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Four Steps to Improve Volunteer Recruitment

As an emergency responder you have enormous responsibilities. Juggling them all effectively takes a lot of hands, and the more hands you have in your organization, the more you can accomplish. 

Unfortunately, recruiting volunteer emergency responderscontinues to be a struggle. There may be people from your community who want to volunteer but don’t know where to begin and aren’t sure if they have what it takes. 

Implementing an effective recruitment plan, including an education component that outlines qualifying criteria, can ultimately improve your success. Recruitment of new volunteers can be less daunting when you employ a few important tactics. 

1. Join Forces by Hosting Community Events

There are many challenges to finding good emergency services volunteers, from seemingly imposing training requirements and time demands to higher costs of living (with no quality income from volunteering) and aging communities. While these factors are very real, sometimes the only thing standing between an emergency services organization and new members is awareness.

Does your community know and understand the needs of your organization? Are members reminded of these needs and up-to-date on details of the things you do for them? Planning a fun event for increased community awareness can greatly help with these issues. One volunteer fire company in Williamsville, N.Y. used a little creativity to connect with its community: Harris Hill Volunteer Fire Company partnered with Pesci’s Pizza & Wings, a popular restaurant in its town, to test a unique recruitment tactic. For just one evening, Chief Scott Switzer and his crew geared up and became the restaurant’s delivery drivers.1 

The firefighters drove around in their department vehicles, walked up to the doors of community members who’d ordered pizza and wings, and delivered the food in full turnout gear. If the surprised customer could prove to the chief and his crew that their smoke detectors were in working order, their food was free. If not, the firefighters either installed a new detector or replaced batteries while they were there—also for free. In addition, they gave the customers dry-chemical fire extinguishers as gifts. This developed a bond between the members of the department and the community and provided a chance for them to discuss, in person, their crew’s initiatives and what they needed most from volunteers. 

Are there businesses you could team up with to make a difference in your community? Can you think of opportunities to get more face time with community members? It is important to do so and formally educate them on what you do and what your goals are. These initiatives will help you make personal connections and more effectively network, which can make a significant impact in your recruitment progress as well.

2. Establish a Strong Online Presence

Recruitment doesn’t only happen in person. In fact, many of today’s successful recruitment efforts are happening online. A study by the Aberdeen Group reported 73% of young people (ages 18–34) found their last job through social media.2Take a moment to create a simple website for your organization that has the following elements. These pages can be created at no cost, and their benefits will be significant.

  • Photos and videos—In today’s world attention spans are substantially decreasing, so visual elements are essential to capturing people’s interest. People love to see people, so rather than using stock images, use real photos of your team members and facility. This brings a human element to all you do. Showcase the heart of your organization. Discuss your culture, your mission, what motivates your team members, and what you feel is the most rewarding aspect of being a first responder. Visitors should feel like they know you before they’ve ever met you in person. By detailing your mission and motivations, you may inspire others to follow in your footsteps. 
  • Social media accounts—Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are great places to develop a loyal and devoted following. These sites allow you to share quick, up-to-date information about all your community initiatives and events and interact with possible recruits. These networks are also fitting places for heartwarming testimonials, which are sure to capture the attention of those who visit. Share the stories of those you’ve been able to help and evoke an emotional connection with your community. Connecting on this level increases your chances someone will pick up the phone or stop by to see how they, too, can help. 

3. Use Personal, Thoughtful Advertising

Community outreach can be more traditional as well. Take advantage of opportunities for free advertising. Ask local printing companies and agencies for a bit of donated time and develop materials to promote large initiatives and events.

When able, create postcards, business cards, posters, invitations, and bulletins to share across your community. Make close connections with members of the press and keep them informed of your accomplishments so important initiatives and successes can be shared in articles and news stories. This will go a long way toward creating increased awareness and recognition for your organization. 

4. Remember Retention

As important as recruitment is, retention may be the key to having a greater number of volunteers within your organization. Take the time to prevent member burnout and give extra care to connecting with all your volunteers and offering them support. 

Focus on ways to provide great leadership and ensure your organization is coordinated. Work to resolve disagreements quickly and fairly and provide time for members to come together while not responding to emergencies. Encourage your volunteers to communicate openly and regularly. Most of all, whenever you’re able, focus on having fun.

By providing emotional support, quality leadership, a focus on fun amid the stress, and a break from typical time demands, you can keep your current volunteers happier and interested in volunteering longer. Healthy, happy volunteers decrease the need to consistently recruit and are a huge benefit to any emergency services organization. 

Toward a Better Future

Recruiting new membersmay be harder than ever before, but it’s not too late to do something about it. Employing a few critical initiatives can make a significant improvement in the success of your recruitment efforts. Take the time to meet community members face-to-face, get creative, develop a strong online presence, and take advantage of advertising and media opportunities. Finally, never underestimate the power of inspiration. People who see and understand the things you’re doing for your community each day will be much more encouraged to join you. 

For more information on managing your members, focusing on mental health, and keeping your facility organized, visit The company offers a vast library of risk-control, loss-prevention, and safety materials designed to improve your efforts and protect you for the long-term.


1. RecruitNY. Success Stories,

2. 11 Social Media Recruiting Statistics to Make You Rethink Your Current Strategies,

VFIS, a division of Glatfelter Insurance Group, is the largest provider of insurance, education, and consultation services to emergency organizations such as fire departments, ambulance and rescue squads, and 9-1-1 centers. As pioneers of the first tailored insurance package for emergency services organizations, the company focuses on being a leader within the industry. 

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