As you are scheduling your department activities for the year where does grant planning and writing rank on your list? If it is listed somewhere right above cleaning out the storage room and right below fixing the leaking restroom sink then there is an obvious reason why you haven’t been successful in obtaining funding in recent years.
Yes, January is the time that many of us make resolutions, and try to set plans for the coming year and our department’s grant activity needs to be an integral part of our planning process.
We know that every year DHS/FEMA will be offering grant opportunities in its Assistance to Firefighters Grant program (AFG), it’s SAFER program and it’s Fire Prevention & Safety program (FP&S). In recent years these grant programs have overlapped calendar years but they are still offered in that succession. In addition depending on your demographics your department may also be eligible for opportunities such as the USDA Community Facilities Program, and the Rural Volunteer Firefighters Assistance program (VFA). Also, there maybe a number of funding opportunities available to you through foundations, insurance companies, financial institutions, and corporations.
The first ingredient in your recipe for a successful grant application is to determine your department’s needs. Applicants who are successful have matched their department needs with a grant program rather than try to find ways reason to apply for a grant when it opens. This can be accomplished through a number of activities including equipment inventories and maintenance checks, incident reports, and officer and committee recommendations.
In plain language you must to determine what your needs are and have good, reliable data to back up your request. This is where the process of year long grant planning and preparation comes into play. If you have equipment failure during the year whether at an alarm or at a training session it should be documented in your reports. If you have firefighters that suffer an injury because of the condition of their gear it should be documented. If you have firefighters who are denied training activities because of the condition of their gear or SCBA again this needs to be documented. This type of data becomes crucial when you are making your application decisions and it also becomes vital as you make your case for funding. You would be surprised at the number of departments that can not quickly and accurately provide this type of information when we are assisting them with their AFG or similar applications. It is information such as this that can make the difference between an application getting funded and your department receiving another, “ Dear John letter” from a funding agency.
I know everyone is weary of the increasing amount of paperwork that we are required to do but information such as this helps you to highlight the specific reasons for your need in your funding application. Most funders will simply decline applications that contain little or no supporting documentation for the request.
A good first step in your process is to require this type of information to be listed in incident reports. If your department doesn’t have this type of a reporting system then require it to be part of a monthly report that an officer presents at your monthly meeting. The exact process that you use to record this type of data isn’t important but the fact that you have it available to you is.
Next research the upcoming grant opportunities and try to match your documented need and cost with the guidelines of these programs. When you find a match start to assemble the information that you will need for the application. Following this type of a process should yield a higher percentage of successful applications for your agency.