Since 2005, CFITrainer.Net has been privileged to receive multiple Fire Prevention & Safety Grants from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program administered by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. Without that grant funding, CFITrainer.Net never would have been created or sustained for more than a decade. Over the years, other organizations have stepped up to provide support to CFITrainer.Net in many ways, including lending staff to participate as experts who vetted CFITrainer.Net's self-paced programs and providing funding and material support, as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has done. IAAI's members have given thousands of hours of time to serve on IAAI's CFITrainer.Net Steering Committee and as experts who helped develop content for CFITrainer.Net. Without this "village" of people and organizations who are committed to advancing the training of fire investigators and connected through their support of CFITrainer.Net, the network would not have grown to become an indispensible training resource for the fire service, fire investigators, law enforcement, the insurance industry, the forensic science community, attorneys, researchers, scientists, and students.
It is perhaps not well-known that creating new content for CFITrainer.Net and continuing to keep the platform available require significant financial support. CFITrainer.Net is incredibly cost effective — it costs less than $7 per credit hour delivered. This cost continues to decline over time as more users register at the rate of 600-1200 every month. But, producing new modules requires substantial up-front investment to fund content development, high production value (live action, graphics, audio, and animation), and programming of content delivery. In addition, many users may not realize that providing the site itself (which has 80,000 registered users) requires a significant budget to support server space, bandwidth, load balancing, media streaming, tracking and reporting, user technical support, user and program database maintenance, and many administrative features.
The vast majority of CFITrainer.Net funding has come through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program's Fire Prevention and Safety Grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the Department of Homeland Security. This funding is not guaranteed and must be applied for every year. CFITrainer.Net is not always selected for a grant and did not receive one in the most recent grant cycle. IAAI has long been aware that grant funding cannot be counted on and that there must be a plan to support CFITrainer.Net beyond the FP&S grant program. How to fund CFITrainer.Net in the absence of a significant grant source has been a challenge that IAAI has continually addressed for many years. IAAI has pursued, and continues to pursue, many avenues to secure the future of CFITrainer.Net.
Donations from the fire investigation community are probably the sustainability effort most familiar to the CFITrainer.Net user. To date, that effort has raised over $37,000 to support the ongoing availability of CFITrainer.Net. These funds are held in trust for CFITrainer.Net's future needs should significant grant funding cease to be available.
At certain points throughout its history, CFITrainer.Net has pursued corporate and organizational funding through grants, sponsorship, and advertising. To date, CFITrainer.Net has followed a "PBS model," offering limited advertising space on the site and the opportunity for "supported by" messaging before and after module content. This minimal revenue stream has always been separate from content development. IAAI continues to seek private sector support, but it can be difficult to secure significant private sponsorship in challenging economic times.
CFITrainer.Net partners, including IAAI, the ATF, and Stonehouse Media, have underwritten costs for CFITrainer.Net platform support to "keep the lights on" and develop new features like certificate refreshes. These organizations have done this as a service to the profession and to continue to build the value of CFITrainer.Net and honor the trust placed in the network by the fire investigation community.
Perhaps the most obvious way to support CFITrainer.Net in the long run is to charge for the site in some way. This is not prohibited by the terms of past grants; in fact, the FP&S grant application includes sustainability as a criteria. However, IAAI is well aware that many CFITrainer.Net users rely on the free nature of the network because training budgets have been cut so severely. Yet, some users have directly expressed to IAAI that they would be willing to subscribe to CFITrainer.Net for a reasonable cost because the content is that good and that valuable. Therefore, IAAI continues to think carefully and critically about whether there is a revenue model that would raise money to support the continued existence of CFITrainer.Net but not impinge on the freely available content that has built CFITrainer.Net into the trusted, widely-accepted resource that it is today. Possibilities include subscriptions and other alternative fees.
As IAAI continues to navigate how to generate revenue in the absence of significant grant funding so that CFITrainer.Net can continue to operate and grow, we would like to hear from you. Please feel free to submit your thoughts and ideas using the form below.