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A Method to the Madness

0301

For a first-time grant writer, the grant application process can be downright frustrating. Departments that have chosen not to pursue grant funding have often said frustration is the reason why they don’t apply. To simplify the process and take the frustration out of it, all you need are five simple steps. Before we reveal what those steps are, let’s get started with a brief discussion of the basics.

What are grants? “Grants” is a general term for the multitude of federal, state, local and corporate programs available to assist state and local governments, fire and EMS departments, and community-based organizations. This assistance can take many forms, including direct funding, loans, surplus government equipment and other resources. 

Grants are not simply “free money”; each individual grant program has strict prerequisites and eligibility requirements that must be satisfied by your organization. You must also consider that the number of funding requests usually far outweighs the available funds of a particular grant program. With this in mind, it’s important to recognize a considerable amount of research and planning will be essential in order to prepare and submit a strong application. 

Although the overall strength and completeness of your application will certainly increase your odds of success, sometimes even the strongest of applications fail to achieve funding. Disheartening as this may be, an attitude of unwavering persistence often pays off for those willing to live by the old adage: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Also keep in mind that you will have already performed much of the background research and developed important descriptive information that can be used in future grant applications.

How can grants benefit my department? It may surprise you that countless fire and EMS agencies choose not to pursue grant funding for department projects. Whether your department needs NFPA-compliant PPE, new apparatus, ALS equipment or funding to hire additional staff, grants can help bridge the gap between a budget shortfall and successfully funding your project. Most grant programs have specific eligibility requirements and are often intended to provide funding for a particular operational area of your department. Careful grant research will ensure your department’s project meets the grant program’s requirements.

Sounds good, but where do I begin? At first glance, the grant application process may seem quite difficult and confusing. But the articles in this supplement lay the foundation to understanding the process and set you on the path to grant success. Although no two grant programs are exactly alike, the “Five Steps to Grant Success” developed by FireGrantsHelp.com serves as a general blueprint for your approach to applying for a grant. Follow these five steps and you’ll be well on your way.

Step 1: Identify Projects & Budget 
The first and most obvious step is to identify and prioritize department projects that would benefit from grant funding. When considering potential projects for grant funding, give priority to those that will produce a quantifiable operational benefit. Be prepared to fully explain how the proposed project will enhance your department’s operations, and predict any potentially negative impact to your department’s operations if the project is not funded. 

Once your department has identified a particular project, you’ll need to determine the project’s cost and prepare a provisional budget. Your budget should include all costs associated with the project’s implementation, such as equipment, accessories and additional training that will be required.

Step 2: Find Available Grants
Once your project has been identified and a provisional budget has been drafted, it’s time to search for available grant opportunities. Use the FireGrantsHelp.com search engine to locate available grants. You can perform a search by category (federal, state or corporate) or by selecting your state on our interactive grant map to show available opportunities. Search results will provide a brief synopsis of the grant, as well as application periods, contact information, links to the grant homepage, and more. 

Step 3: Research Your Grant  
Now that you’ve located an available grant, it’s imperative that you completely research the opportunity so you fully comprehend all eligibility requirements, due dates, eligible activities, local cash match, etc. Take advantage of program-sponsored information sources and workshops. Most grant programs will provide applicants with thorough guidance documents and workshops, which can provide potential applicants with invaluable information about program eligibility requirements, eligible activities and deadlines. 

The most common reason why grant applications are denied is failure to follow the directions. When reviewing a grant’s guidance document, it will prove beneficial to seek out items characterized as “must do’s,” “should do’s,” and “could do’s.” Obviously, pay the most attention to the “must do’s”; these are the items that could cause immediate elimination if not precisely followed. They may include stipulations that your department must be either a non-profit or municipal-based fire department, or a non-affiliated EMS agency; that you must have a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number; or that you must comply with all NIMS and NFIRS requirements. To sort through these stipulations, the resources section on FireGrantsHelp.com provides more information on grant basics, research, references and tools.

Step 4: Write Your Narrative  
On to the most dreaded portion of the grant process—the narrative. Preparation is the key. Long before a grant’s application period nears, departments should gather information about where grant funds could be best utilized. Which areas would best improve your department’s ability to safely train, be equipped and respond? With preparation, you can confidently build a strong case for your department by explaining how new equipment, for example, will enhance your response capability. It may also be beneficial to explain how a lack of funding might negatively affect your department’s operations.

You should write your narrative in advance. By doing this, you can allow time for others to proofread and carefully review your draft prior to submitting your application, which is critical since you can’t make changes later. Narratives should be clear and concise, thoroughly explaining your department’s needs and how funding will enhance your department’s operations. Avoid preformatted grant narrative templates; your firsthand knowledge of your department’s operations will enable you to write a more persuasive narrative. For more on writing an effective narrative, see “Tell & Sell Your Story,” p. 12.

Step 5: Submit Your Application
You’ve come a long way, and now it’s time to prepare and submit your application. This is the time to verify and re-verify you’ve carefully followed the instructions, all information requested in the application is accurate, and you’ve had a third party proofread your grant narrative. 

Use online applications whenever possible. Many grant programs now offer the ability to apply online, which can dramatically simplify the application process. Online applications usually automatically prevent you from submitting an incomplete application. Once you submit an online application, you should receive an e-mail confirmation. No need to worry about your application packet getting lost in the mail!

FireGrantsHelp.com is your complete online resource for fire and EMS grants. If you’re ready to embark on this journey, let  FireGrantsHelp.com be your online guide. The expanded “Five Steps to Grant Success” on the Web site will steer you through the sometimes tedious process of collecting the information critical to nearly all grant opportunities, regardless of their origin. Follow these five easy steps and you’ll greatly improve your chance for success!

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