Creative Thinking for Alternative Funding

Public Safety Grant News and Tips by, Kurt Bradley, Certified Grants Consultant

When public safety agencies go in search of grant money for specific projects or equipment, they often give up out of frustration. A desperate search for funding for that critical need often leads to grants whose deadlines have already passed, discontinued grant programs, or no grants for these items at all. But things are not what they seem. Funding is out there. You just have to apply some creative thinking, a strategy I call “alternative funding.”

Using this method can mean the difference between going without, or being a resourceful and innovative thinker who obtains that funding you and your agency so desperately need. Here’s how it works.

Think Training Aid, Not Equipment

One of the areas of grant funding that is historically overlooked is the abundance of money available for training. In the world of public safety there is a huge emphasis placed on continuing education, maintaining advanced or basic certifications and the time proven methodology that training leads to safer operations and injury reduction for employees.

What the experienced grant writer needs to recognize is that this emphasis on training can be capitalized on for multiple benefits to your agency.

In most comprehensive training programs for public safety agencies there is “hands-on” training utilizing the tools or equipment needed to properly perform the task. If you do not have the equipment needed to conduct the proper training then in many cases you can acquire that equipment as “training props” which are needed to accomplish the training. Once the training is accomplished the equipment does not require that it be put in a box and stored in a closet till the next class, use it for what you need.

Let’s Be Reasonable Here

Now we have to be reasonable about this in that you cannot acquire a new aerial for your fire department just to teach an “aerial operations” course or gain a new police squad car just to teach” pursuit driving skills”.

However, obtaining a couple of AEDs to coincide with your Citizen CPR classes or a set of night-vision goggles to teach “low-light tactical operations” is not unreasonable. You can make these courses especially appealing if you broaden your scope to include conducting the courses several times in a year and offering attendance to outside agencies as well.

Creative thinking such as this is exactly what can help you find alternative ways to get the funding you need.

Remember: the ultimate goal is to arrive at the destination. However, there are always alternative routes by which to arrive at that same destination.

Photo: Craig Howell

Why Are You Not Applying for Grants?

Public Safety Grant News and Tips by Kurt Bradley, Certified Grants Consultant

Over $68 billion dollars in grant funding is available every year for public safety agencies. It never ceases to amaze me that I am continually told “we don’t have any money in our budget for equipment, staffing or training.” My follow-up question is always “Did you apply for any grants this year?” The usual response is “No.”

Why is that?

The most common reason for this response is “procrastination.” I have heard every excuse you can possibly imagine as to why a department did not apply for the grant:

  • “I didn’t know about that grant opportunity”
  • “We were just too busy that month”
  • “Darn, I forgot about it” (my favorite)

Really? Seriously? That is about as lame of a response as the City Manager telling you he forgot to do the payroll that week!

You have to have the tools to the job

If you don’t have the proper tools to do the job, how can you do the job? Equipment is just as important as manpower. You can’t have one without the other. A local governing board might try to make you think that you can, as we have all experienced before, but the one goes hand-in-hand with the other in public safety work.

It is your responsibility to watch out for the safety of your employees and the safety of your community. In order to do this, you should always have in the forefront of your mind: “Where am I going to get the funding to supply these things?”

If you turn a blind eye to those issues or expect that you can just let the local governing boards handle these problems as they occur, then you are in for a rude awakening. The financial health of your department is crucial to the ability to perform your mission and to ensure the safety of your employees and citizens.

One tool in the toolbox

Grants are but one tool in your toolbox of resources that you should make maximum use of every year. As I have said before, and will no doubt continue to say, “Grants are like the lottery. If you don’t play, you cannot win.” Playing the game means finding and applying for the programs that are there.

Learning how to get in this game and be an effective player is critical. Education of someone within your department, regarding how to properly research, find and apply for these grants is not something that should be continually placed on the “back-burner”.

So what is it that you, as a department, should be doing to make sure that you are on this team and playing effectively?

  • Become “grant savvy” and get educated about how to research, develop and apply to grant programs that are available
  • Know what resources are available to you to assist you in pursuing funding
  • Apply for the grant programs that are out there and that you are eligible for yearly
  • Keep proper statistical data about your department and your community
  • Stay current with NIMS
  • Know your area of response and what is in it
  • Stay informed on what’s happening in grants and your industry
  • Recognize that you must form a nexus between your needs and those of the funding source
  • Understand how to properly position your budget so that you can take maximum advantage of the grants

$68 billion in grant funding available… but are you going to try for a slice?

Let me say it again: from the federal to local levels, or from non-profit and corporate sources, over $68 billion in grants is available every year. Out of such a large pool of grant funding available, there are grants out there that can help you to obtain the equipment and training your department needs.

But the only way you’ll ever get that funding is if you apply. So what’s it going to be? Will this year be another year where you don’t apply for grants? Or will this year be the year you “get off the bench and get in the game”?

Photo: David Beyer

VFDs and the TEAM Sport of Grantsmanship

Public Safety Grant News and Tips by Kurt Bradley, Certified Grants Consultant

Photo - Elvert Barnes -

In the current economic climate, Volunteer Fire Departments (VFDs) are besieged by budget and equipment problems. VFDs across the country are struggling to maintain adequate funding. While some are applying for grants to bridge shortfalls or procure needed equipment, their grant applications often miss the mark.

Taking the Time

Grant writing is not something to be undertaken with a hurried or rushed attitude. The vast majority of us do not devote ourselves to locating funding for our operational needs with the needed frequency to stay current or on top of the grants game. That being said, it should also be understood that, of all the fire departments nationwide, VFDs are probably some of the neediest in accessing and receiving federal grant funding.

Developing a successful grant requires effort, time and commitment. It is not something that can be done in a day or two. It requires a lot of research, gathering of statistical data and, above all, coordination of efforts within the agency and local government.

State Your Need and Know What the RFP Requests

All grant programs have stated goals and objectives that must be met. The grants are not there for a needy agency to simply say “I am poor, please give me money.” Most grants fail because the grant application was rushed, not properly thought out, poorly written and merely request funding without stating the proper justification for why the funding is needed. Yes, I know most of you are not English majors or literary geniuses. The simple fact is though that you do not have to be.

The RFPs (Requests For Proposals) clearly spells out the information needed, the type of programs or equipment that is eligible to be funded, and the order and type of information that should be presented. It’s the rule book for the game and everything you need to know about writing a winning application from that funding source is located right there in that document, if you know what you are reading.

The problem area that most of you run into is that you have not previously thought out exactly what it is that your agency needs most. This is why, in any successful grant strategy, a “needs assessment” is performed within your agency to determine what your most needy area is.

Use a TEAM Needs Assessment to Establish What to Request in a Grant

First and foremost you need to understand that there is a huge difference between a “need” and a “want”. This is where many heads are better than one. Get your organization together and brainstorm the issues and challenges your department faces, and what equipment or funding you need to deal with those problems.

As administrators within public safety agencies we tend to develop individual plans of what we perceive to be the most serious problems in our departments. We get tunnel vision, when in reality, the actual problem may be something that is staring us right in the face. By encouraging an open, roundtable discussion with your members, you will be surprised that what you may perceive as a problem, may not be the same as what the other members see.

This is why a discussion group is warranted to reach consensus on what issue to address and develop a plan of action to deal with the problem.

It is the collaboration of ideas that encourages and fosters a new approach and develops new and innovative methods to deal with these problems. Many eyes see many things. Use this to your advantage. At the end of a needs assessment exercise, you should have reached a consensus amongst your members as to what direction the department needs to proceed in, and formulated a plan to address these needs. Now you can focus everyone’s attention on the one goal.

Remember: a TEAM concept is what you are striving for here:


From TEAM to Interoperability

Now that you have done this within your VFD, expand this thinking and “TEAMwork” to your mutual aid departments surrounding you.

Why do this? Bear in mind that FEMA and DHS encourage “interoperability” among agencies, as in NIMS compliance.

Including interoperability in your grant applications will garner you much higher scores during review. So, encourage a roundtable discussion of what each department is applying for. This avoids duplication of effort, shows that what you are doing is in concert with the efforts of the mutual aid interests that you also serve. Protecting your turf is not a strategy that should be encouraged. Cooperative, coordinated effort is the ticket for the grants being offered in this day and age.

Developing a grants strategy and grants team is one way to maximize your efforts in planning, developing, applying for and receiving the grant funding you so desperately need to continue your missions. For VFDs, working as a TEAM both for a department’s members and for departments in an area or region, is a surefire way to produce stronger grant applications and get past budget shortfalls.

Photo: Elvert Barnes