Guide to AFG: Explaining financial needs

Let's explore some options to assist you in making your narrative's financial need element stronger and more competitive

In this second installment of our "Guide to AFG," Jerry Brant explains how grant writers should approach the financial need section of the application. Don't forget to check out the first part of the series, as well as part three.

Updated September 21, 2017

The financial need element of the AFG narrative typically receives the lowest score each year of the four elements, according to program personnel. I think there are probably three main reasons for this:

  • Many writers feel inclined to tell their entire story under the project description element, thinking they need to do so to get the reviewer's attention. What they don't realize is that the reviewers have a score sheet and that they are looking for certain specific information in each element. Listing all your information under one heading and very little under the others will get you one maximum score in that element but it won’t score sufficiently high enough overall to get funded.
  • Many writers assume by just stating, "We are a poor, rural fire department with a small budget and no help," that the reviewers are going to completely understand their plight.
  • Last, but certainly not least, is the reason I'm sure we've all heard: "If we tell them we have money, then we won't get funded."
Begin by describing the root cause of your need for financial assistance. (Photo/City of Kennesaw)
Begin by describing the root cause of your need for financial assistance. (Photo/City of Kennesaw)

Did any of these sound familiar? Let's explore some options to assist you in making your narrative's financial need element stronger and more competitive.

Begin by describing the root cause of your need for financial assistance. This is where a quick reference to your service area profile is extremely beneficial. The census data profile that you should have for each community in your first due coverage area is critical in painting a picture of the local economic and social landscape for the reviewers.

At a minimum, examine such data as the:

  • Per capita income for the community
  • Poverty rates
  • Median household income

If you feel that any of this information is helpful to your cause, then extract it both in whole numbers and percentages. Include this with both local and national data and how your area compares to it.

Example: The Metropolitan Fire Department (MFD) provides fire and rescue services to the community of Megalopolis. The community has continued to suffer chronic unemployment since the closing of the town's major employer ACME Cartoon Props. This is evident by the community's per capita income of $14,503 compared to the national average of $21,587. This is almost a 33 percent difference. In addition, the median household income for Megalopolis is $28,925, a drastic drop from the national figure of $41,994. But one of the most compelling statistics that accurately depicts the disinvestment in this community is the median value of a single family owner occupied home in Megalopolis, which is $64,234 compared to the national amount of $119,600. All of the data used in this section is from the 2000 U.S. Census.

You have now given the reviewers factual statistics to illustrate the economic background in which you must try to secure your operating funds locally. Next, explain your current sources of funding, your department's budget and your expenses. If any of these amounts has been fluctuating, describe why and how this has affected your operations.

Example: The MFD has an annual operating budget of $131,000. Forty percent of this amount is derived from the community's fire tax. Twenty-five percent comes from donations and 35 percent from fundraising activities. Our expenses are: Insurance $32,000, Utilities $27,000, Fuel $12,000, Vehicle repairs and maintenance $15,000, Training $18,000, Equipment purchases $10,000, Building maintenance $12,000, and Consumable Supplies $5,000. Due to our regions depressed economy, contributions to our annual fund drive have dropped 30 percent from their total of five years ago. In addition, last year we had to cancel our largest annual fundraiser, "The Road Runner 5K Walk," which annually raised $18,000, because of a lack of financial support. Because of this, we have postponed the replacement of our station's 35-year-old roof, we have placed a freeze on all non- emergency expenditures and we have fallen two years behind on our vehicle replacement program.

Your grant reviewers now have a better idea of your department's financial situation. Next, explain what steps you are taking to address this situation and what the short and long-term outlook is for improvement. Then tie all of this information into your justification for federal assistance.

Example: For almost 115 years, the Metropolitan Fire Department has been able to sustain its operations without outside assistance. In recent years, the community's economy has been devastated by the loss of its major employer. This has translated into less expendable income for the area's residents and in turn less revenue for the fire department. The MFD perceives this to be a short-term situation with plans to attract other employers into the community. Until this happens, the department must turn to outside sources for assistance to fund the replacement of our station's 30-year-old large diameter supply hose.

Here are three "Be's" to keep in mind:

  • Be clear with the description of your financial situation. If you are not sure how your narrative sounds, have someone else read it and make comments.
  • Be concise. Remember your application will probably be in front of the reviewers for about 15 minutes.
  • Be open about your department's financial outlook and the reasons for it. Explain with examples why this situation has occurred and how you are trying to address it.

I hope this article has given you some additional insight into the AFG narrative process and helped to increase the possibility of your application being funded. The next article will discuss the cost/benefit element of the narrative.

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