Grants: 3 keys to planning
Getting lawmakers' buy-in before applying for grants is one way to avoid problems
Editor's note: With cities rejecting SAFER grant awards, Chief Adam K. Thiel advises us to carefully plan our grant applications prior to submission.
I've commented before on the importance, and positive impact, of Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response and the other Assistance to Firefighters Grant programs for supporting localities' fire and emergency services prevention and response efforts. They also provide national-level research and development benefiting us all.
In the interest of full disclosure, I've been an AFG applicant, reviewer and recipient — through my fire departments and other organizations — on several occasions during the history of the program.
With that experience, and as this story demonstrates (again), I can definitely say that one of the most difficult aspects of the overall grant process is what comes after the grant is awarded: being able to accept the money and fully comply with the performance and evaluation criteria set forth in the program guidance.
As the old saying goes, "There's no such thing as a free lunch."
A few things I've learned along the way:
- Read the program guidance very carefully before you even think about starting an application. The guidance changes every year; sometimes obviously, sometimes subtly.
- Ask lots of questions. The FEMA/AFG program staff are very accessible and generally happy to answer questions about the process; they also sponsor workshops across the United States.
- Talk to your boss(es) before you spend a lot of time on the application. Some places I've worked actually require legislative pre-approval from the city council or governing body before submitting the formal grant application. At times I've thought that was overly burdensome, but it definitely helps later on during the "should we or shouldn't we" acceptance process.
Finally, the number of stories we're seeing about local jurisdictions turning down grant awards is yet another sign that full recovery from the economic recession is probably awhile away. It seems unlikely that any of our departments can count on grants, from federal or other sources, to get us through these tough times.
The difficult process of educating our citizens and policymakers about our capabilities, and limitations, remains critically important.