Understand Your Culture and Its Relationship to Staff
It is critical for us to understand why we are losing members, or cannot get new members, before we begin any recruitment or retention process. Like any organization people drive a culture and that culture becomes something members are content with and can work within, or cannot work within it and decide to leave or join another organization.
This concept of cultural impact was assessed during research into fire service volunteerism over the last decade. The concept was reinforced in the symbolism found in two texts, Collapse and Bowling Alone. In Collapse, by Dr. Jared Diamond, he relates five components to collapse or failure of a culture, including:
- Climate change (such as relationship with elected officials or the community)
- Hostile neighbors (such as other fire departments or groups seeking members or funds)
- Trade patterns, (such as how service is delivered, consolidations, mergers, etc.)
- Environmental problems (such as politics in the community, labor-management conflicts, and external strife), and
- Society’s response to environmental problems (such as positive or negative support to fire and EMS agencies).
Each society and the volunteer fire and EMS system will choose to succeed or will choose to fail.
In Bowling Alone, Dr. Robert Putnam warns our stock of social capital, the very fabric of our connections with each other, has plummeted impoverishing our lives and communities. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues. Putnam shows the corollary of how changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, women’s roles and other factors have contributed to the decline of social capital; which affect volunteers in general and specific to firefighting.