Are you looking for ways to improve retention of your membership? Are you in an area that is saturated by other volunteer fire and EMS companies, who are all recruiting from the same pool of people? Recruiting members is one task; however, retaining them is even more significant. Leaders of volunteer fire companies need to take some advice from the “for profit” sector. We need to ask ourselves where is the best place to work and why? Once we answer those questions, we have to apply the principles learned to our environment. After all, we are all nonprofit organizations and we should all be functioning like one.
In 2019, Glassdoor released the top ten places to work in the United States. You can check out the article for yourself: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/04/glassdoor-the-best-places-to-work-in-2019.html.
What is the common theme of the best places to work?
· “Investing in their workers”
· “Making them feel supported”
· “Having a supportive and fun environment”
· “Feeling satisfied and engaged”
In simple terms, management supports its employees. They create an environment and a culture that retains the best of the best. Now some of the results did include compensation, but we as an industry can create a culture that retains the best of the best without worrying about compensation.
First and foremost, every member of the leadership team must understand the goal of creating a positive culture. Officers cannot lead by bullying, fear, intimidation, or retaliation. This does not mean that officers should not or cannot hold people accountable- quit the opposite actually. People should always be held accountable for their actions. Leadership personnel should not engage in drama, create cliques, or provide preferential treatment. Leaders should discipline behind closed doors and praise in public. Lastly, leaders should be leading by example. They have a huge burden to carry and the culture starts with them. If the officers cannot buy in, you will never get the rest of the membership to buy in.
Now that you have tackled the difficult task of getting your leadership team onboard, what is next? We all realize that budgets play a significant impact on our operations. Some organizations are more fortunate than others are. However, that hard-earned money must be used as a reinvestment into your people. This could include providing meals for duty crews, team building events, award ceremonies, monthly recognition awards, and much more. Think of ways to give back and “thank” your members. Did you have duty crews sleep in on Christmas Eve or New Years Eve, when staffing can be challenging? Give them company apparel as a way to thank them. Did someone go above and beyond? Send them a hand written thank you letter to their house. There are plenty of creative ways to recognize and thank your membership without spending a lot of money. Consider recognizing the members who participate in the most training, by providing them with job specific tools (ie. helmet, radio strap, stethoscope, etc.).
You have your leadership team on board, and you provide tangible rewards to your membership, so what is next? What can you do at your station to keep duty crews around? People are working multiple jobs, have family obligations, and much more. How do we accommodate that busy nature of people’s lives? Provide amenities at your station. Have a quiet area where people can telework from or study for school. Create a space for a gym, which provides multiple benefits. First instead of your members needing to leave to go to their gym, they stay at the station providing duty time and work out. Secondly, it helps keep our responders in shape, physically fit, and healthy in order to carry out our mission. Provide a kitchen space so that members can cook meals. Do you provide bunkrooms so that members can sleep in? Understand that some of your members may work strictly overnight and they may want to come to the station in the morning- do you have a specific area for them to sleep? Game rooms, training props, shower facilities, locker rooms, etc. are just a few examples; you simply have to think outside the box.
Lastly, develop your people. Provide them with training opportunities so that they can grow and mature into leadership positions. Give them the tools to be successful. This can be conducted internally, or by bringing in consultants and educators/speakers, or by using free resources like the National Fire Academy and the National Volunteer Fire Council. If your membership realizes that you want them to succeed, they will stick around for a long time. You could give your top responders tickets or cover their travel expenses to seminars or events like Firehouse Expo, JEMS, FDIC, etc. A fraction of your operating budget spent on investing in your membership will pay dividends that you cannot even imagine.
This is just the tip of the iceberg on improving retention rates. Check back for more in the future.