Thou Shalt Not Follow the Example of Sloppy Volunteer Public Safety Groups!
I recently got on an altruism kick and decided to get involved in a volunteer program in my neighborhood. Since I am a desk jockey by profession, I figured that it would make sense if my volunteer work involved a bit of physical activity and intensity. Thus, I decided to poke around at the volunteer fire departments and EMS services in my area.
To date, I’ve not joined any department or service. And at the rate I’m going, I don’t know if I ever will. But in making inquiries, I received a reminder education in PR practices that would be salient to any communications professional. These include the following incidents and indignities that I experienced:
1. Make sure your web site is in working order. One site had its officers’ e-mail addresses listed – but when I tried to contact them, all of my messages bounced back. Another site had a PDF application to download, but the software was a bit buggy and I was unable to open the application.
2. Make sure your web site has all of the necessary functions in place. One site allowed me to download a PDF application to fill out, but it did not provide an address where I should submit the application. Two sites requested that I fill out my application online, which is fine, except that they wanted my Social Security number; one of those sites also wanted my driver’s license number. Neither site was secured, so I would be making my important data openly available to any joker who wanted to hack into them. Can you say “identity theft”? (I must say that I am amused by the idea of a public safety site that is unsafe.)
3. Acknowledge all inquiries. The site with the bounce-back e-mails did list a phone number. I called and left two messages, but neither was returned. I submitted my application to that group by fax and mail, but to date no one has contacted me. I e-mailed one of the sites with the unsecured application, but my message was ignored.
4. Avoid last minute call-outs. The one group that actually acknowledged my inquiries twice asked me to visit special events they were hosting. That was very nice, except that the invitations came on the day before each respective event. Since I already made plans for those days, I had to decline. If I knew about the events in advance (which could’ve been done very easily), I would’ve been able to participate. Strangely, the person who made those last-minute invitations seemed a little annoyed that I couldn’t drop everything to join in – that’s terrible PR, in my book.
5. Keep your appointments. That group in the fourth example invited me to visit their HQ. I agreed to show up at a specific time to meet with a specific person. I was on time, but my contact person wasn’t there – he decided to go out on a meal run with two of his colleagues. Needless to say, his superior (who wasn’t expecting me) had to fill in and keep me occupied until that contact person returned (which was 20 minutes after I arrived).
6. Listen to people and don’t force your agenda where it is not wanted. That 20-minute conversation mentioned in the fifth example was hilarious. The officer I met with was very happy to meet me: he wanted a PR person for his group. Which is perfectly fine, except that I was interested in EMT training and was not particularly eager to coordinate PR programs. Oddly, when I kept mentioning I was more interested in EMT training, this fella didn’t seem to be paying much attention – he then told me there were other duties I could possibly consider, such as volunteer janitorial work within their HQ (and, no, I am NOT making that up!).
7. Have someone with a brain answering the phones. Out of frustration at being ignored, I called one service yet again and got some loopy old timer on the phone who clearly didn’t know his ass from his elbow. All I wanted was for him to leave a message for the person in charge of volunteer membership reviews, but you’d think I was explaining the space-time continuum to him – I had to repeat myself four times just to get him to leave the message with the person in charge (please recheck last week’s Gospel about the PR perils of idiotic customer service).
So, here I am without a volunteer outlet, but with new lessons on how not to present yourself to the world. From a PR perspective, these organizations gave the impression of being disorganized, sloppy and rude. And if that’s how they treat people reaching out to them, I shudder to think how they respond to people facing life-threatening emergencies!