The Force Can Be With You
Long before 9/11, firefighters and police officers were considered heroes. And they should be. Consider these statistics from the National Volunteer Fire Council:
- Volunteer rescue workers comprise 73 percent of firefighters in the United States.
- Communities served by volunteer firefighters depend on them to be their first line of defense for many types of emergencies.
- Services contributed by volunteer firefighters save localities across the country an estimated $37.2 billion each year.
Their brothers and sisters in the police force are also putting their lives on the line every day. The average police officer makes just $46,290 (www.salary.com) working long hours in environments that can be cold, hot, wet — and dangerous.
Police officers and firefighters are natural givers, and the right approach can encourage their powerful support of your charity.
Working together to rescue victims and protect the community in potentially dangerous situations creates a unique, strong bond among police officers and firefighters.
“Police officers are fiercely loyal to their police ‘family,’ their jobs and their communities,” says Scott Wood, director of annual giving for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. “They have been extremely loyal to the memorial. They hold their fallen brothers and sisters in the highest regard, and honoring and remembering them is extremely important.
“Our mission is to generate increased public support for the law enforcement profession by appropriately commemorating the sacrifice of law enforcement officers,” Wood continues. “We talk about the things that matter to them and what our programs and mission are.”
Wood points out that there is no unifying demographic for this community. Police officers come from all geographic and socio-economic spectrums, so reaching out with big campaigns can be a challenge.
“Probably the most significant challenge we face is that there is no central database or list of all law enforcement officers in the country,” Wood says. “It is difficult to ensure that we are getting our message out to the entire community.”
To overcome this challenge, he explains, the NLEOMF starts with local communities.
“We also continue to mail, publish articles and market the organization broadly through other channels,” he adds.
Ron Hampton of the National Black Police Association also has found that appealing to local communities can have a broader impact on fundraising efforts. His organization serves as an advocate for minority police officers.
“We’re trying to raise money for specific causes: getting a lawyer for a class-action suit, advocating for blacks being denied promotion or women being denied positions,” Hampton says, adding that creating specific asks often results in a more successful campaign than simply trying to raise funds to support the organization in general.
“We talk about creating a legal or building fund,” Hampton says. “When our campaign is wrapped around a particular issue, it has a broader effect. If a woman in D.C. is being denied opportunities, most likely women in other communities are also being denied.”
Hampton says that NBPA’s most successful campaigns reach out to its 10,000 members using simple, direct language.
“We don’t send a two-page, two-sided letter,” he explains. “We say in two to three paragraphs: Here is what we want, here is how you can help.”
He also points out that NBPA’s diverse membership is not always in a financial position to give large donations, but the organization finds great value in smaller gifts.
“When people count pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves,” he says. He finds that by making it as easy as possible for members to contribute — even as little as $5 — the campaign can be successful.
Reaching out to the right rank
Another important consideration for campaigns soliciting support from the police and firefighter community is ensuring you are contacting the right position.
“Don’t forget that the police and firefighters are a paramilitary organization,” says Robert Leonard, executive vice president of the Dan Klores Communications Group, which represents The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York. “Do not violate the sacred chain of command. You must follow that chain and start at the top. If you start at the bottom, you could run into a problem.”
Leonard, who has been a volunteer firefighter for 18 years, points out that garnering the support of a local firehouse can be especially powerful.
“Unlike police officers, who can sometimes [be perceived as taking] away your rights, firefighters have a tremendous halo affect,” he says. “People are rarely unhappy with firefighters, and having them on board for a cause can be very powerful. The community thinks that if the cause is good enough for firemen, it must be a good cause.”
Police officers and firefighters don’t always see themselves as heroes, but they certainly understand the value of giving their time and efforts. This can make them a tremendous resource for fundraising efforts.
Christine Weiser is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and publisher of Philadelphia Stories, a nonprofit literary-arts publication.
- People Magazine
- United States