Survey: Fundraising Events Discouraging Volunteer Firefighters

December 18, 2013       The NonProfit Times      

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The retention of volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania was found to be very low at organizations that sponsored a high number of fundraising events, according to recent survey by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. The survey, which was last conducted in 2001, polled 2,290 fire companies in Pennsylvania and received 601 responses. It found that the number of fundraising events was not correlated with the size of the fire company, the number of new firefighters, or the net change in firefighters. On the contrary, written notes included in the mail-based survey indicated that volunteer firefighters were becoming worn out from participating in large numbers of these events. "It appears that the more fundraising events the company sponsored the more firefighters that left the company or became inactive,” according to report’s authors. “This finding could suggest that many fundraising events may contribute to the loss of firefighters; but it does not necessarily deter new firefighters from joining." According to the survey, a typical fire company in the survey had 17 fundraising events a year and responded to 551 fire calls. The number of firefighters who regularly answer calls for their fire companies has dropped from an average of 18 in 2001 to 17 in 2012. Additionally, 72 percent of companies require their firefighters participate in fundraising events. This statistic was not tracked in the 2001 survey. Retention was an issue overall for fire companies in 2012. Some 90 percent of respondents reported losing one or more firefighters during the past two years, losing an average of 4.8. In 2001, 85 percent of companies reported losing one or more firefighters, though the average was at 5.0 that year. The top four reasons firefighters listed as leaving in 2012 were:

  • Moved away – 58 percent;
  • Job commitments – 52 percent;
  • Family commitments – 44 percent; and,
  • Lack of interest – 35 percent.
These same four reasons topped the list in 2001. Despite the loss of firefighters, companies overall reported a 52 percent net increase in new firefighters. Word of mouth was a particularly effective method behind this gain, with 89 percent listing this as their top recruitment tool. The next closest method was through family or friends. You can read the complete findings of the survey at http://www.rural.palegislature.us/documents/factsheets/2012_Firefighter_Survey_R&R.pdf