Seven Tips: How to be a Volunteer that Leaders Love

David Coursey, N5FDL June 10, 2011

Having spent two months talking about how to build and kill EMCOMM groups, this month I’ll touch on what it takes to be the volunteer every leader wants on his or her team. Here are seven tips:

    1. Sign-up and show-up — This is really simple, but can’t be overstated. Leaders need dependable volunteers and need them to commit early. We need to be able to plan based on the number of volunteers we can expect. So sign-up early, let your leader know if your plans are “tentative,” and cancel as soon as you know you cannot attend. That makes the planning job much, much easier. Ten people who become available the “day of” aren’t very helpful, unless I have ten unexpected no-shows.
People respect our group because they know if we commit to something, we will deliver. This group reliability depends on volunteers who are equally reliable.


    1. Dress like an emergency communications professional — I feel stupid saying this, but what we wear impacts the image of all Amateurs. Now that we wear orange or green safety vests much of the time, individual fashion expression is not so apparent to served agencies or the public. However, as unpaid professionals we need to look like the paid professionals we work alongside.
      In general, dress in office work/casual office attire when on an assignment, unless you have a special reason (cleared with your leaders) for dressing differently. If you don’t wear an official government-issued patch, I am not wild about uniforms. I have a Sheriff’s SAR uniform – silver badge and all – and I try very hard not to wear it. Polo shirts (with your group’s logo) are almost always the best thing to wear. Try not to have too many logos or call signs (even your own) visible at the same time.


    1. Smile, Darn Ya, Smile! — We all have better and worse days, but great volunteers develop a “game face” and “game attitude” they bring to public events. Whiners are not allowed. Egos get checked at the door. No, it really isn’t about you, it’s just what net control said or did, probably without thinking, and usually in the heat of the moment.


    1. Seek Feedback (And Offer It) — We all need to talk about what we do well as well as where we could improve. Volunteers need to understand that the people who provide feedback (volunteer bosses) are sometimes insensitive louts. Please forgive us. We didn’t mean to hurt your feelings and it really isn’t personal. Nor is it personal when you tell leaders how we might improve. We are here to serve the public and our communities and we win or lose as a team.

      The key to this is being a decent human being and treating others the way you’d want to be treated yourself. Sound familiar?


    1. Build Your Skills — Newcomer mistakes must be forgiven. And some people – like me – make the same silly mistakes over and over. But, we need to constantly “sharpen the saw,” as the book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People calls it. Great volunteers sharpen the saw on a regular basis. The reason we provide support for all these bike rides, community fairs, rodeos and other non-emergency events is two-fold. Sometimes these events become real emergencies. Mostly, though, we’re training for when “the big one” (whatever that is where you live) happens. Use these events to train yourself while having fun. Then read, take classes, do free online training, anything to improve your skills. Reading this newsletter is a good use of your time.


    1. Help solve problems — I was really pleased at a recent event when our volunteers at a remote site solved problems that occurred at their location without help from anyone. It was an issue related to signals and geography and these were new hams – all KJ6 call signs – who took initiative and made things better on the spot. And some people say HamCram hams are know-nothings! In the process, they improved our ability to serve the organization we were working for. Great volunteers give great customer service.


  1. Observe Lines of Authority — Not long ago, I came unglued (it had been a bad day) when a fairly inexperienced volunteer tried to do something that went against the goals of the organization. It was not ill-intended, just inexperience. But, it was the second or third problem. This was a hugely promising volunteer, who just needed to understand why certain things are done the way they are. Even insensitive louts sometimes have good reasons behind their logic.

Reprinted with permission from the Author – August 2011

Coast Emergency Communications Association