No longer an afterthought: Using your budget to make grant applications shine

A budget that isn't thought out can ruin your chances of getting funded

You know the importance of a well-defined project narrative to your grant application that clearly demonstrates to the funder that you understand the needs of your community and how well your project will meet your stated goals. Funders need to know what you are going to do and how you will do it so they can determine if they want to support your project.

But an equally important part of your application is the budget. Too often a budget is the last thing that’s thought about when putting together an application. And too often, unfortunately, that’s exactly how it looks to the funder. A bad budget can ruin your chances of getting funded. And it can actually cost you money if you do get the grant.

So what do you need to know about developing a good budget that supports not only your project but your agency as well?

Funders and their reviewers are looking for several things in a budget:

1.) The amount of funding requested should be reasonable for the project. They may do a “cost per unit” analysis on your budget, and an overly-inflated budget will show that the costs are unreasonable. An obviously padded budget makes it appear that you are only interested in the money, not in completing your project and improving your service to the community. Funders have a good idea about how much things cost, so your budget needs to reflect the current market value of what you are requesting.

Along those same lines, a budget that seems too low may have the funder questioning if you really know what you are doing. If you haven’t taken the time to determine how much things actually cost, or you omit items in the budget that are needed to accomplish your goals, the funder may assume that your project is poorly planned overall.

2.) Everything requested in the budget must be included in the project narrative. If you are asking for equipment (say, night vision goggles or new computers), make sure the narrative justifies why the equipment is needed and how it will be used to further the project. Sometimes, as the application is being developed, budget items are added and no one remembers to include them in the project narrative. To avoid this problem, do a final read-through to make sure every item in the budget shows up, with details, in the narrative where appropriate. Definitely don’t add items you don’t need for the project just to see if you can get them. If you can’t justify it in the narrative, don’t ask for it in the budget.

3.) Be specific. If you are asking for overtime, determine (and show) what the actual salary and benefits are for each position, and how many hours it will take to accomplish your goals. If it’s for equipment, list each item separately with its individual cost. Travel and training should state the “why” for each event, as well as the cost breakdown (airfare, lodging, per diem, registration fees, etc.). This is the kind of detail that shows you have thought about – and fully understand – every aspect of your project.

But an accurate and well-considered budget doesn’t just meet the funder’s needs.

4.) Make sure you have considered how the entire project will impact your own budget. For instance, what are the maintenance costs for the equipment after the funding ends? Can you afford it? If not, you may want to reconsider what you are asking for.

Don’t create your budget request based on discounts promised by a specific vendor. Itemize the cost that’s available to everyone when figuring out your grant budget. If you do get a discount, that’s great. But if you don’t, where will the additional funds come from? Certainly not from the funder.

The bottom line is, your budget is an integral part of your grant application. Treat is as importantly as you do the details in your project and not as an afterthought. 

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