Friendraising and fundraising in fire/EMS
How solving peoples' problems creates value in community building
Recently, while sitting down with staff to plan future training, our administration doorbell rang. A training captain returned to the meeting after answering the door with a small envelope, which contained a handwritten note to the “Fire Chief” and a $120 gift card to a local bistro – a thank you for stopping by to check on them when they had COVID-19 that triggered a 911 response.
As the fire chief in my community and as a paramedic, I have always found balance in this profession by getting to know people. The couple that sent this note with a generous and unnecessary gift are longtime residents in the fire district. I recognized their address when the call came in and responded. I often show up to calls and talk to the family, and they know I’m the fire chief as it is clearly printed on my uniform and coat. We transported the husband and returned to treat the wife with monoclonal antibodies.
I stopped in to see this family after the husband was discharged. Their daughter, a nurse practitioner, had arrived to take care of them. Her immediate need to come and take care of her parents was causing her to miss her CPR recertification in Denver. As a fire district, we took care of it and got her recertified. A month later, on a plane en route from Denver to Orlando, she performed CPR on a cardiac arrest. She would have had her privileges suspended had we not gotten her recertified here. She prioritized her parents and we still handled her problem.
Looking for opportunities to help
In our lobby, a large sign tells the real story, “We solve people’s problems.” Solving people’s problems is what we do and it creates friends and value. Solving a problem creates value for the public and value to the workforce that their work is meaningful.
On the fire rescue side, the wind once blew so hard that it broke the sign at the local shell station. We arrived and the first captain said there was nothing we could do – they needed a crane. I said “OK, wait a minute, let’s look at the opportunity here. We have three trucks with winches, let’s see if we can winch this back into the cradle, and maybe they can find a welder.” Sure enough, we did. A local welder came, got on a scissor lift and secured it. This saved the Shell owners $10,000 and 2-7 days for the crane to come from a town two hours away. Problem solved, for the sixth largest taxpayer in our fire district. That first captain changed and never looked at another call as not our problem. And the crew had fun solving the rigging problem and felt their work was meaningful.
Making friends among the public you serve
In 40 years of doing this, I am fortunate to serve a fire district with employees who believe in service above self and try to exceed expectations when it comes to doing what they do.
We receive unsolicited gratitude in our fire district. It is a simple and often-said principle, take care of the responders and they will take care of the people. People want to feel good about what they are doing and they will recognize or remember what you have done or tried to do for them.
Last month, we took a donation of $17,800 from a Sunday BBQ and silent auction at a local residence. They also donated an expensive meat smoker to their local fire station with one caveat – that a firefighter enters the BBQ contest next year.
Doing the right thing for the right reasons
There is an art to fundraising; most people from non-profits will tell you. Often, if you’re doing the right thing for the right reason and making a personal connection, people feel the need to acknowledge it.
On New Year’s Eve, a local resident arrived in our lobby with a generous gift of a $10,000 check to the fire district with a specific request to send two people to paramedic school. Upper Pine River Fire is a small super rural fire district with about a $4M budget, so a gift of this size is very generous.
How do you get here?
A gift of time to a non-profit is a great way to understand the philosophy of service and get started. After being looked over for a promotion early in my career, I opted to divert my time to the Hemophilia Foundation of Nevada. No one in my family or close to me had hemophilia, but a nurse who I respected for her patient care in the local ER, who had a rare form of hemophilia ran the foundation. After five years there, we had raised enough money for a kids’ camp and a treatment center, and brought a hematologist specializing in hemophilia to southern Nevada. All you had to do to be motivated was talk to families of children with hemophilia or talk to a patient who was HIV positive after taking contaminated factor. It was the right thing to do and it solved a problem.
After the loss of a colleague and former student Kalaya Jarbsunthie in a medical helicopter crash, I organized a dinner and fundraising event for a scholarship in her memory. Once again, the right thing to do and, more importantly, recognizing the work of a dedicated public servant, suddenly gained momentum, with a donated ice sculpture and a four-course plated meal service catered by culinary students at the College of Sothern Nevada.
People wanted to feel good about their gifts and that it was meaningful.
Close the loop
Donors are special people and a gift without a thank you and sincere appreciation is a mistake. You need to close the loop, especially with targeted gifts. In the case of the $10,000 donation, the donor family was enlisted to help ask questions of and select the candidates for the two slots for paramedic school. The generous donors from the BBQ were shown the three LP 1000s that that money was used for.
The role of EMS, I often tell my staff, is to solve the public’s problems at every opportunity you can. Even when their emergency may not seem like our definition of an emergency, they have called for help. Often, that call for help becomes an opportunity to connect to people, get to know folks and have the opportunity to solve their problems. In return, you will often find yourself the recipient of people’s generosity and appreciation.