Preplanning for firefighter grant season
With proper pre-planning, applying for a grant can be a breeze and have a high likelihood of being funded
It is that magical time of year again when departments start frantically working on their grant applications. Although the application date has not been announced yet for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG), it is due very soon.
Luckily, that means we all still have a bit of time to plan before the 30-day rush to get everything done. Just as you would preplan for a fire, departments need to preplan any and all grant applications.
The first step is to make sure you have the right staff ready to respond to the call. Writing a good grant will consume all of a volunteer's time for at least a month, in addition to the help they will need from all levels of administration.
Not everyone has the time and appropriate training that it takes to create and manage a successful grant program application. This means you may have to enlist outside help or get your existing members trained appropriately.
There are multiple online resources, such as FireGrantsHelp.com that provide both free resources and professional grant writing services (for a fee). Additionally, some manufacturers will help with grant writing.
As with everything in life, you get what you pay for. Good grant writers (with good success rates) will cost you and are in demand.
Alternatively, you could try to find (or create) your own grant writer for your department. You may be able to "enlist" someone from the local community with grant writing experience to volunteer for your project (such as from another non-profit).
Otherwise, you really should spend the money to pay to have one of your members trained. You wouldn't expect someone to fight a fire without training, so why would you expect them to write a grant without training?
There are many grant training organizations out there, and most will help you create a "sample" grant through the class. Personally, I attended The Grantsmanship Center program and found it very useful (although not exactly cheap).
Once you have your person in place, you need to make sure you are applying for the right grant. There are multiple federal grants, all with their own specific focus.
Applying to the right grant program is more important than trying to shoehorn your application into something that doesn't fit. If the program, such as the AFG, has history, look at their public records of applications and programs funded.
Priorities change each year, but these records can usually a good clue. For example, historically there is more money requested each year for vehicle acquisition than operations and safety.
But taking a quick look at the awards, you'll see there were more awards given for the latter than the former.
The other part of picking the right grant is picking the right program. Just because it would be cool to have a high-rise rescue team does not mean it should be funded (especially if your tallest building is three stories).
Too many departments start dreaming when it comes to grants and forget about the core capabilities. This comes across in their applications. You should need the program, even if you don't get the grant. It is not about pet projects and cool toys, it is about real needs with real money.
With the grant and project selected, the next step is to attend a workshop on that grant. Many of the AFG workshops are already over, but the presentation can be found online along with details of workshops that are still coming up.
The new guidelines for 2011 clearly state things that are high, medium and low priority. Figure on the low priorities being a very long shot; for example, if you are looking for a foam truck, it is very unlikely, no matter what type of area you serve. The workshops (and their documents) clearly lay out a plan for what works and what doesn't.
With proper pre-planning, applying for a grant can be a breeze and have a high likelihood of being funded. Skipping a step or not planning can lead to high stress and disaster as the date nears. Be ahead of the curve, even if it means planning for next year rather than this one.