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How fire, EMS can win grant funding from foundations

Make your grant application stand out from the pack and secure foundation funding for your EMS organization or fire department


Many people think getting a foundation grant is easy; you submit an application and you get the money. Though that does happen, it’s the exception to the rule. I find in my work with fire and EMS departments that they often don’t understand, or even realize, the importance of developing a relationship with the people at a foundation.

Those of us who have been fundraising for more years than we care to count use two analogies to explain this process: farming and dating. You can’t just throw seeds on the ground and expect they will yield a productive crop. The farmer prepares the ground before planting the seeds, fertilizes the ground (organically hopefully), removes the weeds, and waters the plants as they grow. This should lead to a bountiful harvest.

You also shouldn’t propose marriage on the first date. If you’re interested in another person, you spend time with them and get to know them; their personality traits, their habits (both good and bad), and your compatibility with them. They also take this time to get to know you. You will soon learn if this will result in a positive and productive relationship. In both cases, you must make an effort to achieve the desired results.

The grant application cycle

In the grant world, the rule of thumb is that it can take up to three application cycles for a foundation to consider your organization if you have not built a relationship with them. Foundations do not decide who gets funded.

The people associated with them, program officers, board members or the review team, impact those decisions. The relationship you build with the people at the foundation directly affects your likelihood of success. Likewise, foundations don’t fund you because of your organization. They fund you because of the people you serve and how you help them.

The key point is to build the relationship and maintain professional communications with the people who influence the funding decisions. This is especially true for new and small organizations and those that have not pursued grants before, as they may not have measurable outcomes or a track record to prove they are worthy of receiving funds.

Foundations receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applications each year. If they don’t have a name or a face to associate with your organization, you probably will not get a decent score or serious consideration, no matter how worthy your cause is or how dire the situation in which you find yourself.

Research grant foundations

Before you contact a foundation, you need to find out as much as you can about them. Research the answers to these questions:

  • Who is the correct person to contact?
  • Do they fund what you do or the programs for which you want funding?
  • Who have they funded in the past?
  • Do they fund the same organizations year after year or do their grant recipients change each year?

In my experience, most foundations that have professional staff (program officers) are willing to talk with you about your needs and how you fit into their funding priorities. If you don’t fit into their priorities, you just saved them the time of reading an application that does not stand a chance of getting funded.

If you do fit into their priorities, they can start learning about you and who you serve. That is part of their job. If you ask, they will usually tell you what you need to do to prepare a competitive application. Listen to their advice.

Building relationships takes time and effort, but this work is worth the investment when you get a grant. You must continue this relationship building whether you get a grant or not. If you get the grant, you need to thank the foundation quickly and frequently.

If you don’t get the grant, you still need to thank the foundation quickly for considering your application. Ask for feedback on what they liked/didn’t like about your application and for advice on how you can improve your request for the next time.

Taking the time and making the effort to build a positive relationship with foundations goes a long way toward achieving grant success.

About the author
Mark is Grant Professional Certified (GPC), through the Grant Professional Certification Institute, and is a member of the Grant Professionals Association. He has been a full-time grant professional since August 2006 and has more than 19 years of experience identifying and securing grant funding. He has been a grant consultant since January 2012. 

He has written 160 successful grant proposals, totaling more than $37.7 million and reviewed/edited 15 successful proposals totaling more than $17.03 million. He averages 11 successful grants per year and more than $3.8 million per year in grant funding. He has achieved 61 successful health and health care-focused grants, totaling more than $25.18 million, for hospitals, safety-net clinics, and fire/EMS departments. Contact Mark by email at mark.dunlap@emsgrantshelp.com.

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