EMS departments will have booths at many community fairs, festivals, and events this summer in hopes of luring new talent. However, the number of events a department attends won’t matter without a strategy for recruiting volunteers while at the booth.
“An EMS member at your booth has four seconds to capture the attention of someone walking by, so it’s very important for them to be prepared with what to say to transform a person walking by into a potential future volunteer,” says Leza Raffel, president of Communication Solutions Group, a full-service Pennsylvania-based marketing firm that provides recruitment and communication support for fire departments and EMS companies across the country. She runs “Talk the Talk” sessions for EMS departments and implements recruitment and retention strategies for growing their volunteer first responder bases.
According to Raffel, while most EMS members are generally happy to spend a few hours assisting at a booth during a community event or fair, they should really be trained to turn that face-to-face time into a recruitment opportunity.
Once the booth is set up and community members start rolling in, Raffel suggests the following:
Throw the pizza away—give potential volunteers your full attention. People walking by the booth are less likely to stop and talk to you when you’re eating, facing away from them, or in a conversation with colleagues. “They won’t want to bother you if you look preoccupied with other activities, which is why it’s important to minimize distractions,” says Raffel.
Stand up so you’re on their level and face forward. People are more inclined to talk when they can see your face and eye contact has been made.
Be sure to throw trash away. The booth should look presentable, with brochures on the table, and if you have a power source nearby, play a video of EMTs in action on a loop to grab attention.
Social, But Not Too Social
Although this is a social event, avoid EMS gossip. Be sure to stop conversations with fellow recruiters when someone is nearing your booth so you can focus on engaging with them.
Keep your cell phones on silent and preferably out of sight. Using your phone to talk, text, or browse social media will keep potential volunteers away.
Break the ice with passersby with questions like, “Have you ever considered being a volunteer EMT?” or “Are you interested in helping out the community?”
Once you have their attention, stick to the basics so you don’t overload a person with too much information. Talk about the hours, training, and support of other members.
It is also helpful to be familiar with volunteer opportunities and the duties of the administration team so you can talk about all the options from medics to treasurers, not just your role.
Match and Mimic
Interested individuals will feel more comfortable talking to recruiters they can relate to. An EMT in his 20s will be more relatable when talking to another young person in their 20s.
“EMS departments really want to bring diversity to the table,” says Raffel. “It is great to have people of different ages at the booth, and if you have any female volunteers, it will lead to more women approaching as well.”
Additionally, match the tone of the person you’re talking to. If someone approaches the booth and is really excited about volunteering, show excitement when responding to them.
The Emotional Appeal
Many people volunteer because if feels good to help others and save lives. Let potential volunteers know how helping the EMS department will bring meaning to their lives. 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 EMS crew 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 picnics and softball games.
Apprehension to Opportunity
You will meet a variety of people at community events, and you should have answers ready for whatever someone throws at you. If the persons says they have no experience, tell them none is necessary—the EMS department provides gear and training for free.
Others will tell you they’re not cut out for being an EMT and become queasy at the sight of blood. That’s when you can mention other opportunities, like assisting with administrative tasks. Help them realize everyone can contribute to the department, even those who aren’t in the medical field.
Collect Contact Info
You may talk to people who sound interested in volunteering, but that doesn’t mean you have new volunteers.
“You want to make the signup process as easy as possible,” says Raffel. “Giving them a brochure does not mean they are going to contact you. Make sure they fill out a contact form because the EMS chief following up with them is much more effective in gaining volunteers than relying on them to reach out to you.”
Anyone who seems slightly interested should fill out an inquiry form, which should have spots for their name, address, and preferred phone number. They should also check off or write down the area they are most interested in, so the chief knows what to talk to them about during the follow-up call.
If the person does not live near the EMS department you work for, take their information anyway and pass it along to their local station.
Remember, it’s a sales job: “I always tell people that recruiting volunteers is a sales job, and it should be treated as that,” says Raffel. Let your personality shine and sell them on why they should join your team.
Kellie Dietrich is a PR associate for the Communication Solutions Group, Inc.