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Asking the Right Grant-Funding Questions: A Look at Needs Versus Wants

Return to the February 1, 2013 issue of On Scene

As leaders of volunteer fire departments, we operate in different environments regarding budgets, sustainability and general day-to-day operations than our career counterparts. This also carries over when we begin the process of deciding what to ask for in the Assistance to Firefighter Grant program.

We must realize that we have to be honest about what we need and make sure we don’t ask for things on our want list. The volunteer fire service has long been known for its ability to do much with little, and we need to utilize this trait to our advantage when we decide what to apply for. We’ll find success by identifying our real needs and crafting a grant request that highlights those.

We all know of volunteer departments that have applied for equipment and been awarded the grant, only to find that the annual operating budget won’t support maintenance or insurance for the new equipment or apparatus. To avoid this scenario, a little preparation goes a long way.

Ask yourself about sustainability before you make the grant request. Be sure your department can sustain and maintain what you’re asking for.

Do you have an overall equipment replacement plan? If not, develop one before deciding what to apply for within the grant program. Describe these plans when you write your grant narrative, letting your preparation work in your favor as you tell your story and justify your department's needs. Make the case for why your request is a need and not simply something you'd like to have.

A good rule of thumb revolves around necessity. After you have a plan, ask yourself, "Is what we are asking for a necessity?"

Don’t fall into asking for something that’s being promoted by a manufacturer or vendor. While they may be able to help you with lots of particulars and content for the grant application, a grant written by your department with a real need in mind always goes farther than an in-the-can grant narrative shared by a vendor.

As the grant program utilizes peer reviewers who can recognize true need, we need to do our part with what we ask for and how we justify it. Simply stated, we need to be good stewards of grant funding.

Another way to be innovative is to ask about a regional approach: will your request be one that can be shared in your region? Search for items that will benefit your entire region, not just a single department, and write about that in your narrative. We all benefit when we find ways to cooperate and collaborate, and grant funding is a great way to create a catalyst for this type of transition and strategy.

We also need to think about life after grants. Yes, we must plan for a future that will have less funding options available. We don't have to go further than our local news outlets to hear how budget cuts are impacting all levels of budgets. Are we planning in a way that will ensure our departments will survive without grant funding?

Development of a strategic plan and preparation of replacement plans for apparatus and equipment is an important part of this. For help in these areas, visit the VCOS webpage and check out the Ribbon Reports. A lot of beneficial information has been compiled in these reports; these can help you and your department plan for the future.

Shane Ray is the state fire marshal for the S.C. Division of Fire & Life Safety and the IAFC international director for the Volunteer and Combination Officers Section.

Feel free to email me if I may be of assistance; it's an honor to represent you as the VCOS international director on the IAFC board. I'd love to hear from you!

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