Volunteers…Who Needs Them?

I got your attention huh. I am sure that many of you came here to see what I was saying about volunteers. Well this isn’t exactly about Volunteer Firefighters. This is more about people who volunteer their time for organizations within the Fire/EMS Service.

This is not about Paid vs. Volunteer Firefighters.

Organizations thrive on volunteers, although the term “volunteer” may not always be attached to their position. Just look around the Fire/EMS service and you will find an organization for just about everything. On the National, State, or Local level you will find at least one organization for the following: Professional Firefighters, Volunteer Firefighters, Black Firefighters, Hispanic Firefighters, Women Firefighters, Instructors, Prevention, Investigation, Arson, Christian Firefighters, Auxiliaries, Antique Fire Collectors, Wildland Firefighting, Burn Foundations, etc.

These organizations were formed for a common goal, agenda, or purpose. They were built by firefighters, EMT’s, and other public safety members. Many of them don’t have any  full time employees and rely on members volunteering their time to “work” for the organization. Even the organizations which do employ full time staff, they thrive off of volunteers to keep the organization moving. They cannot afford to pay everyone for their positions and utilize members who are passionate about their cause.

When it comes to why people volunteer, I would like to dissect it into three types of people.

  1. Many volunteers strive on their achievements and those of their organization to continue volunteering. They feel good about what they are doing and feed off progress to continue. These types do not require recognition and are usually very humble.
  2. Some volunteers need recognition for their achievements in order to continue working. Without that recognition, they might find something else to do with their time that feeds their need for involvement.
  3. Yet, other volunteers do it simply for recognition. They require recognition to feed their egos and will not continue their involvement unless they feel as though their ego has been stroked.

Here is the catch…

Organizations should take care of the needs of each of these types of people. Beggars cannot be choosers! I will be the first to tell you that I cannot stand the third type of individual above. I have worked around them and I think that their ego needs to be put in check.

From a management perspective, volunteers should be rewarded and recognized often. After all, the alternative to volunteers is hiring employees or closing up shop. Even the type 3 people above.

If you ask my wife, she would tell you that I am a type 1 individual (from above).  She gets pissed off when I don’t get recognized or when someone else takes credit for something I did. I will be honest, I am way too modest. However, I do like being recognized if it happens. That realization has helped me understand that no matter what type of person I am dealing with, I always try to offer recognition and praise for their help.

Lest we forget about the people who aren’t on the list above. They might be card carrying members. They might pay dues, but don’t actually assist with growth.

Who needs volunteers?

This day in age, all organizations need them but none of them have enough of them. Just in my local area we have many fire/EMS related organizations; FOOLS, IAFF, Ladies Auxiliary, Christian Firefighters, IAAI, ISFSI, IAFC, among others. Between all of these organizations in the area I don’t think there is one full time employee. All the work of the organizations is done by the officers and other volunteers. Some of the officers might be paid, but it is by no means gainful employment.

All too often, I see volunteers get burned out. There is too much work and too few volunteers.

What do you think?