"My fire chief thinks that asking people for money is begging."
The first time I saw this comment I realized how well it captured an opinion that many in the fire service seem to share, and I have to admit I understand it.
The work we do in the fire service is unique. The challenges, opportunities, risks and rewards are shared by no other volunteer opportunity. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that those of us that do the work are challenged by the idea that we also have to ask (read beg) people to support our work financially.
The community benefit of what we do is obvious? We impact lives every day, and we impact budgets. A 2010 report by the National Fire Protection Association estimates that the services provided by volunteer firefighters saves U.S. taxpayers $128 billion each year (The Total Cost of Fire in the United States, NFPA, March 2010).
So why aren’t sufficient funds provided? Even better, why isn’t the work we do over- funded? Put simply, if not a little over dramatically, isn’t it enough that I’m willing to put my life at risk for you – do I really need to beg you for the money I need to do it?
Again, I understand the sentiment – but I can’t agree with it – and for the safety and financial health of your department I hope you don’t either.
Our fiscal environment is changing. Does anyone really look at the fiscal challenges at the state and federal level and not think that fire department budgets are going to be seriously impacted? Yet the vast majority continue to conduct fundraisers the same way we have for years and years.
Accordingly to the NFPA, most departments rely on fundraising for 15% or more of their department budgets. So the reality is that we are all doing it – we’re all selling raffle tickets, flipping pancakes, organizing events. But for many, the results just aren’t keeping up with the need.
So is it time to beg? No, but it is time for most fire departments to dramatically change the way they view their fundraising.
It is time for fire departments to view their fundraising challenges the same way they view any other challenge they face.
We’re taught that pride is a dangerous thing on a fire scene. The Temptations hit "Aint to Proud to Beg" might be running through your head right now as you think about the first part of this post.
We’re taught to recognize the wisdom and value of mutual aid systems. Yet for some reason, some find it hard to view potential donors as part of that mutual aid system.
We’re taught to use all the tools, equipment and resources we have available as effectively as possible – do you do that with your fundraising?
We’re taught that we need to let our approach evolve – to be open to changing way the way we approach a problem or challenge. The way we did things 20 years ago may not be the best way to do things today. I bet almost every department has a new piece of equipment that proves that point? Yet how many of us are conducting our fundraisers exactly the same way we did 20 years ago?
I won’t even attempt to answer all the questions in a single post. In fact, I’m going to end my first blog post with another question:
Consider this: Every dollar you raise starts its life in someone’s pocket – designated by them as a contribution for an organization or group they believe in and want to support. Every day thousands of organizations around the country, and around your community, work to try to figure out how to get that dollar – that dollar that you thought was yours. They work to figure out how they can make their cause, their communication and their contact with that potential donor more compelling than you. Make no mistake; fundraising is competitive – more and more each day.