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Let's Talk Fire: Alternitive Funding Sources

Updated on December 21, 2015

Times have been hard for awhile

Times Are Bad

Never before as the need to find an alternative source of funding been such a pressing issue in the fire service, particularly the volunteer portion.Firefighting training is becoming more and more expensive and even wildland firefighting has been hit by budget cuts. In today's struggling economy departments are struggling to keep their heads above water. There was a point when a grant would save the day but in the growing uncertainty of the economical crisis we are facing that method is just not reliable. There are still grants available for fire departments but with more and more departments suffering the sting of financial burden there are more people applying for the grants. This means your chances of getting the grant are getting lower and lower.

On the same notes many grants have increased the match they require. A match is a percentage of money the department must bring to the grant. If you have a 50% match on a $10,000.00 grant you must have $5,000.00. This creates a growing concern as most departments who apply for grants just don't have the financial backing to shell out that percent of cash. As a seasoned grant writer I can assure you the grant game has changed dramatically over the years. Less and less grants exist and I don't foresee it getting any better.

We still need to apply for grants but we need to open up to other opportunities that may exist to provide stable funding.

Going store to store may seem childish but it can yield great results.
Going store to store may seem childish but it can yield great results.

What A Donation Letter Should Include

  1. Department Letterhead
  2. It should be signed by the administrative staff
  3. The letter should for casual and not filled with firefighter jargon
  4. Let the donor know what they are donating for

Hitting The Store Front

If your community is like mine than you have at least a basic relationship with local businesses and their owners. It is important to create these kinds of bonds. One great way to get some funding is to simply go to these store owners and ask for a donation. It may surprise you at how willing some may be to give to a fire department.

Going store to store may seem a bit girl scout but it could provide some supplementary funds. The best way to do this is type up a nice donation request letter and present it to the owner of the establishment. This letter should tell the person or persons what it is you intend to spend the money they give you on. People who donate like to have a grasp on where their hard cash is going to wind up, and that is rightfully so. This Letter should be on the department letterhead and should include the signatures of both the chief and assistant chief of the department.

Remember that the financial crisis has hit everyone so some businesses may not be able to make a donation. Never hold hard feelings to those who do not donate. The ones that do should be made to feel important. Send a nice thank you card signed by all the firefighters who will benefit from a donation. People enjoy knowing they made a difference. Be courteous and friendly at all times. You are not just making an attempt at a donation, you are representing your department and creating a relationship with someone you have sworn to protect.

Firefighters have been urging people to fill the boot for ages now.
Firefighters have been urging people to fill the boot for ages now.

Fill The Boots Work

The Road Block

I am sure you have seen veterans, shriners, or maybe even the occasional motorcycle gang setting up at an intersection or along the road to take up donations for some worthy cause. Fire departments also utilize this tactic and some have great success with it. My department uses coffee cans but a lot of firefighter use a boot and simply ask patrons to fill the boot. It is a productive way to not only get funding but to meet the people in your community.

The key to a roadblock is perseverance. People just don't have the extra money to write you a fat check but a dollar here and there won't hurt. Some people even clear out the change they have accumulated in their cars to help the fire department out. That change quickly adds up and before long you are rolling in the dough.

The roadblock is a very easy way to raise money but you need to follow some rules. Do it on a weekend at a high trafficked area. You want to have as many cars to cross your path as possible. Always start early. If you get people going to work you may luck in. My department sets up close to a Dollar General. People are more than happy to drop the loose change from their previous purchase right into our bucket.

I like to stress that you must have a friendly demeanor when you do a roadblock. Smile, wave and always ne friendly. People are much more likely to give to a smiling face than a grimace. I like the roadblock for the money but it also serves to bring your department closer together. While every station has it's fair share of could care lessees and they won't be there, the ones who do show have a change to bond and get to know each other a little better.

My department does a few roadblocks a year and we generally have a blast. We make good money and we get a lot of chances to talk with people but the key is we talk with each other. I am often reminded of just how good it feels to be a part of such a team of individuals at the roadblocks we do.

SOLD!!! Auction Time

Running an auction can generate funds but it takes hard work. You have to locate someone who wants to sell items at your department. That is a tricky thing to do. Once you have that someone you need to set a commission that is not going to take to much money away from them. My department does 10% on all sales. This is usually the standard. I advise you to check the person or persons who want to sell at your auction and verify that the products thay endorse are of good quality. If they sell junk it will reflect on your department.

Auctions are tricky as you have to get people in the seats. Flyers are the best bet but you have to be smart about how you do them. I like to use a list of items I know the seller will bring. Our auction is gifted with an amazing seller who happens to be my uncle so it is not to hard to contact him and ask what items he has for the auction block.

List these items on your flyer and let people know just what they will have the opportunity to buy if they come. Hats, purses, and toys seem to draw the biggest audiences in my experience and those types of items generate really good profits for both the department and the individual who is selling his items.

An auction also presents the department with the chance to sell concessions which are almost always a good money making venture. Hotdogs, candy and soda will bring in cash in a hurry. Be wise with this stuff. Don't hock a can of soda for a buck when you can sell it for half that cost and still turn an acceptable profit. People will buy more of a moderately priced item than they will something that is out of realistic range.

Auctions can be fun and profitable but you have to be wise and watch how you handle every aspect.

The zombie walk is proving itself to be a great fundraising tactic although it isn't for everybody!
The zombie walk is proving itself to be a great fundraising tactic although it isn't for everybody!

Other Sources

Some departments do well with selling dinners or breakfasts, and some do well with raffle tickets. The biggest problem with these attractions are you present your fire department with a chance to actually lose money. You have to buy the stuff to make these events happen and there is never a guarantee you will make your money back yet alone a profit so tread lightly in these areas. There is money to be made but you have to advertise the right way and keep everything priced in a way that makes it appealing and affordable but still profitable for your organization.

As far as raffles go we have learned a trick here that has done wonders for profits. People pay $1.00 for a ticket. This concerns them because they feel they have little to no chance of winning the raffled item. We have started giving 4 tickets for $1.00. The people seem to feel more at ease with that. The reality is the odds are still the same because everyone is getting 4 tickets. It is a simple yet affective way to work the crowd.

I like to suggest bake sales at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart will match what you make so a $100.00 sale will net you $200.00. This is a great way to make some cash and in many cases I have seen the store actually give the fire departments a gift card that can be used in the store. This will cover cost of station necessities and free up money in the budget to go elsewhere.

The last method is one that is still in it's infancy. The zombie walk has grown to astronomical heights in popularity. Simply you dress up like a zombie and walk the streets. People see this and ask why. Now you tell them and hold up a bucket. Surprisingly I have heard of departments in small towns making hundreds of dollars doing this.

It isn't for everyone but it may work well for you and your department.


be creative with how you make money for your department. Still apply for every grant you can but realize with so many people applying the chances of getting that funding are lower and lower each day. When looking for ways to bring in funds you need to always look around your community. What resources do you have available? If you have a pool why not rent it and have a huge block party and invite people to attend for a dollar a head, or even let them in free and sell food and drinks. Pass a donation bucket around periodically through the event and you may be surprised at what you can make. Maybe you have a lot of bands in the area struggling to make it. Host a battle of the bands and charge an entry fee of $20.00. The winner of the battle gets half the proceeds and a shot at playing live at a future firefighting event.

These tactics really make for great guerrilla marketing and fund raising. I wish you the best of luck and until next time stay safe.


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