Burning Question: Is a Co-Op Campaign Right for You?

Has your fire department ever considered conducting a co-op advertising and marketing program for recruiting new volunteers, promoting fire and life safety or just generally good public relations?

Maybe you should. Think of the benefits of partnering with a local business, corporation or even another community group or non-profit organization. Cost sharing is the most obvious outcome but there are several underlying themes that could benefit both parties in the partnership.

A recent article in Fast Company Magazine got me thinking once again about what the fire service can learn from other industries and disciplines — both good and bad.

While the article titled “3 Ways to Win in a Brutal Economy” focused on retail businesses, it certainly offered great suggestions that we can apply to our service-driven business.

The article’s first suggestion “Team Up With Vendors and Indirect Competitors” has direct implications for the fire service. If you’re a volunteer fire department in need or want of more volunteers, have you ever identified who your competition is for attracting good people? Have you ever considered co-op-ing with them to attract new volunteers to the fire service?

Nobody trusts, and in many cases, admires any other group of individuals more than firefighters. Thus, we need to constantly be in search of new and imaginative ways to leverage this highly regarded position in the community. What business or non-profit organization wouldn’t want to have their name associated with your volunteer fire department? That’s a win for everyone, especially when you can connect and extend your network through their network.

Look at every other service organization in your community and how you can partner with them to recruit, share (or borrow) their good people: Churches, school organizations and parent-teacher groups, Kiwanis, Moose Lodge, Rotary, Lions Club, VFWs and American Legion Posts, Boys & Girls Clubs — the list is only limited by how deep you dig into your community.

Huge opportunities exist for volunteer fire departments to partner with these groups, many of which have deeper pockets and an equally vested interest in serving and safe-keeping their community. And many of these co-op opportunities don’t have to cost a lot of money. Billboards, print, radio and TV ads are great if you can get them — but a poster in a church or school; or a flyer or brochure inserted into another organization’s member or employee newsletter goes a long way toward attracting their members to become your members too. And, it doesn’t cost them anything to promote your recruitment, public relations or public education programs on their web site or social media channels.

Face facts: Just like most of us only have a limited amount of “disposable income” to spend on extras and the things we enjoy most, reality is that each of us only has so much “disposable time” available in our lives to do what we enjoy.

I’ve long believed that if you’re looking for good people with similar values and qualities to volunteer with your fire company, there’s a very good chance that those same people are already spending their “disposable time” volunteering for some other community organization.

This competitive comparison of sorts helps prospective candidates decide which volunteering opportunity is right for them.

So, if you’re interested in a more direct approach to convincing a player to change teams, it may be better for you to make your recruitment process a “target shoot” rather than the “shotgun approach” most folks try.

Start by making a “hit list” of targets already volunteering in other community organizations — a list of people you want to belong to your volunteer fire department.

Next, list all of the great things that your volunteer fire department offers in comparison to those other organizations and you’ve got your list of your competitive advantages.

Armed with your comprehensive competitive comparison chart, your next challenge is to go out and convince these already-engaged volunteers why volunteering in the fire service is better than any other volunteering opportunity. Your challenge is to convince them why they should transfer their “disposable time” into your organization’s account instead of, or in addition to, where they’re already “spending” it.

Frankly, that shouldn’t be too hard to do considering all the cool stuff we get to do that virtually no other volunteering opportunity offers. Meant with no disrespect: while each community organization has great volunteers and provides a vital service, think about it — have you ever seen a photo on the front page of your local newspaper of a member of the Moose rushing into a burning building to save someone? I don’t think so! LOL

As I often encourage you to do, look outside of your engine room doors for solutions to many of the challenges you face in recruiting, public relations and public education. My experience says that you’ll find most companies and civic organizations to be very co-op-erative in creating a co-op campaign with your volunteer fire department.

Positive partnerships can help put the co-op-eration back in your community.