Monday, February 9, 2009

How Can Social Media Help Attract Volunteers?

Fire crews prepare themselves in Stanley before heading into bushland to
fight fires near Beechworth. Picture: Ben Swinnerton on

This post is a little long but if you really want to help change the world and use your marketing and social networking skills then read on.

While the post is long, the conversation is definitely one that you can contribute to and where you might just help save someone’s life next time such a tragedy occurs (bush fire or other).

At time of writing, at least 750 homes have been destroyed across Victoria and 3733 people have registered with the Red Cross after evacuating their properties. The number left homeless is expected to be far higher, the Red Cross has said.

The social media space is hot on the situation. reports that “on Facebook a number of groups have been set up to support the victims’ families, the Country Fire Authority (CFA), and communities under threat from blazes burning across the state. The most popular Facebook group is one titled “Applaud the CFA heroes & empathise with the victims of the 09 Vic bushfires” and has 4861 members as of 4.38am (AEDT)”

"Just give a thought to the CFA and a Buck or 2 if you can. Even a Lamington. Cause those people are working in Hell," said MySpace user Gonzo.

It is fantastic, that as usual, Australians (many of whom must be doing it tough in the economic climate) have been so generous with donations of money and goods. This support is essential to help families rebuild their lives.

Only a few weeks ago a colleague of mine, who is a CFA volunteer, told me that their local brigade is in membership deficit. He asked me if I thought social media could help their local brigade attract more members, particularly young adults. I told him that I was sure it could but not sure exactly how but that I would give it some thought.

So how can social media help? Well we all know that prevention is better than cure. The reality is that the current donations and support treat the symptoms. Will the fact that social media is being used result in more donations? Probably not. Hope I am wrong.

We also know that many organisations that carry out important community work are lacking in volunteers. I am going out on a limb here but would hazard a guess that many of those existing volunteers, such as those in the CFA, are drawn from non-marketing backgrounds and may not know what else to do to attract young volunteers other than conducting letter box drops and open days.

If that is too much of an assumption, and you know otherwise, please contribute to this conversation and let us know what others have done to attract volunteers, particularly young adults.

I have a few ideas myself but I don’t want to lead the conversation any more than this post. If you have an idea, please comment, don’t be scared that it might not be a “perfect” idea because it may just get others thinking about how to refine it. Also, don’t limit your thinking to the CFA and the current situation. Offer ideas that any volunteer organisation might be able to use.

So, the question I want to ask you is “How can volunteer organisations use social media to attract volunteers, particularly young adults?”


Gavin Heaton said...

I remember thinking something similar after fires a while back. After speaking with some people at the NSW equivalent of the CFA, the problem is not the number of volunteers, but attracting the right volunteers.

After bushfires and the associated media coverage, organisations are often flooded with new members. The challenge for many volunteer groups is then weeding out those who are not truly committed or suited to the organisation.

While social media may in fact help, I have a feeling that looking at the Enterprise 2.0 style opportunities may deliver better value for volunteer organisations.

Julia said...

I think that the best way to attract volunteers is getting them young. Namely getting organisations, such as Scouts, involved with CFA - teaching kids the basics in a fun manner, and in fact making it a regular part of the Scouts in bushfire prone areas. This would not only give many the basics, and greater knowledge of how to act, but also establish a logical progression from Scouts to CFA volunteering.

Alternatively I would suggest that local councils should offer incentives for CFA volunteers - such as rate cuts.

At the very least I believe that the CFA should place greater emphasis on its social aspect - organise bbqs, bowling nights and so on. It would also help if they would have "come and try" days, in which locals could experience what the training to be a CFA volunteer was like.

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