With the all the doom and gloom that came with the recent hurricanes and other natural disasters across our nation also came something positive, the spirit of volunteerism! It was very humbling to see on TV, residents of the Houston, Texas, area who lost everything they own, standing in lines, not asking for a hand out, but to help hand out supplies to others in need who suffered equal or greater losses than themselves. Those critical of the United States can say what they want but when it comes to giving and volunteering to help others, or nation leads the world, something we should all be very proud of and perhaps something our critics could learn a lesson from.
While it may sound opportunistic to do so, now is a great time to capture the spirit of volunteerism and reach out to the citizens of your community to help fill existing or new volunteer positions within your agency.
As any good manager knows, the business of law enforcement is a service business and to deliver the best possible service you need the best possible people to do so, whether it's full time civilian, sworn officers or volunteers. Recruiting the best possible people to deliver these critical services is an ongoing challenge and as such, the recruiting process is an ongoing event, not a one time endeavor.
As it relates to recruiting volunteers, the fall season, starting in September through the beginning of the holidays in late November is a great time of year to make a full court press for recruiting new volunteers. Along with the current renewed spirit of community service, a longstanding reason that makes this time of year good for recruiting volunteers has to with college bound teens and the empty nest they leave behind.
A time for reflection and new opportunities
Each September thousands of parents become what is known as "empty nesters", a term referring to those whose children have left for college and moved away from home leaving the "nest". For many parents, this is a time of new beginning for their lives when they have an opportunity to consider doing all the things they've been wanting to for themselves but perhaps could not due to the obligation of taking care of their children.
As parents enter these pre-golden years, they can become more philosophical and reflect upon what they've accomplished and still want to accomplish. Having just sent their child or children off to college in itself is quite an accomplishment. However this can also leave them feeling somewhat empty as they've been so conditioned to caring for someone over the past 18 years or more. Along those same lines comes the freedom of time itself to explore opportunities for which they may not have had the time to do while helping to prepare their kids for college.
While some parents may wish to just sit back and enjoy their new found freedom by doing nothing more than doing nothing, others will be open to explore new opportunities. This is a perfect opportunity to reach out to these individuals and present your available volunteer positions to them. How you ask can you accomplish this? Unfortunately there is not enough space available to cover the dozens of ways I discuss in my two-day workshop series, "How to Recruit, Manage, Reward and Retain Law Enforcement Volunteers" however I'll share with you a few key concepts and ideas that may work for you.
The sniper approach aka Targeted Marketing
A key ingredient to any successful marketing campaign is advertising. And make no mistake about it, if you're attempting to recruit high quality individuals versus anyone who walks through the front door of your station, you need to advertise and market your volunteer opportunity. The two primary methods of advertising your volunteer opportunity is by "target marketing" and the "shotgun approach". Target marketing is a pinpoint focused method of approaching your target market. In the example of newly found empty nesters, a targeted approach would be to place volunteer recruiting brochures next to the college loan brochures in your local bank.
The idea being, people who are interested in obtaining a college loan for their children may also be interested in your volunteer opportunity once their children are gone. Another targeted marketing example would be for agencies who wish to recruit only seniors 55 and older. Many communities have some form of a Senior Center, a place for seniors to come and do activities and travel together. Making a presentation to the members of your local senior center would be a perfect targeted marketing effort as your talking directly to those whom you wish to recruit.
Following up on the renewed spirit of volunteerism, targeting members of your communities CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) would be a great start, assuming your area has one. Even if the disasters that have affected the residents of south Texas the hardest, are hundreds or thousands of miles away from your community, you may be surprised to learn people will still travel those distances to volunteer their time, in a time of need. These are the folks you want on your team as they are truly dedicated and have demonstrated their commitment to serving the greater cause before themselves.
12 gauge approach
The shotgun approach, as the name implies, is a widely disbursed marketing approach that will hit everything in its path and is generally used when trying to reach a mass amount of people. A prime example of this would be asking the manager of your local major grocery store if they would put a volunteer recruiting brochure in the shopping bag of each customer they check out. There is no particular target in mind other than the fact the person receiving the brochure most likely lives in your community. Another approach, that has been very successful for many agencies, is running an ad in your local newspapers.
For agencies that already have a volunteer program in place, this shotgun approach also has the affect of providing recognition for your existing volunteers. It's good practice to include either a group photograph of your volunteers or those of your volunteers in action performing their duties. Marketing studies consistently show that a visual message along with the written message is much more likely to grab the attention of your prospect.
The Silent Salesman always selling when you cannot be there
In several of the above examples I referred to the use of a recruiting brochure. Simply put, a recruiting brochure is just one more tool in your tool box to help recruit high quality individuals by providing them with enough information about your volunteer opportunity that they'll want to pick up the phone and call you to learn more. For those of you reading this article when first published online, if you're not already aware of it, October is National Crime Prevention Month. There are many activities happening in your area that you may not even be aware of sponsored by the two organizations that promote it, the NCPC and U.S. DOJ's, Bureau of Justice Assistance who help fund their efforts. I would suggest checking with your agencies Crime Prevention Officer to see if they'll be participating in any of these events and if so, would they be willing to distribute your recruiting brochures to citizens attending.
While not meant to be a comprehensive document about your entire program, a good recruiting brochure will provide the prospect with enough information so they'll know what your program is not. In other words, if you're recruiting for volunteers to staff a front lobby desk to hand out various forms, your brochure should not paint a picture of thrills and drama in the exciting field of law enforcement. Bottom line is, you can put lipstick on a pig but at the end of the day, it's still just a farm animal; don't try to oversell your volunteer opportunity to make it more than it is.
A good recruiting brochure can be used in many ways to act as a "silent salesman" to interest members of your community in volunteering when you cannot be there to talk with them directly. For agencies that do not have a recruiting brochure, one is available for free in Word format at the Public Safety Volunteer Institute web site listed below under the "Quick Tips" page.
Like everything else in life, there are limits to how long things will last so don't keep putting it off, now is a great time to get going to capture the spirit of volunteerism!