Grant funding: 5 networking steps for fire, EMS leaders

Nurtured connections in the grant funding organizations are advocates for fire and EMS proposals

In a society that is flooded with email, text messaging and tweets, forming strong relationships with grant makers can be the difference between funding your initiative or cutting it due to your continuously decreasing budget. Relationship currency can be the most vital strength for a grant proposal.

Cultivating relationships with funding agencies can lead to having an advocate during the grant review process, opportunities to learn about shifting funding priorities and funding focus. EMS and fire departments are critical to community infrastructure and need to grow roots with local community foundations to continue to expand our services to the community. 

As your grant funding needs increase, so must your investments in relationships. Here are five ways to build relationships:

1. Research your potential funding source

When looking to fund your initiative, you should be researching potential funding sources. The right source should be a grant maker that shares common goals and has established funding priorities that align with your project. Funders who support public safety, health care and community outreach are good starting points for EMS and fire agencies.

Demonstrating how your mission statement and core values align with the foundation’s fosters a strong relationship. Background research on the organization’s website and speaking with past grant recipients can provide this information.

2. Prepare an elevator pitch

You may only have two minutes with a potential funder, make them count. The art of communicating your mission, vision and project’s goals clearly and concisely in less than two minutes is one that needs to be practiced.

A good elevator pitch addresses the problem you are solving, the target population and why your agency is the most equipped to succeed in solving this problem. Use the unique attributes that set your organization apart from the crowd. EMS has some of the most passionate and dedicated people within its ranks. Recognize and nurture front-line personnel and supervisors and harness their passion into professional advocacy.  

3. Contact your potential grant funding source prior to applying

While some funders are very clear on their applications or websites that they do not accept phone calls (most often due to call volume), if there is a contact person listed in the application instructions, do not hesitate to call.

Read through the grant application materials and the organization's website thoroughly to prepare questions prior to making contact. Grant makers often provide informational sessions that create the opportunities for one-on-one introduction, vital information about the upcoming grant cycle and the potential to pick up tips from other grant applicants.

4. Use your existing network

Every agency has that person who knows everyone. Likewise, most private foundations have board members or a local leadership team who review and allocate funds. We are all a few degrees of separation from one another, so it is not uncommon to already have an existing relationship with a grant making organization.

Take advantage of your social connections to grow strong bonds through simple yet impactful interactions such as meeting over coffee or touring your ambulance.

5. Always be networking for grant funding

Get involved in your local community, attend Chamber of Commerce meetings and other events. If you are active in professional groups, organizational meetings, committees and community affairs related to your cause, this can yield the best relationship dividends. Other opportunities for networking can be found through attending corporate and private foundation events.

Finally, if your grant application is not funded, do not give up. Take the dejection as an opportunity for growth. Approach the grant maker, asking for feedback on your proposal and what you can do in the future to strengthen your application. Seeking an honest evaluation of your application can cultivate a positive experience with the grant maker and will most likely be remembered the next time you apply.

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