Tips for winning government grants
Successful recipients of grant monies share their tactics
By James Careless
EMS Product News
Whether your agency is large or small, career or volunteer, "We all have an obligation to pursue every single funding opportunity available to us," says Scott Dane of the City of Biwabik Fire Department (CBFD)-a group of 22 volunteers who protect residents in rural northeastern Minnesota. "That's why fire departments and EMS agencies must pursue government grants whenever possible."
Fortunately for residents in the CBFD's jurisdiction, the department has put its money where its mouth is. Actually, it is the Department of Homeland Security that has come up with the money, in response to the CBFD's applications to the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program.
"The department has received four AFG grants since 2001," says Dane. "These grants have funded new personal protective equipment (pants, coats, boots and helmets), a new fastattack CAFS vehicle and new self-contained breathing apparatus."
Given that there have been six funding cycles since 2001, the City of Biwabik Fire Department's record of successful applications is an astounding 67%! Clearly, the CBFD knows a thing or two about writing grant applications, as do other successful applicants, like the North Tongass Volunteer Fire Department (NTVFD) in Ketchikan, Alaska. You can read about what these and other departments bought with their DHS grants at www.firegrantsup-port.com/afg/stories/. Here they share their advice on writing winning grant applications.
First things first: "Granting agencies like DHS want to give away grants. Specifically, they are charged by Congress with distributing funds to achieve certain policy goals," says Andy Mitchell, director of operations for the DHS Office of Grants and Training. "It is our job to match these funds with qualified applicants who meet the criteria of our programs. We don't want to hold on to these funds, because not granting them works against Congress' intent."
So what tactics can help your grant application stand out among the 21 ,000 DHS receives annually-of which only 6,000-7,000 are approved by independent third-party evaluators? "The proposals that help multiple agencies catch DHS' attention," says Dane. "For instance, the CBFD belongs to a coalition of 17 first responder agencies, all of which help each other during mutual aid situations. What this means is that our fast-attack CAFS vehicle doesn't just help our residents, but citizens in the entire 17-agency territory. The same is true of all our DHS-funded equipment purchases."
"We certainly encourage proposals that provide benefits to multiple users," says Mitchell. "In fact, you get extra credit on your application for demonstrating that your department is collaborating and cooperating with other agencies to improve public safety."
A second tactic is to show that the grant will resolve a serious threat to public safety-one the community can't afford to address itself. This has been the case in Ketchikan, where the community was left without any form of fire protection following the closing of a privately subscribed service. "We've only got 3,500 residents here," says local EMS Lt. Jerry Kiffer. "There just wasn't the tax base to create a publicly funded volunteer fire department. That's the case we have made in our AFG grant applications; one that has apparently been well-received in Washington."
The proof of Kiffer's assessment is the NTVFD's record in getting AFG funding. Since the NTVFD was founded in 2004, AFG funds have paid for firefighters and EMS training, personal protective equipment, firefighting and rescue equipment and two station houses. "When we were founded three years ago, all we had was a rickety old desk and chair," says Kiffer. "This in a territory of 100 square miles that typically has 1 20 EMS and 40-50 fire calls a year. Today, we have 30 members and the ability to protect our community. We couldn't have done this without AFG funds."
A third attention-grabbing tactic is providing additional information you think the folks running the grant programs need to know.
"Besides all the other points in favor of our application, we noted that there is an explosives plant within our jurisdiction," says Dane. "Given the federal government's concerns about CBRN-related incidents, the risk of an explosion-related situation fit nicely with their criteria."
Based on their track record to date, the CBFD and NTFVD have good reason to have faith in their tips. But these departments will also tell you that, when it comes to writing successful grant applications, you have to cross the T's and dot the I's.
First: "You've got to read the criteria for the grant program and make sure that your proposal matches it, rather than trying to make the program fit your proposal," says Dane.
"Make sure you read all the forms and are applying to the right program," says DHS' Mitchell. "If you need help understanding them, contact us at www.firegrantsupport.com. We can't tell you how to win a grant, but we offer everyone help in understanding how the programs and application processes work."
Second, don't dash off a grant application at lunchtime, then act surprised when you get turned down. "You've got to do your homework when applying for grants," says Kiffer. "You've got to provide all the information the granting agency asks for, which means you have to research and compile it first. Then, in making your proposal, you have to document why the money you are requesting will help the grant program achieve its goals. This requires specific proof, including endorsements from other first responders in your community."
Third, make sure to fill out the grant application completely. As childish as this may sound, it is vital. "With 21,000 applications to go through in our competitive process, we do not have the time or resources to follow up on incomplete forms," says Mitchell. "Instead, you will receive a letter noting that your application was denied due to being incomplete, with an invitation to apply again next time."
The Waiting Game
Once you have submitted your application, the amount of time you'll wait for an answer depends on the program you have applied to. Check how long your wait time will be when you file your application.
If your grant application is approved, don't expect someone to turn up at your door with a bag of cash. When it comes to federal programs, DHS typically requires a bank account into which the money can deposited directly.
Once there, every withdrawal must be properly documented in your records. DHS grants are drawn from public funds and, as such, must be open to audit.
About the author
James Careless is a freelance journalist with extensive experience covering public-safety communications issues.
Assistance to Firefighters Program: http://www.firegrantsupport.com/
DHS and grants: http://www.dhs.gov/xfrstresp/
Grants.gov-the federal government's grants portal (all programs): www.grants.gov