As a non-profit organization with three full-time staff members, efficiency is key for the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI).
“We are a lean operation, focusing our attention on educating Congress about the challenge and needs of our nation’s fire and emergency services,” noted CFSI Executive Director Bill Webb. “In 2016 we partnered with First Arriving for a menu of services, including website design, technical support, and systems management, so we could devote our full attention on our mission. To have their support is extremely beneficial to our efforts.”
Steven Tramel, CFSI Development Manager, agreed. “Dave [Iannone, CEO of First Arriving], and his team have helped us in so many essential ways, saving us a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of headaches.” First, by streamlining various aspects of its webpage, CFSI has one that is easy to navigate and easy to read. “It’s clean and uncluttered,” said Tramel.
CFSI’s webpage is also more functional. “When news breaks on Capitol Hill, we can post the information on our webpage within minutes, thanks to the responsiveness of First Arriving,” said Webb. “That ability to alert the fire service as stories break is so important to our work.” First Arriving has helped CFSI enhance efficiencies in other areas, including document sharing, invoice and payment processing, and email services.
“I know I can always pick up the phone and talk to a First Arriving team member whenever I encounter a problem or seek ideas on managing our website,” said Tramel. Beyond content support, First Arriving has helped with search engine optimization and data analytics. But most importantly, First Arriving has helped CFSI build their brand. “Branding is very, very important to us, there’s no question about that,” Webb said.
People often assume CFSI is a government organization because of its name. It is not; it is a nonprofit policy institute. And unlike other organizations, CFSI does not have a dues-paying membership, but rather a national advisory committee (NAC) composed of 38 national fire and emergency services organizations.
“I always like to use the analogy of the United Nations when describing the role of our NAC. It serves as the coalition of public safety organizations to develop consensus positions on the major issues that we can present to members of Congress,” Webb said.“ First Arriving continues to work with CFSI on branding so that its name and mission becomes more widely known throughout the fire and emergency services.
“Because of the uniqueness of our role and absence of a dues-paying membership, fundraising imposes certain challenges that other organizations do not necessarily encounter,” said Webb. CFSI derives much of its funding from the annual National Fire and Emergency Services Symposium and Dinner program conducted in Washington, DC. The two-day program, attended by 1,500 state and national fire service leaders, includes seminars and opportunities for interaction with members of Congress and federal agency officials.
Unfortunately, CFSI canceled this year’s program due to Covid-19. “Like other organizations, we are making adjustments to our operations to minimize the financial impact of the pandemic and carry us through this year. My concern is with next year and the challenges we will face if we cannot conduct our major fundraising program,” said Webb. Such a scenario makes messaging more critical to remind supporters to maintain their support.
Another challenge facing CFSI – and for that matter most fire organizations – is recruiting the next generation of leaders. Younger members of the fire and emergency services need to step forward and become involved.
“Passage of fire service legislation seldomly happens on its own; it requires the active engagement of individuals at the local level and in Washington, DC to engage support from Congress,” explained Webb. “AFG and SAFER are the result of a 20-year commitment from individuals and organizations advocating each year for federal funding of these two programs,” said Webb. “Do not assume anything in the future. If we cannot get the next generation of leaders to step forward and become advocates, Congress could find other ways to spend that money.”
First Arriving continues helping CFSI explore ways to deliver its message to a broader audience of fire service representatives, mostly by leveraging its own outreach. “Thanks to the support of First Arriving, traffic to our website has increased by over 200 percent since 2016, with similar results in people reading our email alerts and announcements,” said Tramel.
When the pandemic was declared, the CFSI staff was prepared to work virtually from their homes. That is because First Arriving had already helped CFSI set-up a cloud-based system. “Now everything is in the cloud so the entire staff has access to our documents that we can easily share with one another,” Tramel said. “Taking our organization from hard documents to the cloud has helped us maintain operations today.”