with recruitment while others suffer long and hard for each new member they gain or old member they retain.
 We all know the excuses reasons that recruitment is so difficult: The training requirements, the time away from family, the current trend for many folks to work long hours or multiple jobs just to make ends meet, as well as all the hurdles people throw up for themselves such as "I am not the 'emergency type'", "I could never fit in with that crowd", "They are a tight clique, those guys are", "I don't have any experience with that sort of stuff", and "I can't afford it, either the time or the money". This last refers to the misunderstanding that each responder buys their own equipment. I know this is wrong (or it should be), but if we don't correct that minomer, they will go right on believing it, won't they?
 So the first secret I have learned from watching good Departments is this: If you want to recruit, signs, newspaper ads, and campaigns are fine, but if you really want members then you have to get out there and talk to people. Answer their questions, show them how things work, put them at ease. Do a little hand-holding (Easy folks, this is a metaphor). You can't just say 'Hey come on down to a Department meeting the first Monday of the month', you have to offer to pick them up, bring them there and introduce them around. make them feel comfortable, let them know what they can expect. Everybody has apprehension and most folks won't tell you what their concerns are, you need to guess well, and give them enough information to feel at ease. Emphasize where your Department is flexible (such as the types of jobs they can choose) and where you have strict requirements. Being open, honest, and informative helps prevents those false starts and misunderstandings.
 The next glaring secret I have seen is having all those other things that we talked about in the proceeding posts: Having a solid Organization, good and effective training, making good use of your members time, and all those other things, make members feel welcome and valued. This is key: if people are giving their time, YOU need to SHOW them how valuable that time is to the Department and community. NEVER ASSUME that they know this, keep reminding them. In my Department, I never do a call where somebody at some point does not say "Hey, thanks for coming, nice work", or something along those lines. It just good business and a nice habit to get into. It's easy, it's free, and it DOES mean something. It means somebody realizes you dropped what you were doing and came to help. Even if you did very little, you did show up ready to work, and that means a lot. Think about that on your next call.
 I mentioned doing all the other things previously discussed, but I want to focus on training. Most folks who stay in this business do so because they like it. They like helping and being good at their job, that takes training. I know that many Departments think they already spend too much time training, but I am going to point out again that if you have good solid, productive, and meaningful training, your members will stick around longer. I know of 2 Departments in neighboring towns. One Department added a retirement incentive plan (LOSAP) for their Volunteers and several members from the second town transferred over to the other Department because of that plan which their Department did not have. Several folks who joined in later years chose the Department with the retirement plan. Well, over time it became clear to many that the Department with the retirement plan didn't offer much else, whereas the second Department had an outstanding training program that was ongoing and consistent. These days there are several members in the retirement Department trying to transfer over to the Department that has regular training because it is a better performing group, more active, and has interesting and regular training. The Department with the retirement plan is known in the area as largely lacking in skills and calls regularly for mutual aid on routine calls, whereas the Department with the good training is called to assist them and many other Departments in the area because of their proficiency. They are widely known as a crew that "comes ready to work". Incidentally, this Department had to put a moratorium on new members last year because they had more people coming in than they could handle with training and gear requirements. Nice place to be, isn't it? Too many new members. Everybody in the County wants to know what "their Secret" is. Well, I just told you.
 This post is short, because it's simple: Treat People right, Let them know what they can expect, and do what you promise. That's it.
 Now if you have some recruitment secrets, please post a comment and let everybody know what works for your Department. People are always looking for ideas, and many hands make light work.
 NEXT UP: (after an intermission) Recognition

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