I’ve heard it from our members. I’ve heard it from local businesses. I’ve heard it from large corporations. All in regards to recruitment or finding volunteers. The big question is:
“What am I doing wrong?”
My first question to them is: “How do people find you or hear about you?”
Understanding your Reach
Think about the question above with a generalized perspective. We aren’t talking about a specific app, platform, website, etc. We want to understand what our current “reach” is and what channels we “reach” our audience through. Think about how your community, the general public, and those outside of your service area find your department, hear about what you are doing, know about your openings or about what you do. This could be as simple as searching your department online through a website or social media. I imagine most departments have a website, a Facebook page, and/ or some physical presence. Have you thought about how “visual” you are, as a department?
One of the first things I do when needing information is to check a department’s website. First, can your website be found through a simple Google search? Can your other pages, such as a Facebook page, be found through a simple Google search? If the answer is “no”, then you need to explore your SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Sounds complicated right? If your website can’t be found, updating your SEO is not too difficult to get corrected. We won’t be exploring SEO in depth in this article but starting out with these basic questions can help you and your department with a baseline on recruiting and understanding your “reach”.
Website - How long has it been?
When was the last time the website was updated? Has it been five, ten, or fifteen years ago? Your recruitment efforts begin with your website. Your online presence. They begin when someone Google’s your department’s name. I can’t tell you how many times I try Googling a department’s name and can’t find their website. I can’t find who is in charge or even a phone number to call. You need a robust website that is packed with information about who your department is, how anyone (and I mean ANYONE) can join your department, and what you offer to your community. Do you offer CPR, AED, or First Aid training for your community? Do you offer any benefits to your department and/or new recruits? What is attractive about working or volunteering with your department? How do new recruits get involved and what does that process look like?
These are some basic questions to ask yourself. Start the conversation with other members of your department about why they volunteered and what motivates them to stay involved. Build your knowledge of what makes people interested in being a part of what you do. Then use that information to promote your openings and get involved. We explore how to promote this information later in this article.
If your website hasn’t been updated in years or you aren’t posting information about how to get involved, you probably need an update. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a website that nowadays can be built easily and efficiently through personalized and customized templates that can be catered to your department.
Social Media - Who is Managing Your Social?
More often than not, I can find a department’s Facebook page. But that’s only a start. Be sure to be posting content, sharing content frequently. Every day if possible. This doesn’t have to be done by one person. Find one or two additional members of your department who are interested or skilled in social media to help promote your department. Empower them to take charge and ownership. Make sure you have a social media policy in place and ensure that everyone follows it. Your posts should never contain HIPAA information or specific details about incidents.
What should you post?
Promotion of safety (such as keeping speeds down, wearing of seatbelts, accident photos if they are educational and don't include anything graphic or personal)
Department Members - People want to see who is supporting their community
Holidays - Always have a post for any major holidays
Equipment - You use lots of unique and complicated equipment, educate the public on what it does
Training Opportunities - Always a time to be recruiting and educating your community to get involved
Vehicles - Get up close to showcase WHY you have certain equipment on your vehicles or WHY you have certain vehicles - this helps to justify spending and budget for future vehicle purposes
What should you NOT post?
Any identifiable information (such as home addresses, license plate information, etc.)
Anything that could violate patient privacy / HIPAA
Not sure what else to post?
Your community wants to hear and see what you are doing. They can be amazing allies when they truly understand and appreciate your work. If you can’t find anyone to help, or you find that you do not have the time to dedicate to the process, consider outsourcing some of this to a company. Many charge flat monthly fees for a set amount of content.
"Don’t rely on one spot when you’re trying to recruit."
Remember that every post should do one of the following things:
Educate. Inform. Entertain.
I would personally stay away from trying to entertain your audience as it sometimes rides the line of what is appropriate from a company or Fire/ EMS department. However, as licensed medical professionals, you can educate your audience on different equipment and why you need it. You could create a weekly, “Did you know” fact post and educate the public on something medically related. Another idea, you can inform them about ways they can protect themselves. You have a lot of equipment. WHAT DOES IT DO? Make a quick video on a cardiac monitor, 12-lead, or a LUCAS device. The majority of the public doesn’t know what this equipment is or what the equipment does for their community and the more informed they are, the more they are willing to fund, donate, and get involved.
How Does Someone Apply?
This is one of the most important and most overlooked items in recruitment. I’ve seen hundreds of fire and EMS departments who still post a paper PDF on their website expecting interested individuals to print, fill out, and send in their application.
Did you know that companies have been streamlining their application process to make it as easy as possible? Even as simple as providing contact information and checking a few boxes. What does your process look like? If you can, have a form on your website to collect potential recruits or applicants. If you’re unable to add a form, consider posting your job to dedicated EMS / Fire job boards such as jobs.emsprofessionals.news.
Where else are you posting your openings? Post on Indeed, on Facebook, on your website, at your local high schools, (if applicable), technical colleges or community centers. Don’t rely on one spot when you’re trying to recruit. Use the same outreach flyer or vary the flyer just slightly to see what channel (i.e. Facebook, your community center, etc.) performs the best or gets the most responses.
Engage, Follow Up, Rinse and Repeat
If you have someone passionate with zero background in EMS or Fire, do you send them away to figure it out themselves or are you coaching them through the process of getting involved, getting them into a program, and having them do ride-alongs with your department? Do you follow-up with them on a regular basis? These are all questions you should be asking within your own department.
Keep your prospective recruits engaged through the stages of getting them on board. Text, email, or call them regularly and invite them to ride-along with your department. Invite them to events, training, or even to just hang out with your members. Provide clear points of contacts whether that is your Chief or Service Director or contacts at the technical colleges. If you pass them to another contact, follow up with that contact to make sure that they have connected with your recruit. Keep them engaged, follow-up with them and any stakeholders, and continue this cycle.
How does your department currently communicate with your community or potential recruits? Do you use a Gmail or Yahoo email address or do you have an official email for your department? You’d be surprised how this little difference not only keeps your department organized but provides a more professional appearance. Think about the communication between your department to officials, other departments, new recruitments, or just to your community. How do people know this potentially anonymous Gmail, Yahoo, or similar email address is your department’s official email address? Think about succession planning and what happens when your chief or director leaves your services. Is all of their email history gone with that email account?
Those can and should be saved so that the next leader has access to that history.
Do you have email addresses for your entire organization or at least for your Director/ Supervisors? Did you know that if you are a 501c3 nonprofit organization, you could get approved for Google Workspace for free? Google Workspace is a collaboration tool that includes Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Sheets, Drive, Meet and more. If approved, you could get set up with free email addresses for everyone at your organization and communicate and collaborate together even easier. Once you are approved, you keep your approved status saving thousands per year in monthly fees. No need to apply every year. An official email address can help your department appear more professional to your community and to potential recruits.
There are many opportunities to get the word out about recruitment, openings or even fundraiser events. Think about your local radio stations or other news channels. If you’re doing a fundraising event, many radio stations will partner with you and provide you with free radio advertising as long as you make them your “Exclusive Media Partner” for your fundraiser. People want to know if their EMS department is struggling with staffing because it could affect the outcomes of 911 calls, so finding a champion at a news agency or radio station can tremendously help your promotional efforts, whether recruiting or fundraising.
Everything you do for recruitment, social media, department communications should be set up appropriately, and there should be protocols or a process in place to continue the conversations if your chief, director or that individual in charge leaves your organization. This includes adding multiple people as content managers on your Facebook page, providing access to your department’s website and having an email administrator who is a third party, such as a town clerk, city official, or even your state EMS association.
Grants & Free Resources for Recruitment
FEMA’s SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) offers departments an amazing funding opportunity over multiple years for a variety of recruitment needs. More information is available: https://www.fema.gov/grants/preparedness/firefighters/safer
Alan DeYoung is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin EMS Association (WEMSA). He started with the Wisconsin EMS Association back in 2018 as the Sales & Marketing Director. Alan holds a Masters in Strategic Marketing, Bachelors in Information Technology. His experience includes being a small business owner, working for startups, Fortune 100s, and non-profit organizations.