How to beat the odds: The nuts and bolts of a successful AFG narrative

From "The Path to Grants Success" (PDF)
Sponsored by Masimo and Physio-Control

Related Resources:

 'The Path to Grants Success' supplement (PDF)

Take a systematic approach to grant writing: Assess your vulnerability
Back to the basics: Success depends on understanding grant fundamentals
Dive in: Pool of grant funds is large
Each year, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program draws more than 20,000 applications. Only one-fourth receive awards. In 2009, $565 million will be available through this highly competitive grant. To improve your odds of winning an award, invest the time and energy to prepare a complete application with a stellar narrative.

Applying for a grant can be daunting. Break the process down into steps to make the task manageable. Before writing a single word, identify your needs. Ask:

  • What does your service/department need to fulfill your mission?
  • Are you compliant with NFPA standards?
  • Is your equipment less than industry-standard?
  • Are you able to provide quality patient care?
  • Are members outfitted properly to ensure responder safety?

Tailoring your application to specifically address the priorities outlined in the AFG guidance will greatly improve your chances for funding.

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant—also known as the Fire Grant — historically opens in the March/April time frame. The application is electronic and can be accessed at The grant requires you to explain your request in narrative form, as well as answer specific questions. For many applicants, the narrative causes the most angst, especially because the application is open only for a short window of time. Starting the narrative portion before grant opening can reduce the stress.

Develop the narrative in a Word document and then cut and paste it into the online application. The AFG sets a fivepage limit for the narrative, but if you can tell your story in fewer words, don’t stretch it out. Strive for the narrative to be informative, compelling and concise. There are four sections:

  • Project Description/Budget
  • Financial Need
  • Cost/Benefit
  • Operational Outcomes

Here’s what to address in each section:

Project Description/ Budget
Include a detailed description of your department/service, the population you serve, where you are located, the demographics of the area and the critical infrastructure in your area. Identify your risks and problems and explain why the issue you seek to fund is vital to your department/service and those you serve.

After identifying the problem, state your solution and why it best addresses the issue. Include budget information about the cost of your solution. Point out how it aligns to AFG priorities, industry standards, state protocols and NFPA requirements and recommendations.

Illustrate the money will be spent wisely and calculate the benefit expected from the funds received. Address the frequency of use of requested items and provide a cost breakdown. Cost per use is a good metric to use in this case. For example, if you purchase medical equipment for $21,000, simply divide it by the number of calls on which you would use the equipment (say 1,000 calls per year). Then divide by the recommended life span of the equipment (seven years) to determine your cost per use ($3.00).

Include how the requested items will improve the efficiency of your operation and interoperability with other first responders. Describe the consequences if the application is not funded.

Financial Need
In essence, explain why you need money. Describe your income compared to your expenses in order to illustrate your current funding deficiencies. Explain any past efforts you’ve made to get the request funded, and any financial or community economic trends specific to your situation.

Operational Outcomes
Successfully quantifying the effect on daily operations will enhance your case in securing funding. Discuss how the receipt of this grant will improve firefighter/personnel safety, mitigate harm, and decrease the loss of life and property for personnel and the community served.

Equipment or training that will be used on every call should have a dramatic effect on daily operations — state the improvement.

Aditional Pointers

  • Use your own words. Avoid fillin- the-blank templates, as these do not tell your story and can get very repetitive to the reviewers.
  • If your request covers multiple items, group them to make your narrative more cohesive — i.e., Patient Care (cardiac monitors, CO detection, CPR devices, AEDs); Responder Safety (turnout gear, SCBA’s, PPE etc.); or Firefighting Needs (tools, thermal imaging cameras), etc.
  • Have multiple people review your narrative to ensure you’ve covered all points and that the narrative flows well.

Remember peer reviewers are reading all day long, so do your best to make your application as easy to read as possible. A succinct and compelling narrative is your best chance to gain approval and win an AFG grant. Good luck!

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