March 02, 2022 9 min read
Police and first responder grants can provide critical support for your agency’s projects and programs. But grant money can be tough to win: Most applicants don’t state their goals clearly enough, and those that do still might not convince grantors that their work is the most worthy.
Hard Head Veterans has put together need-to-know tips on grant-writing to help agencies get the best shot possible at securing critical funding for training, hiring, or equipment like SWAT helmets. This guide covers:
Let’s start with the basics: Most grants are competitive. While there are instances where a third party will provide your organization with money as long as you check the right boxes, most public entities aren’t exactly swimming in cash. And most grantors don’t have enough money to fund every request they receive. Thus, both public and private organizations typically create competitive processes to decide who gets the resources.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers hundreds of millions of dollars in first responder grants annually, emphasizes that suitable applications provide compelling answers to some essential questions:
Members of local police departments have joined with the FBI to train for situations requiring interagency communication. What will your program or grant do—and how will it leave your organization and the community better off? Image source:AFSCP
Your first objective is to show need; your second is to show fit. It’s better to find funding for an excellent idea than to come up with a proposal simply because funds become available. You’ll save significant time by skipping grants that weren’t created with projects like yours in mind.
Further, it’s essential to get a feel for more than a grantor’s bare-bones requirements. Take a look at previous award-winners for the grant you’re seeking, and ask: Are there things they seem to want but haven’t said aloud? Are there specific kinds of programs, people, proposals, or organizations that tend to win?
Finally, inspire confidence. You’ll want to write a proposal that’s compelling, easy to read, and makes your plan look especially promising. Show grantors that everyone involved—from members of your leadership team to those responsible for implementing resources—can make your proposal a reality. Match the scope of the project to your capabilities, demonstrating that you’ll manage a grantor’s funds well.
Applications for first responder and police officer grants are often complex. But while it’s critical to follow grantors’ instructions to the letter, it’s just as important to answer their questions in a way that’s persuasive.
So, write clearly. Simply. Make your proposal enjoyable to read.
While some grants are highly specialized and call for technical language, a good rule of thumb is to write so that a general audience (mom, dad, friends, etc.) can understand and appreciatethe importance of your work.
To illustrate this, let’s look at a crucial section in many first responder grants: the problem or need statement. It’s typically short—just a page or two—and allows readers to understand your organization, your community, and the problems your program aims to solve. Here’s an excerpt from a sample template written by the Laerdal Medical Corporation, a provider of life-saving equipment:
“The town of Zenith is located in Pinnacle County (population 254,300), which is in the hill country of [a fictional state]… The population of Zenith is older than average, with a high percentage of retired people living on fixed incomes. This causes the city council to be reluctant to raise taxes. In fact, taxes have not been raised in fifteen years."
The situation is clearly described, setting up the problem: how can first responders continue to protect a town that isn’t investing in their work?
‘Zenith FD’ has an answer: Instead of struggling to hire already-trained personnel on a shoestring budget, they’ll use grant money to train new recruits for departments throughout their cash-strapped region. “[D]epartments in our part of the state will be able to obtain training at reduced cost, enabling them to increase spending in other areas such as salaries. The ultimate benefit is, of course, an increased ability to save lives.”
Los Angeles, CA received money from Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant program—and used to answer the city’s 1,300 daily emergency calls with support for four new fire engines. Image source:LAFD via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The need is clear. The solution is thoughtful and cost-effective. The ultimate impact is saving lives, not just getting money or training resources. And every element is connected by clear, concise writing.
While some sections of an application aren’t as easy to make compelling, like a line-item budget, most grantors are grateful for applications that make it easy to understand what’s at stake and why.
You’ll find that grants usually have at least three parts: A form, a cover letter, and the proposal. The form often contains basic information about you and your organization, along with the grantor’s instructions. Meanwhile, the cover letter provides your most concise chance to get a reviewer’s attention. In roughly one page, you’ll introduce your organization, proposal, some reasons you expect to succeed, and describe how to get in touch.
Regarding the proposal itself: If the grant calls for a specific structure—and it usually will—that’s the one to use. (You can borrow from your other grant applications, but don’t copy them wholesale.) While the required elements vary, most will call for something like the following:
Funding sources vary, but, in general, first responders can either seek grants from public entities (federal, state, and local governments) or private ones, typically through a foundation.
Federal programs may provide money to state governments rather than disbursing them directly to first responders: These are called block grants. To get them, you’ll need to apply with the agency in your state that administers the funds. Discretionary funding, on the other hand, provides that money to applicants without using the states as middlemen.
Private foundationstypically rely on investment funds from wealthy individuals or corporations, while public foundations gather resources through public donations. In both cases, it’s essential to study their grant-making history and get in touch with someone who can tell you about the types of programs they prefer to support.
Federal funds during the coronavirus pandemic helped FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program provide personal protective equipment to first responders. Image source:City of Pharr
Below, we’ve included a short list of public and private first responder and police officer grants, with an emphasis on those that support purchases of equipment like first responders’ protective gear. We’ve also provided resources that can help you find an organization that might be interested in your program. As you’re reading through it, ask the following questions:
Workforce shortages have left first responders throughout the nation at a major disadvantage. More than 40% of fire stations are at least four decades old, requiring tens of billions of dollars in improvements, and departments throughout the nation remain chronically underfunded. In addition, many local law enforcement agencies lack sufficient resources and “are faced with tough decisions every day to ensure their communities are protected.”
In short, more and more police, fire, and medical organizations need a hand. And first responder grants offer a good way to help fill local funding shortages.
They’re no walk in the park, though. Start early, get deadlines on your calendar, and recruit a team of people who can give you feedback (and help) throughout the process. And as you write, remember to keep your reader’s interest front and center by:
And for more on personal protective equipment—like the bump and ballistic helmets we’re known for—be sure to bookmark the Hard Head Veterans blog.