Finding The $ To Make The Small Fire Department Work – Part 2

Steve Meyer continues his focus on funding with ideas for maximizing resources.


In the May issue our focus on the financial aspects of small fire department management dealt with Budgeting Basics, Seeking Assistance, Alternative Funding and Creative Financing. We established a cadre of options available to small fire departments to help keep a small fire department afloat and...


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In the May issue our focus on the financial aspects of small fire department management dealt with Budgeting Basics, Seeking Assistance, Alternative Funding and Creative Financing. We established a cadre of options available to small fire departments to help keep a small fire department afloat and on a progressive path.

Successful financing in this day and age goes far beyond fundraisers, grants and being able to manage a budget. In this issue we dig deeper into the soul of small fire department finances by discussing three conceptual realms applicable to small fire department financing: Lobbying, Marketing and Customer Service, and Leadership as it applies to money matters.

Lobbying

Just stating, "We need a new engine because the old one is 40 years old," won't cut it with today's taxpayer or governing body official. Call it kissing-up or whatever you want, having influence to get the things your department needs means you've got to be part lobbyist.

How do you lobby? If it's public officials you're working on, first understand what motivates them: public service, ego and re-election. So, "stroke 'em." Tell them and the public when they do good, for certain when they've done something good for the department. Go beyond that, give them kudos for things not even connected with the fire department. You'll show them you haven't got tunnel vision focused only on the fire department and you'll prove you're connected with the community as a whole, just as they are. That's the kind of broad-visioned leadership a public official wants to see.

The number-one rule of lobbying in a small community is understanding the local culture and the nuances of the personalities you've got to contend with. This is one thing that is easier to accomplish in a small community where you undoubtedly rub elbows with community leaders on a regular basis. Know the personal interests and persuasions of people you need to lobby and also know the things that tend to raise their ire. This will allow you to cater your approach to them in an appeasing way.

Make sure you maintain regular dialogue with public officials. Again, this is easier in small communities where everyone is your neighbor. Small-town politics, though, can present a formidable barrier. Lobbying does not mean you become political. In lobbying we are trying to build a consortium of support regardless of political stance.

In a small community lobbying public officials means you may have to drop by the local fix-it shop on occasion and pull up a chair by the woodstove to take part in the mayor's forum. The reality is that more of the decisions dictating community direction are made in these unofficial settings than at the monthly council or commissioners' meeting.

You have ample opportunity to lobby the public. Even in the smallest of communities people gather in everything from formal organizational activities to the knitting circle at Aunt B's. An annual visit to any local club or organization keeps the fire department fresh in the public eye. Presentations to groups are an opportunity to market the fire department and conduct some customer service. Avoid overly emphasizing the department's needs, unless something has reached a crisis situation. Sandwich needs between reports about department accomplishments and personal fire and safety needs of the particular group you are addressing.

Some tips to keep in mind when lobbying:

  • Know what you're talking about-be thoroughly prepared.
  • Show that you're realistic and fiscally responsible.
  • Give people a reason to say yes.
  • Show how your idea would be good for community residents and show how it fits into the community's plan.
  • Show that the benefits of your proposal clearly out weigh the cost.
  • Present them with convincing justification in black and white.
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