Each year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars to be disseminated as competitive grants to the American fire and emergency service. These programs are to enhance firefighter staffing and recruitment (SAFER); provide equipment, programs and service enhancements (AFG); and enhance prevention and research activities (FP&S). This grant funding is competitive and highly sought after, so a methodological approach is essential to ensuring your grant stands out and is awarded funding.
Here are six tips to help you win grants for much needed enhancements to the services your department provides.
Describe your organization in detail.
Organizations that provide funds for grants want to feel comfortable that your fire department is sound and has good foundational processes in place—and that means delivering a service or product to the community that’s needed and desired.
First, describe your organization and why it makes good sense for federal review boards and peer reviewers to award your department grant assistance. This includes demographic information, including the population you serve and the square miles covered by firefighters. Include call statistics as well as any community risk-assessment information you have available.
Next, add the type of services your agency provides, such as fire suppression, emergency medical services, special operations, prevention, community outreach, etc. Be as specific as possible to help peer reviewers visualize your agency and the community you serve.
Conduct a needs assessment.
Why does your agency need this grant money?
To be successful, your application should include a gap analysis to explain how your agency is unable to meet a specific need, and this is linked to your request for monies.
Align your request with the highest priorities stated in the grant announcement to receive the highest priority of all the requests received. For example, one of the highest funding priorities for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) is for health and wellness programs, yet only a very small, relative percentage of request are for those type of resources.
Then, provide a detailed explanation of how your request, if funded, will help your agency and the community you serve. This is the time to describe how much more successful your agency will be if awarded funding to add programs, equipment or firefighters.
Support your needs assessment with great data!
This portion of the grant-writing process is essential. Making a compelling case with strong data will set your application apart from your competitors. It has been said by management guru Peter Drucker that without supporting data, your point is just another opinion. Of course, with so many applications for limited funding, standing out is what it’s all about—differentiate yourself.
Conducting a thorough needs assessment or gap analysis will demonstrate the need for what you’re requesting and project the impact of the results that can be expected if awarded.
If you’re unable to garner internal data to support your request, consider contacting other agencies that have successfully implemented similar grant awards; they would probably be willing to share their results, which you can cite as another community’s example in your own application.
Write a compelling case.
Address how you will sustain the program, as grant funding is usually a one-time allotment. It’s important to demonstrate how your organization will continue to sustain the enhancements if awarded.
Prove return on investment.
Grantors also look for a cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate what their return on investment will be like.
Requests should ideally enhance operations, safety and efficiency; the trick is to showcase how this will impact your organization and its customers. It’s important to demonstrate ROI with service levels, funds, efficiencies and any other metric indicator you can use to make the case that this is a good investment of grant funds.
This is another area of the grant application where quantifiable data is essential, whether from internal sources or other agencies that have been successful with similar projects.
Make it easy to read.
Writing style and ease of reading is important. It can help you win—or lose—a grant.
Grant writing classes are one source of help. Ask organizations that have submitted successful grant applications to let you read them and learn from their successful approaches. Also consider asking these peers to read your draft grant application and provide helpful feedback.
Another, great way to learn about the grant process is by volunteering to be a grant peer reviewer. This provides insight as to the competition of applications and what the funding agency or peers are looking for in prioritizing how they award.
Remember, grant funding is finite and sought by what often seems like an infinite number of grant seekers, but following these tips can get you closer to the grant funding your department needs.
Good luck and get to work!
Todd LeDuc, CFO, CEM, FIFireE, is assistant fire chief for Broward County (Fla.) Sheriff Fire Rescue. He’s the Safety, Health & Survival Section board secretary and a member of the IAFC On Scene editorial advisory board. He’s been a member of the IAFC since 2004.