By Dr. Shana Nicholson and Joseph Heaton
What drives 20-somethings, also known as the millennial generation, is dramatically different than generation’s past. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2012 volunteering hit an all-time low in the country, with the lowest volunteer hours among 20 to 24 year olds.
However, this does not reflect a decline in overall civic responsibility by this up-and-coming generation. Reports show that about 75 percent of millennials have contributed to charity in the last five years.
Millennials recognize the importance of civic responsibility, yet, the time they have available for volunteerism in public safety is decreasing due to the fast-paced professional world many crave. This deficit in available volunteers has placed a hardship on volunteer fire and emergency services departments.
Many millennials may be dissuaded from public safety volunteer roles because of the volatility of these fields. According to a national report, many volunteers leave fire service due to politics and the constant need to fundraise as municipalities continue cutting budgets. Politics, financial constraints, and increased educational demands all contribute to a disinterest by millennials to engage in a volunteer role within these fields.
So how do we recruit and retain millennial volunteers in fire and emergency services?
In order to effectively recruit and retain new volunteers from the millennial generation, we must engage their sense of altruism. We must also engage millennials in a manner that benefits both the individual and the community.
Highlight the Financial Incentives
One such method is to remind millennials—who are facing more student loan debt than any other generation—that there are options for reducing this debt through volunteer program awards such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). Public safety service awards and scholarship programs also offer viable education funding options. Furthermore, the Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) rewards volunteers similar to a 401(k); money is put into an investment account, which will offer a supplementary income for retirement.
Provide Social Opportunities
The civic-minded social experience available through fire and emergency services departments also appeals to millennials. Millennials may be more inclined to volunteer their efforts when social aspects, such as a group dinner, are included on meeting nights. Feeding volunteers can elicit a more connected family atmosphere amongst members.
Finally, highlighting that the higher purpose in volunteerism is to support and give back to the community can truly engage millennials. The fire and emergency services profession, paid and volunteer, is a brotherhood and sisterhood of members who risk their lives and give of their time. With a little effort to address the interests of the millennial generation, fire and emergency services departments will engage and connect with millennials for the long term.
About the Authors:
Dr. Shana Nicholson has more than 20 years of emergency medical and fire science service experience. Her professional background also includes government, social services, and nonprofit administration. She is currently a faculty member in emergency and disaster management at American Military University. She received a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Fairmont State University, a master’s of science in Human Services with a specialization in criminal justice from Capella University and a PhD in human services with a counseling specialization also from Capella University.
Joseph Heaton has more than five years of service as a volunteer EMT and firefighter. Currently Mr. Heaton serves as a line officer for Farmingdale Fire Department in Farmingdale, NJ. He received a bachelor’s in public health and a master’s degree in biomedical science from Rutgers. Currently pursing admission to medical school.