By Jerry Brant
Whether you are a seasoned grant writer or a novice about to file your first application, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program is the biggest funding opportunity annually for departments across the country. With a 30 percent cut in funding from previous years, this program will be even more competitive than in the past. I would like to offer some suggestions to help make your task a little easier and your application more viable as it goes through the review process.
I hope by this point in time that your department has taken the time to complete its annual risk assessment for your coverage area. This process should have produced a clear idea of the type of project you want to request funding for. If you haven't undertaken this assessment, I suggest you initiate it now before you begin to write your application.
Remember, your AFG application is divided into two sections. The first section asks a series of questions about your first-due coverage area, the alarms your department answered in 2009, and your department's characteristics. This section is reviewed by a computer and your application either "passes or fails." The computer does not assign a score, it simply determines if your application meets the criteria to move on to a review panel or not. If your application moves to a review panel, they will read and score your narrative. If your application does not make it through the computer review then your narrative is never read. Please keep this in mind as you answer the questions at the beginning of the application because they are just as important as the narrative.
If your application makes it through the computer evaluation, it will be assigned to a three-person panel for review. This panel will examine your narrative and assign a score to each of the four elements of the narrative. Each element is scored equally with a value of 25 points. A perfect application will have a score of 100.
To ensure that your narrative covers all of the material needed to be competitive, I suggest that you divide your narrative into four sections in line with the four elements of the AFG narrative.
The first element is your Project Description. In this section you should cover:
- A brief description of your department and where you are located.
- What is your identified risk?
- How did you determine this?
- What is your solution?
- What standards will be met?
- How much will it cost?
Remember that the three people reading your narrative know nothing about your department or your community. Be complete, but be concise. Because of the sheer volume of narratives that this panel will review, your application will probably be in front of them for no more than 15 minutes.
The next section of your narrative should correspond with the Financial Need element of AFG. This section should be one of the longest sections of your narrative. In the past, reviewers have stated that the Financial Need section of narratives have consistently scored the lowest of all four sections. At a minimum, your narrative should contain the following:
- What are your department's annual expenses and sources of revenue?
- What has been happening to these figures over the last three to five years?
- Why can't your community cover the cost of your request?
- Site demographics to strengthen your case.
- Explain your other attempts to fund your needs.
- Have you been turned down for this project by AFG in the past?
Remember to use percentages as well as whole numbers to describe your financial situation. This makes it easier for the reviewer to relate to your situation.
The third section of your narrative should focus on the Cost/Benefit element of AFG. In this section you should explain to the reviewer what benefit will be received for the amount of money you are requesting. Be sure to cover the following information in your narrative:
- How often will the requested item be used?
- What is the frequency of use vs. cost?
- How will it increase interoperability?
- Discuss how it is the most economical solution to your identified risk.
- What are the consequences if this project is not funded?
- How will this item increase the efficiency of your operations?
Conclude with effects
You should conclude your narrative with a section detailing the Effect on Daily Operations. This is the fourth and final element of AFG. In this section you should discuss how this grant award will improve firefighter safety and reduce the loss of life and property. Once again touch on how often this item will be used and how it will change the outcome of incidents.
Here are some final thoughts to keep in mind:
- Remember to include information in your narrative on how your department will work towards 100 percent certification under NFPA 1001 if you do not already meet this standard.
- Find someone from outside your group to read your narrative and give you feedback.
- Make sure you have enough time to produce a competitive narrative. If you don't, wait until next year.
- Remember, a grant reviewer's job is stressful, repetitive work. Put yourself in their place and write a complete, responsive narrative.
Good luck. If you need assistance, remember that the FireGrantsHelp team is always available.