Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Lessons in Funding Emergency Services

Brian Vickers uses the characters of "The Wizard of Oz" to assist fire departments in tracking down new funding sources.


There have been numerous theories as to the underlying theme of the movie "The Wizard of Oz." I'm not here to debate any of those, certainly they weren't thinking of the issues surrounding the funding of emergency services that many years ago. But we can take away a few things from that movie to...


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The next step is a natural one; you should move up to the county, state, and federal levels government to see what programs are available from them in terms of direct financial assistance.

Grant Programs

There is no such thing as a grant program that will give you money for anything you want. Grant programs from any source are specific in who, what, where and when they will give money. No matter how hard you work, and how well you write a project proposal, if you are asking for money from an organization that deems you ineligible, you have wasted a lot of valuable time and probably numerous chances at other funding sources.

The first step should always be to qualify your organization against each program's eligibility lists. There are thousands of private foundation grant programs in the U.S., but each one has different purposes. None of these programs were created just because someone wanted to give away money. These programs were created to fulfill needs that the creators found and wanted to correct. You will have to read the program guidance documents carefully to ensure that your organization is qualified to apply. Once you have determined your eligibility, you will need to compare the various projects you want to complete against the program's purpose and what it will and will not fund. There should be contact information for an administrator in the documents, so if you have questions, don't make assumptions; get the answer directly from the source.

Some of the most damaging mistakes relating to private foundation grant programs have been to ask for the wrong item or for an item that is too costly. Most foundations will list their recent awards, so use this information to figure out what amount may be too much to ask for from that particular foundation. It is usually more fruitful to ask for smaller amounts from several organizations rather than large amounts from one or two.

Money certainly doesn't grow on trees, but when funding an emergency services operation, we sometimes have to get creative to reach our goals. It will take time, it will take effort and it will be a roller coaster of emotions along the way. While we can parallel the journey in "The Wizard of Oz," we have to realize that in the real world, there is no single yellow brick to follow and certainly no Wizard at the end to grant us all of our wishes. But if we keep the goal to get home at the end of each journey at the forefront of our minds, we will find a way to handle our funding issues.

Brian P. Vickers will present "Funding Emergency Services: Strategic Planning" and "Getting a Grip on Grants" at Firehouse World 2007, Feb. 25-March 1, in San Diego, CA.


BRIAN P. VICKERS, a freelance grant writer and fire service consultant, is an engineer/EMT with the Community Volunteer Fire Department in Houston, TX, where he previously was district captain and department training officer. He has a bachelor's degree in computer information systems management and is pursuing an MBA with a concentration in eBusiness. Vickers is employed full time as a senior programmer/analyst for Landata Systems Inc of Houston.