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Is a grant writer the answer for your fire department?

Step-by-step guidance and tips for finding, interviewing, contracting and utilizing the skills of a grant writer


Have you used a grant writer to apply for funds?

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I’m sure many of you have debated the idea of hiring a grant writer. There’s always that member who broadcasts the fact that a nearby department just received their 10th grant and replaced three pieces of apparatus while your department has yet to score a single award. “The reason,” the member says, “is because they have a grant writer and we don’t!” Then, after some intense discussion, someone typically suggest appointing a committee to check out options and addressing the topic at the next meeting.

How often does that really happen, though?

Without action, say goodbye to another grant cycle without a grant writer.

Search for a grant writer

If you’re familiar with departments that have used a grant writer’s services, they should be the first points of contact in your search. If you don’t know anyone who has used a grant writer or you’re not comfortable with the grant writer that neighboring departments have used, then search the internet, go to trade shows to connect with others who can help or advise, review fire service websites or talk with vendors. All of these are great sources. And remember that FireGrantsHelp offers assistance finding grant writers, too.

Interview potential grant writers

Identify two or three grant writers to interview.

For the interview, develop a set list of questions so you are soliciting the same information from each grant writer.

At a minimum, ask the grant writer for the following basic information:

  • The number of years they have written grant applications;
  • The types of applications they have written and have had awarded; and
  • Their formal training or education.

It’s also important to ask the grant writer if they are a single-person shop or if they utilize other grant writers in their business. If they are utilizing other writers, inquire how you will know who will be writing your grant and whether you can learn more about that person before hiring the team.

Finally, request a list of references. These references should include clients who were awarded grants similar to the type you are pursuing. This is important because there is a big difference between writing a grant for 10 sets of turnout gear and writing a grant for a new aerial.

Agree to a contract

Once you have selected a grant writer, it’s time to develop a contract for their services. A contract protects both you and the grant writer by spelling out the details of the arrangement.

The contract should detail who will be responsible for what and how long the writer’s services will be needed. It should also set the grant writer’s compensation and list the grant (or grants) on which the writer will work.

It’s best to designate two contact people from your department for the grant writer, and make it clear that they are the only people with whom the grant writer communicates. After all, you don’t want other members getting in the weeds and creating any confusion about grant priorities.

If the grant writer balks at giving you a written agreement, move on to the next grant writer on your list.

Clarify key duties and details

It’s important to establish a clear understanding of the grant writer’s responsibilities along with what the department will handle. For example, will the grant writer be responsible for completing the entire application or only the grant narratives? Will the grant writer have someone conduct a review when the grant is completed or is that the department’s duty?

Additionally, establish a clear deadline for providing the grant writer with department and community information. Note: If the writer tells you that they don’t need any such information, that’s a red flag. How would they be able to craft narratives about your current needs without this information?

Tip: Make sure you have all the login and password information for your application. Never let your grant writer be the only one with the login.

Help your grant writer

A final word of advice: Grant writers are not mind-readers. If you think you can just hire someone to write your grant and then sit back and do nothing, you are sadly mistaken. A grant writer doesn’t know your department’s characteristics, its financial situation, the community you serve, or the condition of the items you want to replace. You are responsible for providing the writer with this data. You are also responsible for providing the grant writer with an accurate description of the items you are requesting and a current cost estimate. Remember, even if you utilize a grant writer for your application, you are ultimately responsible for all the information that is submitted – so it better be accurate.

Jerry Brant is a senior grant consultant and grant writer with FireGrantsHelp and EMSGrantsHelp. He has 46 years of experience as a volunteer firefighter in west-central Pennsylvania. He is a life member of the Hope Fire Company of Northern Cambria, where he served as chief for 15 years. He is an active member of the Patton Fire Company 1 and serves as safety officer. Brant graduated from Saint Francis University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. In 2003, he was awarded a James A Johnson Fellowship by the FannieMae Foundation for his accomplishments in community development, and in 2019, he was honored as with the Leroy C Focht Sr. Memorial Award from the Central District Volunteer Fireman’s Association. He has successfully written more than $70 million in grant applications. Brant can be reached via email.