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Write Successful Grant Applications: Ten Steps for Fire-Service Grant Funding

Funding seems to be paramount in our thoughts as the fire service strives to serve our communities. The fiscal year 2013 Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) award proposal period closed last month, and we expect the FY 2014 Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG), Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) and FP&S grant application periods to take place later this year. So now's a good time to consider your funding needs and how to meet them.

Why Seek Grants

First responders can obtain funds to support emergency services through grants. There are federal grants through the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture. State homeland-security agencies also provide grant funding. Other sources are local foundations and businesses. These organizations want to improve their communities and are willing to support nonprofit organizations.

Some departments don't obtain the funding they need because they don't know what grants are available to them or where to go to find the information. Receiving a grant is only partly based on your need; the other reason you're awarded a grant is because your grant proposal is well written and submitted to the appropriate grant source by its deadline date. To successfully apply for grant funding:

  • Gather intelligence on where to find grants
  • Find early notification sources, so you have time to prepare
  • Have someone write your grant (use your own staff or hire a professional)

In the face of ever-increasing competition for grants, the challenge you face is how to secure grant funding while still responding to your already-full workload.

Ten-Step Plan to Successful Grant Writing

  1. Decide what your department needs and how much financing is required to meet those needs. Many grants look for teams, groups or more than one jurisdiction or discipline that will benefit from the money. For example, the AFG grants have a regional component.
  2. Locate the most appropriate funding sources and get a feel for their requirements by thoroughly reading the request for proposal (RFP) and application instructions or tutorials. These often contain key guidance to let you know specifics of what the sponsor is seeking to fund.
  3. Make note of the deadlines and the required delivery mode/method. 
  4. Assemble your grant writing team—no one works well in a vacuum. In many instances, several staff members will have the skills to contribute.
  5. Begin the process of organizing the proposal by drafting an outline. Be sure to stick to the outline or subtitles as directed in the RFP.
  6. Write your needs section first. This section should address the goals and objectives to meet your department's needs. Also, this section tells your department's needs story by addressing the three Ws: Who are you? What is your need? Why should you be funded? The key is to write a compelling argument as to why your needs fit the grant's goals, to provide all the paperwork and to answer all the questions the grant asks in the timeframe and format requested.
  7. Design the detailed budget. Be sure to incorporate all possible expenses that may be incurred in completing the project.
  8. Write your timeline; ensure it's realistic and account for any possible delays or roadblocks that could require additional time.
  9. Once the above steps are completed, compile the first draft of your proposal. Have someone outside your team read and review your grant proposal. It's important to have a neutral party review the proposal to ensure the main ideas are conveyed properly and that your message is consistent.
  10. Revise your proposal. This is a good point to check your grant proposal against the RFP's checklist. Again, you want to address all of the RFP's requirements. Finally, submit your proposal. Be sure not to miss the deadline and retain any proof of submission you have obtained.

If all of this seems a little overwhelming, you may want to consider hiring a professional grant writer who is familiar with the entire grant-writing process. This may be considered an up-front investment, but will yield a very worthwhile return if your organization is awarded a grant.

Resources, References and Research

Various federal agencies have grant programs that support national goals. First responders should look primarily—but certainly not solely—in the following departments for grants to support their needs: Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services. Those who combat wildland fires can find grants through the Department of Agriculture.

Grants such as the Assistance to Firefighter Grant (AFG) program have been developed, so that an informed member of your fire department can apply. Interested fire departments and unaffiliated EMS organizations may access applications, program guidance and resources through the AFG website.

Grants, of course, can come from many nonfederal sources as well. Always be open to explore grant possibilities from nonfederal sources that may indeed look to fund your department's needs. Your goal in all this is to match the funding needs of your project to the appropriate funding source.

Your entire grant writing process must be visited on a continual basis for possible improvements. Your past successes or failures at receiving grants don't dictate how well you'll fare in the future. It is always a best practice to reanalyze your processes to ensure the most positive outcomes possible. Hopefully the steps and tips outlined above will be of value along the way.

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