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 Volunteer Firefighting Fundraising

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Date last updated: Thursday, January 4, 12:38 PST

Fundraising Basics

If your department is anything like mine, you probably spend more time planning and executing fundraisers then actually fighting fires. This is simply due to the fact that while we may not have a fire every month, we have an electric bill every month.

I’m sure you also have your ‘normal’ fundraisers that you have been doing for 50 years, or however long it may be. This week’s review will take a look at the way fire departments have been doing fundraising and how to work smarter, rather then harder for our money.

Lets start with the basics. Our goal in fundraising is to make the most money with the least amount of work. As a gauge for this, I use my ‘McDonalds’ theory. Simply stated: If you can make more money per hour working at McDonalds, then you need to do something different.

While the hourly pay for McDonalds may change from area to area, the point is still the same. Whenever you do a fundraiser you should track your man-hours and do only those fundraisers with a higher man-hour rate. (To figure out man-hours, take the number of personnel who worked, multiply it by the hours worked, and then divide the profit by that number. I.e. 10 people working 4 hours each to raise $1000 would be $25/hour. (10 x 4) = 40. $1000/40 hours = $25/hour.)

If you look at your current fundraisers, I am sure you will immediately find that some pass the McDonalds test, and some don’t. Those fundraisers which either have a low man-hour requirement, or high gross profit will be the ones that past the test. (Remember, gross profit is equal to total sales, minus cost of goods.)

While you may have been doing a crawfish fry every year, you may find that your time would be better spent on a raffle, or other event. Ideally we are looking for something that will raise the most money for the least work. I know it will be hard to get some to understand that you should do things differently, but in the long run you will be better off. (There is a whole article on dealing with change, which will come later… ;) )

So once we you have decided to look at other fundraisers, how do you make sure they will work and be profitable? The first step is to look at your department. What do you need the funds for? How much do you need? Can you show your public the benefit of supporting you?

If you are raising funds for a specific need, let the public know. Remember, we are doing a sales and marketing function here. It is much easier to get the public to fund a project that they can see and understand. If you need a new fire truck, show them why, and what you are doing to fund it. As a member of the community, it is a very strong motivator to know that the new apparatus may save my family’s life and home.

Next look at your manpower situation. While we all have a ‘core’ group of people who usually help out, the question is, how big is that core? The fundraisers you do will be different if you have a group of 10 people versus 50 people. If you have the luxury of a large mass of manpower, you should look at fundraisers that are manpower intensive, but with high returns. Remember; don’t bite off more then you can chew.

Finally, look at your target market. You need to understand what your market is looking for and willing to buy. I know in this area a gun raffle or crawfish bake might not do well, but in others, it would be a hot product. As a community, we have the benefit of being able to do market research easily. Before you do any fundraiser, bounce the idea off of your members, their families, and friends. If you get a positive response, try it. Anything other then an immediate positive response should be looked at and analyzed.

Now that you have done your research and chosen a good fundraiser, the hard part starts. A great idea, without good execution, is just an idea and will not raise a penny. The fire service loves to use the saying “Prior proper planning prevents piss poor performance” and this goes doubly for fundraisers.

Planning and execution should not be done by just one or two members, or even a committee. Someone should take the lead and develop a list of tasks that need to be done. These tasks then should be split up across the department and assigned to those members that may have the best skills in each area. Everyone has a skill; it is a good leader’s job to find out what it is.

One of the most overlooked aspects of a fundraising program is marketing. When you are assigning tasks, make sure marketing is covered well. Marketing may include signs, flyers, newspaper articles, making contacts, and inviting important people. Remember, you will only make money if people know about your function and actually attend it.

Next week I will highlight some of the best fundraising programs submitted to If you have a particularly good fundraising program, please contact me at

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