By Carolyn Stone
With more than 500 departments and companies participating in a very successful RecruitNY 2014 campaign, many methods were employed – and almost as many different opinions as to their level of success. If there is one lesson to take from the campaign, it’s that recruitment is a marathon, not a sprint.
Volunteer recruitment requires year-round nurturing, not just one weekend out of the year. The good news here is that recruitment success is attainable, even if it doesn’t happen overnight. A 12-month effort can produce results simply by using more imagination, teamwork and partnerships than scarce dollars. The annual RecruitNY statewide open house weekend can be your department’s crowning achievement, topping off all of your efforts during the preceding 11 months.
Identifying Your Prospects and Getting Creative
There are simply too many examples of the creative and ongoing outreach to list, plus open house weekend events that might inspire other departments, but here are a few to inspire your efforts:
When Ulster County’s Marlboro Fire Department concluded there were not enough new volunteer firefighters, they got busy. Identifying their target market with surgical precision, they created a number of initiatives guaranteed to appeal to the demographic of young residents most likely to volunteer. Utilizing no-cost and low-cost social media tools, they created a website, a Facebook page, made three videos featured on YouTube and posted “Volunteers Needed” on Craigslist.
Working under the assumption that potential new, young recruits would be interested in an adrenaline rush as well as making a contribution their community, Marlboro fire department’s videos featured exciting, motivating visuals. One video featured Van Halen as the soundtrack.
Not neglecting more traditional recruitment channels or messaging, Marlboro also permanently displays two doublesided signs in widely-seen locations, including near the local post office, and one sign on wheels is positioned on a major thoroughfare. The signs feature the evergreen appeal: “Serve your family and community.”
Integrating the Department into the Community
The Marlboro Fire Department works closely with the D.A.R.E. Program and does an auto extrication demonstration on prom day at the local high school. This is a great example of integrating the department into the community, and getting their recruitment appeal right in front of the target audience.
Additionally, the reminder this demonstration serves on the dangers of driving while impaired or distracted is recognized by parents and local leaders as an important public service message and appreciated by the community.
Marlboro held their annual comedy show fundraiser at the local high school the night before their RecruitNY open house to draw increased attention to the tandem events. The open house featured training and an apparatus display, and both events were promoted on Facebook and their website. The hard work seems to have paid off, with Marlboro 2nd Lt. Bill Farrell reporting a 44 percent increase in membership over 2010 by using these methods throughout the year and then incorporating them into the 2014 RecruitNY weekend.
Planting the Seed
Those departments that didn’t see hard evidence that their open house events were “successful” can rest assured that many recruitment seeds were planted in the minds of New Yorkers through millions of media impressions generated by the robust and comprehensive public relations campaign. The RecruitNY message was carried through widespread media coverage including television, radio, newspaper and online features and news items, making RecruitNY 2014 one of the most successful to date.
- More than 150 TV/radio stories about the RecruitNY weekend, the importance of volunteer firefighters, and how to join. FASNY representatives and local fire officials went in-studio to speak with TV/radio reporters in the weeks leading up to RecruitNY weekend and invited media to visit firehouses and “walk a day in our boots.”
- Working with FASNY leadership, seven news conferences in eight days took place throughout the state to kick off RecruitNY weekend.
- Press releases, op-eds and “Letters to the Editor” were sent to solidify statewide print media coverage in daily, weekly and community-based newspapers.
- By getting the word out in advance of RecruitNY weekend, the level of in-depth feature coverage increased. The result was more comprehensive and thoughtful stories placed – many of which were front page stories.
The immense volume of news stories resulting from the RecruitNY public relations campaign was made possible by the entire FASNY team, from representatives making themselves available for in-studio segments and firehouse media visits, to attending the numerous press conferences throughout the state.
The Long-Range Picture
Every drop of recruitment effort eventually fills the pail. The Junior of today is the firefighter of tomorrow. The 9-year-old at Hastings Volunteer Fire Department working a fire hose at a simulated fire in 2014, is the firefighter working on a real fire in 2023. The busy parent who saw your open house sign and wanted to come but couldn’t make it, filed away that thought and will come to see you a month after his or her youngest child graduates from high school.
Every effort made throughout the year and during the RecruitNY open house events adds up to recruitment success. Lack of immediately-seen results is not an accurate measure of return on efforts: encouraging us all to stay the course and expand recruitment efforts to a year-round endeavor.
This story appears in the July/August edition of The Volunteer Firefighter magazine, just one of many benefits of FASNY membership.