Sunday, March 24, 2013

Motivating volunteers with meaningful work.

These days Hubs' fire district is talking about what to do about the low turn-out rate. Many of the volunteers are not making the minimum standards in terms of showing up for calls. Too often, the dispatcher makes a "second tap out," paging everyone again when the trucks don't leave the station within five minutes of the first call. Previous leadership was a bit more hard-nosed about that kind of thing, willing to put pressure on and, if necessary, dismiss those who did not measure up -- and somehow also able to inspire a level of loyalty and comradeship that have since declined. But it's hard to dismiss people when you don't have enough to start with.

I shouldn't go into more than that ... but it got Hubs and I talking about how to motivate volunteers. And doing research on it, too. More than 70 percent of all firefighters serve as volunteers. When your workforce is made up of volunteers, it does change dynamics a bit. Your hands are somewhat tied. Both in terms of sticks and of carrots. One of the sources we found mentioned gimmicks like free pizza and prizes offered at training sessions and business meetings, as well as organizing social events, making the firehouse a pleasant place to hang out, and giving public recognition to members for various accomplishments.

Another source recommended tapping more into the intrinsic motivations that bring in volunteers in the first place. Why do people become volunteer firefighters anyway? Most of them want to make a difference for their community. The calls that make it "all worth it" to them are the ones that involve putting out fires and rescuing or resuscitating people. They want to be heroes, yes. But they really just want to make a difference; what they want is to do the job. So creating meaningful training sessions, raising the bar, and equipping them to be increasingly competent in doing that job, that's what keeps volunteers motivated. Being clear and consistent about expectations also helps. Some seek opportunities for promotion. 

But if what we need is people that are "all in," how to you get there from begging people to join up and hoping a few will say yes? Even the self-described expert in maximizing volunteer power, who said "recruiting is like dating: don't ask for marriage on a first date" was clear that volunteers, even if they haven't made any long-term commitment, are motivated by projects and experiences that they recognize as meaningful. They have to see that their being there, matters.


Megan Noel said...

my friends in marketing tell me the rage right now is twitter, pinterest, and instagram. i don't see pinterest being of any use, buy maybe the occasional tweet, something (obviously) short and upbeat like:
"this week, 70 calls, 5 fires, 10 lives saved!" (no idea what all they actually do, but that sounds more upbeat then "10 emergencies that weren't!") and maybe the occasional "this cool thing happened today" or amusing quote that is relevant.

as for instagram, you obviously would not want to take pics at incidents, for lots of reasons, but maybe some fun pictures around the station? that cool old fire truck?

and it was recommended to me that i get all the ways to follow me front-and-center on my website. so. flickr, facebook, twitter, pinterest, etc etc. it gives people a chance to think about you a few times a day...

Marti said...

I am a little reluctant to start making PR suggestions, because there's nobody to do them at present. Except ... maybe ... me. They do have a website, but it's sadly neglected. Augmenting it with a social media strategy could be helpful. I see some of the interaction they have on Facebook, and am sure that helps build community and expressed the feeling of "brotherhood" that exists there.

One limit to telling the story: issues of confidentiality. The majority of the calls are medical. It would be unprofessional and sometimes illegal to tell a lot of the stories in any kind of public medium.

The department has an excellent photographer, very talented and motivated, but he's taking a break. Others take pics, but again, HIPPA concerns come into play with many of their calls.

Megan Noel said...

yes, that was why i suggested photos of the station and things! and you know.. web + social media are the main ways people communicate these days. a blog might be easier to maintain if anyone wanted to generate content.