Grant Applications Struggles: How to Describe Your Department and Area Coverage

All fire department grant applications are trying to elicit the same information from the applicant. The grantor wants to know:

  • Who are you?
  • Where are you located?
  • What is your project?
  • Why can’t you fund it with your own funds?
  • What will change if you are funded?
  • How will you evaluate the success of your project?

It’s pretty straightforward: They need to get a sense of the applicants’ needs so they can best allocate funds.

Explaining Your Department and Community – Talking vs. Writing

If you’re like me, when you see someone wearing a firefighter T-shirt, I always become curious. Many a time I have walked up to the individual and introduced myself. The conversation usually goes to where we are located, how many alarms we run, how many firefighters each department has and what apparatus each one has. Then we talk about the size of our coverage area and how many people we serve. We may discuss critical infrastructure in our areas and, of course, we must discuss some of the best calls we have run.

Remember, your description of your community and department doesn’t have to be some great literary work. It just needs to accurately depict your situation.

What are we doing? Yes, we are introducing ourselves to each other, but we are also describing our department and the community we serve. We are answering one of the introductory questions on 99% of all grant applications.

Now take that same person and put him in front of a computer, with the questions about department and community appearing on a grant application, and they freeze and don’t know what to put in that space. They may type in a few lines and look at the character count and think, “Wow, I still have 3,823 characters. What am I going to write about my town and department?”

Find the Words by Focusing on the Basics

The best thing you can do is think about that casual encounter you have with another firefighter and what you would tell them. It really is the same thing, only the application isn’t going to talk back to you and ask you questions. You are introducing your department and your community to a group of reviewers who know nothing about you and are anxious to learn more.

Remember, your description of your community and department doesn’t have to be some great literary work. It just needs to accurately depict your situation.

Here are some questions to help you develop this narrative:

  • Where are you physically located? It is always good to give the reviewer a reference point that the reviewer might be familiar with, such as, “Our department is located 90 miles east of Omaha.”
  • How large is your coverage area?
  • What is the permeant residential population of your area? If your area attracts tourists or its population increases during business, you should also include this type of data.
  • How many firefighters do you have?
  • What apparatus do you have?
  • How many alarms do you answer?
  • Do you protect critical infrastructure?

These questions should give you an idea of the type of information that you should include in a description of your community and department. The nice thing is that because most applications ask for this information you can save it, update as new information becomes available, and use it over and over on different applications in the future.

Jerry Brant

Jerry Brant is a senior grant consultant and grant writer with FireGrantsHelp and EMSGrantsHelp. He has 46 years of experience as a volunteer firefighter in west-central Pennsylvania. He is a life member of the Hope Fire Company of Northern Cambria, where he served as chief for 15 years. He is an active member and safety officer of the Patton Fire Company 1. In 2003, he was awarded a James A Johnson Fellowship by the FannieMae Foundation for his accomplishments in community development. In 2019, he was honored with the Leroy C Focht Sr. Memorial Award from the Central District Volunteer Fireman's Association. He has successfully written more than $70 million in grant applications.

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