CAMPAIGN-3: Matching Community Resilience Stakeholders with Plans and Volunteers

Volunteer Recruitment and Retention



CAPABILITY VIEWPOINT-3, SUB-CATEGORY-5 (EXPANDED): Incentives, Advertising, Public Outreach, Training, and Education promotion for volunteers like CERT.


PURPOSE: This is an expanded section from part of a series of posts examining various ways volunteers such as CERT have been utilized in the past. The Volunteer Utilization Series posts were preliminarily categorized such that resilience stakeholders with select viewpoints may begin to consider how they could utilize volunteers like CERT as part of an expansion cadre per disaster-category, moving forward.

(This is an expanded sub-section related to from Capability Viewpoint-3: Supervisory and Oversight)


TOPIC QUESTIONS: (Carrot and/or Stick???) What incentives and quality assurance measures are in place to ensure CERT programs remain viable and healthy while keeping team members interested and engaged in training, activities, and prepared for incidents?

IMPORTANT REFERENCE: Unit 10: Keeping Your Program Going




AUTHORITY STATEMENT: Business management experience, Education, and involvement in dozens of programs over the years, as well as, sifting methodically through nearly all Preparedness materials available to the public enables me to address this slightly taboo topic of Volunteer Turnover and analyze the key ASPECTS of Psychology, Advertising, Public Outreach, Training, Education, Incentives and Quality Assurance methods that keep volunteers engaged, and programs viable.


OBJECTIVE & METHOD: The education & training of volunteers like CERT is a very laudable and worthwhile undertaking that requires investment, and the fruits must be harvested and not allowed to wither on the vine. Both the volunteers or CERT members and the program directors could benefit from insights discuss within this thread. I have attempted to contribute a fresh new look at e.g. CERT membership, and found that there should rarely be a case of Volunteer Turnover if the following ideas are implemented properly. The ideas described below will required paid staff to ensure each ASPECT remains continuous and functional and volunteers like CERT members are retained via a steady network supporting them (top to bottom).


SCOPE: Managers should consider the use of an individualized program maintenance matrix to evaluate their baseline values versus their current trajectory. I have created one related to CERT program management but unfortunately can not post it in this thread due to formatting issues. CERT programs could utilize infinite possible methodologies to remain viable and functional, but for the sake of brevity, I have chosen to discuss the following ASPECTS: Psychology, Advertising, Public Outreach, Training, Education, Incentives and Quality Assurance. Further, this document focuses on the cognitive factors involved in maintaining volunteer participation and particularly those that “influence” volunteers towards achieving their goals and bring them happiness while simultaneously keeping the program healthy (a win-win).


BACKGROUND: The knee jerk reaction of every profession is “we love our work so why do we need incentives,” the reactions of many social clubs are the same, the reactions of many organizations are “the cause is laudable and good and that should inspire personnel & sustain the profession.” All of these reactions/attitudes are ideals and fail to consider human psychology and the (almost innate or intrinsic quality of human cognition) that begins at birth and includes the following (speculative/simplified/retrofitted) interpretation of pertinent cognitions related to volunteer turnover (based on Cognitive & Neuroscience and works of Paget) as follows: Acquisition of new abilities or items of interest begins with the novelty-adventure-curiosity phase that (energizes or rewards the brain) with interest & excitement & the individual can do more with less encouragement. Once an item or skill of interest is acquired, the pride phase occurs & rewards the brain whereby accomplishment translates to fulfillment and the initial implementation is (exciting enough) to self-initiate without habituation (the brain is at the neutral energy-excitement level but the individual is happy with their new item/training/skill). During this early period a (e.g. the volunteer) will do a good amount of work but takes time to reflecting on their own perceptions of self and how their newly acquired skills enhance themselves, roles, duties, capabilities, and social adjustments. Next, the practical phase begins with “streamlining” the utilization of the new skill (requires/takes energy from the brain and body) the individual paces themselves and habituation begins from the desire to optimize their ability “practice is perfect.” Next, the realization phase begins when the individual has not been activated to implement their skill into a real-life event, and discovers that volunteering and maintenance processes require time and energy and contemplates (where the volunteer position e.g. CERT and self-preparedness) fits into the rewards/burdens components of their life, as well as, time management concerns, & adjusts their participation and habituation accordingly. A small percentage of Volunteer Turnover may occur at this point for many reasons, (but for the sake of this example) it may be due to a program failure (to optimize and perpetuate the initial rewards of the initial few cognitive phases, by trying out new approaches, training, and subject matter). All of these phases can be optimized to yield the desired results, and regularly are, (e.g. by marketing and propaganda personnel) within commercial businesses who seek to create habituation and not loose customers or (in this case volunteers and personnel). This type of optimization is relevant within volunteer organizations like CERT, and is briefly exemplified and discuss below.


ADVERTISING/PROMOTION: Volunteer programs like CERT seek out new volunteers, but also promote the program to unique branches of the community, media, elected officials, as well as potential sponsors. A simple aspect critical for advertising to a volunteer target audience revolve around speaking “TRUTHS” to the public, e.g.: the CERT program NEEDS THEM, there are many HAZARDS AND DANGERS IN TO BE ADDRESSED, and sometimes TRAINED PROFESSIONALS ARE OUT-NUMBERED and overwhelmed by certain incidents and the public must be ready. These simple truths show volunteers realities that must be addressed and enters them on the path towards behavioral modifications that will enable them to be adaptive (for them selves and volunteer to help others). Further, it must be demonstrated through stories and posted for the nation to witness that continued investment of time, and kindness allows volunteers to recuperate communities faster and helps prevent prolonged suffering of those afflicted by injury or loss. The volunteer newsletter should be an excellent outlet to broadcast triumphs, connect with everyone, and announce new and continued training and education opportunities, and post the pictures of excited new CERT or other volunteer program graduates. The mention of Public Outreach opportunities and new incentives during Advertising activities should all have a very positive appeal, as well as, exemplify FEMA’s U.S. preparedness endeavors.


PUBLIC OUTREACH: The Train the Trainer manual in the CERT program seems to emphasize that it is the duty of Local trainers to recruit their local volunteers and CERT members. I believe that it is the job of everyone involved (all stakeholders) to mention volunteer opportunities like CERT to the whole community, and to find ways to inject it into conversations as appropriate. One example I found locally of this is that I FOUND CERT BROCHURES AT MY LOCAL HEALTH DEPT sitting on a desk and in a rack near two high traffic areas of the building. I would also like to address here that various organizations and groups can easily maintain a culture that fosters pride and interest in CERT and habituation of activities. Additionally, one private sector idea would be to ask if they can place the CERT newsletters in public diners, barber shops, and other public places to optimize exposure then=> be sure to have an article about preparedness and safety practices for families to practice in their home (derived from The volunteer newsletter can reach many targets including the door-step of organized groups such as: Neighborhood Watch or Homeowners Association, Parent-Teacher Organizations or Explorer Scouts, Church groups, Union sponsored programs, Hospital sponsored programs, College/Campus, and many more members who are likely to participate.


ENGAGEMENT: It makes good common sense that Police and Fire chiefs should want extra personnel to expand their forces as needed and therefore want to sponsor a CERT program. A program will prove itself valuable when disaster strikes, thus “readiness” is key, and the belief that “nothing could ever happen to me or in this town” puts the community at a serious adaptability disadvantage. Simple studies could help identify areas that need to be engaged (where there is low or no participation in preparedness), and a liaison could attempt to engage those communities. A poll could examine who volunteers would like to work with as well. Since all volunteers are accommodated regardless of skills and abilities, all communities can participate. One simple method to ensure youths and parents are engaged is to promote CERT at the high school level, we could take 1 day from swimming, one from basketball, and one from other sports and have representatives come to High Schools and discuss Preparedness & CERT with students, and invite their families to come. Students would then receive credit (or extra-credit) as incentive for their participation (just as they would any other class work). Finally, the use of public meetings and venues to alleviate community concerns is an excellent way to engage new perspective volunteers while addressing key local issues. Each community can then expand the role of CERT within their emergency operations plan based on assessments of a programs merit, the effectiveness of the available groups, the ability of leadership to engage the community and effectively address major concerns, and by asking for volunteers to help expedite resolution of the problems voiced as community meetings.


TRAINING & EDUCATION: Remember (HEN) if you want your program to be sustained in the minds of your volunteers…we were all babies once with no knowledge, then through NOVELTY, HABITUATION & constant positive ENCOURAGEMENT we learned basics principles, we learned how to apply the principles, then we learned to teach the principles…some took it further. Once trained, we find that (when sustaining a program), individuals will want to select from diverse drills, exercises, or activities (Novelty) and require periodic (Encouragement) to come participate in training events or real incidents, which will strengthen and (habituate) CERT member positive thought processes (including program worth and desirability). CERT program participants need to be informed that taking part in the education process is an excellent opportunity to determine strengths and weaknesses, and they can either focus on utilizing their strengths or work on their weaknesses with a trainer. I would like to see new incentives and refresher techniques available for each step of the process, and will refer to them as “Incentives” (carrots) below. Also, the “Stick” (implied in this situation) is very gentle quality assurance and will not incite any animosity or discouragement (e.g. expiration dates) and others discussed below. Gentile honesty is the best policy, (when it comes to self-assessment), such that an individual seeking to live a more Prepared lifestyle, and can identify their niche within CERT. Mild behavior modifications are periodically introduced together with self-assessment in the education section to help the new or continuing volunteer gain insight into their community and their own environment and circumstance, and make changes to optimize their abilities (discussed below).


BEHAVIORAL MODIFICATION (B-MOD) AS DEFINED HEREIN: Most businesses or organizations suffer from Personnel Turnover, they loose traction, at times experience apathy, and encounter “Acceptance of Status Quo” type behaviors. Every successful business or organization engages in personnel education, behavioral modifications, perks, enticements (and other carrot/stick approaches) to counter such problems. Just as marketing utilizes promotional merchandise to hold the attention of customers, the Long-Term Retention and advancement of CERT Personnel will likely require promotional items as well. Also, behavior modifications are essential to keeping every thriving business or organization on track and optimized, the adaptive individuals handle this very well and (a few people do not). One option adopted by many serious professionals seeking change in their programs is to couple a change with a benefit, (this makes the process much more palatable). CERT likely suffers from minor volunteer turnover, but can not afford to loose traction, because…National Security Strategy requires (every limb, arm, branch and sapling) of the Nation to continuously update, improve, diversify programs, create new ways and means, and be ready for ALL Threats, Hazards and Disasters. Therefore, if your program is loosing ground try coupling goals with benefits. I believe the following example “Carrots & Sticks” could help make many CERT teams more effective at countering volunteer turnover, while ensuring capability and readiness.



1. Education Credits: The CERT education process should contain many opportunities to earn a variety of certificates and continuing education credit (to ENTICE further advancement of ones education). Special acknowledgements go to those who complete all classes. Example: The American Red Cross gives out a Certificate for Continuing Education Credits when employees attend major conferences. Others options may be to earn a small souvenir to remind them of the program.

2. Earning Participation Points: To encourage participating in non-emergency events, log points for every event a volunteer participates in. This will simultaneously help managers gauge who has experience among the team (by looking at their points value). Helmet stickers are another way to flag members with additional training or experience.

3. Combined Experience Points: Participating volunteers should earn double the points when volunteering during a real incident (because that is the condition we are most interested in volunteer turnout). Additionally, we could allow for participation points to be added to experience points each year end, and the state Office of Emergency Services could host a ceremony to honor individuals who earned experience points for volunteering long hours during a serious incident, or to individuals who achieve high participation points during non-emergency scenarios, or due to special experience points levels and so on.

4. Pins, and other Investments: Hardhats, vests, and ID’s are among the important items received by CERT graduates due to safety concerns and the need for recognition capabilities. I believe that for each year of service individuals should receive a service pin at an open family event, however the “stick” implied here is => (at the pinning ceremony the individual will have to update their training with a quick refresher e.g. (to receive the pin they must complete a 30 minute refresher presentation or didactic session, and a 20 minute simple fun drill) => this will help volunteers retain team coordination abilities and an effective team responses. Furthermore, their skills are sharpened and it serves as a maintenance activity. CERT can then sell food and drinks and the proceeds are donated to obtain more CERT kits which achieves external program support. Families are welcomed to come take pictures and interact (this achieves community cohesion and approval) important for the social aspect of maintaining CERT viability. This simple pinning ceremony approach achieves at least 4 Program Maintenance objectives simultaneously and efficiently while providing enjoyment for everyone in a family setting. Other example pin service: The American Red Cross gives out Pins to blood donors for every gallon of blood given.

5. Certificates of Achievement or Appreciation: Other perks are possible too such as certificates for activities, or appreciation for completing serious challenges…I would suggest items that help the CERT member reflect on their achievements, and allow them to earn awards.

6. Team Cohesion: Drill conductors should allow people who want to work together to be on the same team and encourage them to team-up with neighbors if possible and create a phone tree. Then once in a while have them temporarily switch teams and share their approaches with other teams. Use a program matrix to ensure each time there is a drill, there is a switch and different members go to different teams and there is never a team made of e.g. (5 leaders and no other constituents)…note: switching too often could be overwhelming, and teams should get to know each other so they have someone to call if disaster strikes and impacts them.

7. Prestige-Communication-Opportunity: Individuals with special achievements should get their name printed in the newsletter (as a perk), and members will likely be enticed to read the newsletter to find out who did certain achievements, as well as to obtain important training event information, classes, refreshers, special activities, stories and other communications. In addition, the newsletter could contain a small learning article about safety and list individuals who have special capabilities (this may catch the interests of businesses who will pay for disaster workers and donate to CERT). Also, any learning objective from the CERT training manual placed in the newsletter is a great refresher. Of course a local website dedicated to your community CERT is among the best places for a central hub to connecting locally and communicate everything desired to your members and to the nation.

8. Community Engagement: CERT could work with local High Schools to make a float, then participate in the local parade and promote themselves, Community Service, Public Health objectives and more on behalf of the state representatives. Of course they would then receive special recognition for their efforts in the newsletter and perhaps a spot-light in local news.

9. Fusion with other Preparedness Group Opportunities: CERT can work together with other CitizensCorp groups or the American Red Cross to obtain further (Fusion) training such that both groups benefit from one another and earn: certifications, or broaden their experience and opportunities. American Red Cross is a leader in First Aid and CPR certification along with Disaster Services and other capabilities.

10. Equipment Opportunities: Learning about Personal Protective Equipment, Fire Extinguishers, Ham Radios, Quads-ORV’s for search and rescue, sand-bagging techniques to build walls and more should be available as options for many local events whereby (there is a short lesson about using the item, then a quick drill utilizing it to increase knowledge retention and agility).

11. Meetings: Through the creation of my own program management matrix, I found evidence that a set date/time for a monthly meeting (~one hour) would yield incredible benefits within a program including=> ACHIEVES Effective Team Response if a hypothetical scenario of the month is attempted, ACHIEVES Team Cohesion, ACHIEVES/Enhances knowledge or awareness (if the meeting is informative), ACHIEVES program Maintenance, and other benefits may be injected into the meeting venue. Also, if meetings are conducted carefully during down time they have no effect on operating costs.

12. Respect for Time and volunteer Potential:

a. Analogy: Ever hear of teachers giving students a grade of 100% at the beginning and the student is left to (keep it or loose it) based on their actions? Some studies show this is a very effective enticement to motivate students.

b. Case Arguments for Respect: I view respect the same way as the above analogy=> A managerial and trainer policy should be in place, mandating that every CERT members Time and Potential for Utilization must be treated with 100% respect and gratitude until they loose it through weak inaction, bad performance, or other irregularities. That said, would you consider it disrespectful to see a highly capable volunteer neglected and underutilized due to mismanagement of volunteer personnel, maladaptiveness, or laziness on the part of those leaders who should be guiding them? I would argue here that underutilization should be interpreted as a potential form of disrespect of volunteer’s time and aspirations. I find this condition to be a sad example of wasted opportunity and potential, and further argue that we must all do our best to match willing volunteers with opportunity out of respect for their abilities. Since time and money went into training the volunteer, their value is wasted if they are not utilized.

c. Key to Maintaining Respect with Volunteers: Since disaster doesn’t strike all of the time, I believe the key to keeping a program going is by matching volunteer CERT members to small community preparedness high priority jobs or duties of interest (regularly). If groups combine regular jobs with monthly meetings (and integrate education and training where possible) plus acknowledge any achievements, then it is more likely they will stay happy, enticed, motivated, and functional for deployment when disaster strikes.


“THE STICK” (A gentile & essential type of Volunteer Program Quality Assurance):

1. Expiration Dates: Volunteers such as CERT certificate expiration may occur after (e.g. 5 years) if the member does not gain points through participation, or gain continuing education credit for attending a refresher course.

2. Work for Prestige: To get your pins, points, or credits, you have to work to achieve them.

3. Trust and Recognition: Trusting in your training & vetting your history are huge components of achieving a working relationship with anyone especially Professional Emergency Personnel. The American Red Cross where I volunteer does a background check on you (before anything else). Once you have completed all their requirements, you get certificates of completion and your name is entered in an email list serve, and in a phone tree. Team leaders receive a picture ID card, and may at some point be trained with money cards and other responsibilities where there is a high abuse potential thus vetting is important.




=>The LA community posted the results of (1 year worth of collected testimonials) related to CERT engagement at:

=>CERT utilization in the past here:




“Post”-mortem comments:

This post is analogous to an individual writing a book about raising kids and the individual writing the book does not have kids of their own...I must concede here that, (although I have solid knowledge in this area), I have not managed a CERT group...oops : ) ...I must have violated some rule of thumb, but hope you enjoy & utilize the information anyway!


Can you think of any more carrots or sticks that should be implemented in volunteer programs like the CERT program?



3 votes
Idea No. 44