What is your focus going to be for 2024? It is easy to get consumed by all of the little issues, drama, complaints, and naysayers; but don’t let them deter you. What should your focus be on, in managing a multi-million-dollar nonprofit: people, money, and community engagement. At the core of every volunteer fire department, you need people, money, and community engagement. Don’t fall for the trap - you need all three. There are departments out there with millions in the bank but only have 15 active members and respond to 1% of their calls. All three are inter-connected to an organization’s success.
Let’s start with community engagement. Oftentimes and most ironic, the community is rarely considered in any decision-making process. Depending on your jurisdiction and how it operates, many community members see volunteer fire departments as a social hall (you know…the fire hall) or a gold ole boys club. That is not the perception that we need. The community drives everything we do, because without the community there would be no need for us. Being open with your community allows for greater collaboration and a deeper network. I think many of us realize we can not do this alone. We can not play chief, treasurer, training officer, marketer, social media expert, and human resources manager all while maintaining a full-time job and caring for a family. Our communities are full of these resources but they simply don’t know how to help. We are too closed off to them. Even if they don’t have the time to help, they probably “know a guy or a gal” that could help, donate, provide in-kind services…you get the drift. When they open the annual direct mail campaign request, they are going to reflect back on their interaction with your department. Hopefully they have never needed your services, but have you positively interacted with them outside of emergency services? (Community events, open houses, fundraising events, your behavior out in public). The fact is depending on how big your service area is, many may never interact with you - so you need to find a way to interact with them.
Now let's talk about membership. Without a solid performing membership base, your position really isn’t needed. So what are you going to do this year to improve your membership base? Oftentimes there isn’t a recruiting problem, but rather a retention problem. Department’s need to adapt to different generations and what motivates them. There is often the mentality that members are recruited into the volunteer fire service to give and get nothing in return. While community service, especially a service that involves risking your life, is a noble decision that one makes; departments need to show the value of their membership. It is certainly a give and take. Without a membership base, you can not provide a service to the community. Members should be rewarded for their time and dedication, regardless of the voluntary aspect. Rewards don’t even have to be monetary. Creating an inclusive and welcoming environment that removes toxic members. Providing praise and recognition for training achievements and a job well done. Eliminating drama and internal station politics. Not wasting a member's time. Being respectful. Understanding where each of your members are coming from. All of these things we just mentioned, and more, don’t cost a single penny. (article continues below ad)
Speaking of penny’s - don’t settle for five dollars when a thousand dollars is on the table. Fundraising principles aside (we can discuss that in another blog) the fundamental theory of money and how it is utilized in the volunteer fire service is one that can be controversial. While financial safeguards, investment strategies, following your budget, and other policies are extremely important, what is the purpose of financial assets in your organization? The obvious - to pay the bills and put down payments on new apparatus. What else? Your single biggest investment is your PEOPLE. If you are not spending money on your people, you will eventually become a wealthy organization with no purpose. The fine balance of donor relations and financial management is something that should always be considered, but as a donor, I would be happy to know my investment is going directly to those who protect and serve my community. How do you invest in your people? Improve the station accommodations. Provide them with meals. Pay for their uniforms and other gear. Send them to training programs and conferences. Host team building events. Bring in outside speakers.
So in 2024 you are going to focus on PEOPLE, MONEY, and COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT. All of them, not one of them. Need assistance or more information, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org