Top Ten Commandments for Recruitment & Retention - Pt 1

The First Commandment: KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Think of your recruitment challenge in simple terms. If each of your existing members recruited just one new member - what effect would that have on your roster? You do the math.

Too often we look at the recruitment needs of our fire department and think that they're insurmountable - at least in a timely fashion. Sometimes we think that the problem needs to be corrected today or we are surely headed for extinction. While our needs may be critical and our measures even desperate at times, very rarely is the situation as immediate as we perceive it to be.

The basic need to plan for volunteers - too few or too many - will be covered more extensively in my second commandment (to follow.) However, this first commandment deals with the need to break our recruitment plan into small, digestible pieces.

I've had the fortunate opportunity to work with several fire departments to help them address their membership and management challenges. Sometimes, I'm able to help them discover that the answer to their problems is right there in front of them - that the solutions already reside within their own organization.

For example, an open and honest brainstorming session can foster healthy dialogue about what is either driving people away, or keeping them from coming to the door in the first place. It can also help them realize that the problem is not anything that can't be overcome by the combined imagination of the members at hand.

Like this first commandment states, if every existing member recruited just one new member - your membership would double over the given timeline.

WOW! What a revelation!

Some fire departments have gotten creative with this concept and offer incentives to the existing member "recruiters." There may be an initial "signing bonus" for the recruit and/or the recruiter, with an added bonus for the recruiter if the new member remains active for a stated period of time. And bonuses don't need to be of a monetary nature to be successful.

However, as the old saying goes, no one plans to fail - they just fail to plan.

Let's say that, by virtue of a qualified needs assessment or simply by guesstimating, you have found that a dozen or so members have slipped out the door in the last few years due to normal attrition or for other reasons.

Unfortunately, no one recognized this "trend" and thought to get working on replacing them. This is similar to the "unanswered goal" concept in sports.

If you had been addressing member retention simultaneously with the constant need to recruit new members, this newly discovered "membership emergency" might have been avoided in the first place.

Hindsight is 20-20 but now is the time to start planning for some new volunteers. Consider creating a "12-step program" of your own to rehab your declining membership.

But, try not to over-think it. Take baby steps and maybe set a goal of one new member each month. Then set out to get 'em. This makes the "flow" of members through your organization much more manageable.

Buyer beware: timing is everything. It's true that if all of your members recruited one new member in the same month - you would double your membership in just 30 days. While this might sound great on the surface, it can create logistical nightmares that you may not have even considered.

Imagine being the manager of any company that doubled in size in just a few short months.

Several years' back, my fire company did exactly that. We started in April with 45 members. Through an aggressive marketing campaign and leveraging our county's recruitment efforts, we had 90 members by the end of August - just four months later. They were literally lining up to get in.

This was a clear case of the success of the program objectives exceeding the planned goal. Our supply exceeded our demand.

We'll further this discussion of supply and demand next time in