All About the Justification
Grants have surely changed over the past twenty to thirty years. Unfortunately, I hear more and more people that address grants in their former life instead of the way in which they work today. It is important to know the differences as this can make or break your grant proposal.
No More Shiny Widgets
Years ago, you would go to a conference or find some new “Shiny Widget” (my term for the newest item on the block for the fire service at a certain point in time). You would decide that you did not want to spend money from your budget for this shiny widget and would look for a grant. There would be a handful of grants that you would look at and choose one. A proposal would be written for that shiny widget by telling them that this was a neat and new item and you wanted it. There was a fair chance you would get the grant.
There was little reason to explain why you needed this widget or anything else. You just wanted it. Funding for grants was decent. Unfortunately, this is not the case anymore.
Today, we must be vigilant to justify why we need this shiny new widget. Grant funders want to know that you have a need to justify your request. In other words, they do not want to give you money to buy something just because you want it. So how do we do this?
We need to maintain statistics for our services. We use the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) for the calls we run. This is a great start. However, we need to make sure that we are reporting our calls properly. For example, if we respond to a fire on a stove, it should be classified as a fire and not a smoke investigation. Yes, we will have a few less pieces of information to fill out but it also affects what our true response rates are. So, make sure that those who are responsible in inputting this data are on the same page and understand your expectations in the data input into the system.
In addition, ensure that you are getting credit for what your department does. If you get a report of a tree down and you have to go remove it, start a run number and times. We are a service organization and that is a call for service. If you are going to stand by at a local elementary school while they run a fire drill, then start run number and times. We must advocate for ourselves by showing what we do. Remember, if it isn’t written down, then it didn’t happen.
Finally, find if there are other statistics that we need to keep up with that are not included in the NFIRS reporting. Find methodologies that work for your department in keeping up with this data.
We then use this data (statistics) for proving that we have a problem (e.g. increasing cooking-related fires). This allows you to show a solution for this problem (e.g. purchasing fire prevention tools) using data that the vendors normally have. This leads to the ability for you to show what your objectives are for the project (e.g. reducing cooking-related fires by 10% per year for the next three years). This will provide a lot of justification for what you are asking to accomplish through the grant request.