Volunteer Voices: Fundraising Ideas for Local Fire Departments

Many volunteer fire departments rely on fundraising efforts to supplement, or in some cases primarily support, their financial needs. Recently, a thread was created in the National Volunteer Fire Council’s Volunteer Voices member forum to share fundraising ideas from volunteer firefighters that have proven successful for their department. The following are some of the ideas presented. View this and other discussions, or start a new topic, by logging into Volunteer Voices. Not a member? Join today to access the member community.

Direct mail

Reaching out to the local community by mail is a common method for soliciting money. While there are varying opinions on what the “ask” should be in these letters, including specific information on what the money will be funding, such as equipment and vehicles, may prove more effective than a general donation request. This helps establish a connection between the public’s donations and the service that they’re receiving in return.

“We have been successful, $3,000 to $4,000, with an annual appeal letter to residents (1,100 homes). These aren’t professionally done; we write them ourselves. We do best when we ask for $50 from each family to purchase a specific item, such as a LUCAS CPR Machine or a new power unit for our JAWS. We’ve found that asking for money for a specific item that is easy for civilians to understand the value of works best.”
–Joe Maruca

Community Events

Organizing local events can be a good way to both raise money and increase visibility in the community. Such events include pancake breakfasts, bingo nights, and friendly tournaments. The drawback to organizing large events is the substantial commitment that is required from department volunteers. Utilizing members of auxiliary or Fire Corps programs or recruiting community volunteers to help specifically with events can ease the strain that these events place on the firefighters so that they can focus on providing emergency services to the community.

“Our biggest money maker is our annual golf tournament in October. We went from $650 in 2004 to over an average of $2,200 [by] 2018. We built our donation list to over 100 patrons – mostly local business as well as local and nationally known fire-service related companies. We charge $75 for hole sponsorships, but any amount is welcome. We charge $65 per person and this includes greens fees, cart, and food all day. Since [we use] a 9-hole course, we are limited to 72 participants, however we will occasionally allow for an extra foursome or so. Some of our firefighters don’t play golf so they will assist on the course, cooking, selling raffles, or acting as monitors.”
–Kevin Connolly

“Charitable gambling is a big moneymaker for us. Two bars are located in Holdingford, one owned by a member firefighter and his wife, the other bar is owned by the city and managed by a member firefighter. We have paper pull tabs, e-tabs, or electronic tabs and monthly meat raffles. We used to have weekly bar bingo, but we discontinued after complaints from members having to give up an extra night for the fire department. I’d guess [our net is] somewhere between $20-$30,000 per year. Most of the money goes to funding our new trucks when we need them.”
–Dave Yurczyk

Corporate Sponsors

Corporate sponsors can be an excellent resource for supplemental funding. It is important to note, though, that many corporate giving programs operate through grants. Soliciting a community volunteer to act as your department’s grant writer could potentially pay huge dividends. In addition, utilizing the efforts of a grant writer allows volunteer firefighters to focus their efforts on providing critical services to the local community. If writing grants is not possible for your department, local businesses may still be willing to support your department’s initiatives with monetary or in-kind donations, so don’t be afraid to make the ask.

“Walmart has a local giving program offering grants. The Kenwood Company has a grant program in Canada called Kenwood Cares and in the U.S. it is the Kenwood Viking Grant. CN Rail has grants available for employees who work for a volunteer organization. Last year our department received a $10,000 grant from Blue Cross for mental health and wellness training (which included mental health first aid, psychological first aid, disaster recovery, holistic self-care for stress management, etc.). In Canada, government lottery funds are used for a variety of grants. In British Columbia, we fall under the Public Safety section of the BC Government Gaming Commission, so we are able to apply for an annual grant that assists us with operational costs as well as equipment and training funding.

“My advice: Get a good grant writer. Fundraisers are great, but when we are all volunteers doing a stressful job, the fundraising becomes a lot of extra work for a small return.”
–Torey Lee

“AmazonSmile: Register your company/department to receive benefit anytime purchases [are made] from Smile.Amazon.com, which is the same as Amazon. Departments need to register their organization and spread the word and to list your company as the charitable organization. We also registered our organization to receive gifts in-kind from Amazon and have already received several hundred dollars’ worth of donated supplies delivered right to the station.”
-John McDowell

Recycling Stations

Collecting cans and bottles may seem like a chore, but some volunteer fire departments have found success in setting up donation containers. As a result, firefighters can focus on community needs while the community fills up their donation container with recyclable materials.

“Our bottle and can donations come from a bin we have set up at our local general store. The recycling depot we deal with offers free sorting and counting for volunteer organizations, so we just have to take in the bags and boxes. This recycling funding nets us between $5,000-$6,000 per year. A neighboring department (also in a very small community) recently took our advice and their bin is netting similar results.”
-Torey Lee