Grant Writing 101: 3 steps to help your fire department or EMS agency to write impactful grant proposals
Lacking life-saving equipment? Want to install new smoke alarms across your community? Would a mobile fire training unit be helpful for your rural volunteer fire department? Could you use a reputation management firm to help you recruit? Do you need to hire more people in order to help keep your community safe?
For every challenge that your organization might face, there’s usually another major hurdle – funding.
One source of funding that many emergency service organizations may overlook or not utilize to their fullest potential are grants. There are many private and public grants programs available but some agencies don’t seek them out because proposals can be time-consuming, grant writers are an extra expense or they don’t know where to start. But the impact a single grant could have could go far beyond a few hours of work or the cost of a grant writer (just federal programs have averaged around $700 million a year in funding!), and we’re here to help you get started.
1. Assess your needs and look for related opportunities.
The key to making grants fruitful for your organization is to start by looking at your high-priority needs – assess which projects would result in the greatest positive impact for your department and the community.
After you’ve narrowed down your focus, do some digging online and ask around to find a program that meets your needs or a group that aligns with your mission, like a fire prevention grant.
Public grants are developed by congress so they typically address issues like emergency preparedness, public safety and community education. Private grants – which are your largest source of possible support – come from a wide-variety of organizations and typically provide grants that align with their goals like health or education.
2. Learn, lots.
The grant proposal process starts with education – for both you and the organization you’re requesting funds from. Start by taking a deeper look into the organization that’s providing the grant.
Learn what might motivate their decision by asking:
- What are the goals of the organization?
- How do these goals align with our needs?
- What projects have they supported in the past?
- Who’s eligible for grants – and are we included?
- What are their grant rules and regulations?
- What information will we need to complete the grant application?
Once you’ve confirmed that the grant is a good fit for you, you’ll need to educate your audience on why your department needs the funds and how those funds will make a positive impact.
Whereas organizations who work exclusively with with emergency service and fire service grants, like the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG), understand your challenges and operations – that won’t be the case for the general public.
Most people see you responding to calls, fighting fires and saving lives – but they lack knowledge of the time and resources that also go into training your members, advocating for community safety, providing fire prevention resources and recruiting new members. And without a true understanding – your efforts could fall flat. So take time to evaluate what information would be helpful for them to know and how you can best demonstrate it.
You can also do research to see what relationships you can build with other groups that may not be able to provide funds but could serve as a helpful resource or partner – like business groups, local media or partner agencies.
3. Tailor your application.
Based on who’s going to review your application, guidelines of the grant provider and shared goals – it’s time to tailor your proposal. You’ll need technical data – like call volume and amount of members – but you’ll also need a story-driven narrative to help address your specific problem.
Your proposal should answer:
- The problem. What do you need?
- The impact. How’s this problem relevant to the organization that’s providing the grant and the greater community?
- The solution. What are you asking for? How will it help? Why do you need the grant? Are other community partners involved?
- The budget. How much will this cost – including equipment, personnel time and other services? Why does your organization need outside funding?
To help increase your chances of success or determine how your efforts will be best spent, you may want to consider hiring a grant writer to prepare or review your proposal.
No matter what – be sure to keep the information accurate, share as many details as you can in order to show the need, have an original story, speak to your audience and stay professional!
This article includes key points from the VFIS Basic Guide to Grants for Emergency Service Organization Handbook developed by Firehouse Grants. For more grant assistance tools and tips for firefighters, visit their website at FirehouseGrants.com. If you’re still on the fence about grant writing, check out the success stories on how grants have made a positive impact for other agencies and volunteer fire departments on fema.gov.
When it comes to volunteer fire department funding, what has your crew found to be the most important aspect? Let us know in the comments below!
The VFIS Team
VFIS is the largest provider of insurance, education and consulting services for fire departments, ambulance and rescue squads and 911 centers in North America, having pioneered the first tailored insurance package for this industry in 1969.
How fire departments can harness the power of storytelling to inspire action and best practices to build an effective message.