Whether you are a “numbers person” or not, the prospect of sitting down to complete the budget for your latest grant proposal isn’t a task that most get too excited to begin. It can be difficult to forecast the actual cost of a program you have never run. It can be frustrating to know what expense lines to include in your budget until the program is well under way. Somewhat sarcastically, we may wonder how much money we can include in the miscellaneous category… you know, just to cover all our bases. Others may just wish that funders would make the entire budgeting process an easier one, as each new application can bring with it different templates and requirements. Whatever your budgeting pain, we know it’s real, and you’re not alone.
The Budget Is A Vital Part Of Every Grant Proposal
No matter how you might feel about the budgeting process, one idea is certain: the budget section of a grant application is just as important as every other part of the proposal. Don’t think for a minute that the budget is just an extra, less vital piece that funders include in each application. The budget is crucial. The budget reflects what you truly value about your project or program. It tells a story and, for funders, your budget narrative must be consistent with the other parts of your proposal or there is a very good chance you will not receive funding. Inconsistencies between the budget and your project description will raise red flags for funders that may be too difficult to overcome.
Gaining The Funder’s Perspective
Some may be wondering why it is so important for the grant budget to so closely reflect the other elements of the proposal, and may not see how the numbers in an Excel spreadsheet can even tell a story. One of the best ways to understand an idea or concept is to put it into a context that is more personal and relatable.
Imagine you have an adult child or friend who comes to you looking for money to support a new venture. They want to make short film documentaries they hope will impact the world, but need some financial backing to get things started and moving in the right direction. As part of your agreement to provide financial support, you ask this person to show you how they plan on spending the money to move their film career forward. As you look over their plan (their budget), you begin to notice some parts of it that cause you some concern. It seems they want to spend what you think is a significant part of the money on going to the movies. They explain that watching other documentaries will help them with their research and give them stronger ideas for what gaps might exist in the sector. You feel a bit frustrated and wonder if they will be buying popcorn and candy as well.
You also notice, as you go over their budget, that they need to buy equipment, including a new camera, new computer, a tri-pod, and editing programs. You understand the need for these items, but it seems they are only content with the very best and most expensive equipment. This part of the budget will eat up much of what you have to offer.
As you complete your review, you realize their budget leaves very little room to actually produce a documentary. The documentary, and the impact it would have, was the entire reason you thought you might want to invest. Now, you’re not so sure.
Funders Feel Exactly Like You When It Comes To Money
The goal of each funder is to use their money to make a difference and have an impact in the communities where they invest. Just like you might have some questions about your friend and their documentary making budget, funders also look closely at your grant proposal spending plan to make sure it aligns with what they value and what you suggest you will accomplish through your program.
5 Tips For Ensuring Your Budget Tells The Right Story
GrantsEdge always wants to provide tangible information and resources that can support you in the grant writing process. Here are five tips you can implement into your budgeting process to ensure you are sending the right message and clearly telling your funder the right story.
1. Check your budget against the funder’s priorities.
As you work through the budgeting process, be sure to keep at the forefront of your mind the values or objectives of each of your respective funders. If your budget is highly weighted on capital expenses or staffing, and yet the funder has been very clear that their priority is to support innovative programming, you may have missed the mark and will likely have difficulty being successful with your proposal.
2. Align your budget with other sections of your proposal.
As mentioned earlier, it is crucial that the budget align with all the elements of your proposal. Having consistency throughout your application is so important in clearly telling the funder your story. As you prepare to complete your budget, it will be important to remember what you have already told your reader. If the grant proposal goes into great detail about the value of evaluation and the methods with which you intend to evaluate the impact of the program, your budget needs to also reflect the significance of the evaluation. The difference between $2,000 for evaluation and $25,000 for evaluation will tell an important story to the funder. Be sure to understand what your words say and how the numbers will (or will not) provide support to that narrative.
3. Be clear about how you arrived at your numbers.
It can be very difficult for one not intimately associated with your project to truly understand why you have asked for the dollars that are outlined in your budget. If your “travel” line in the budget asks for $10,000, make sure the reviewer understands why that is important and how you arrived at that figure. A short explanation or note on that line can help answer any questions or clear up any misconceptions the funder may have about that expense. Make sure they are able to grasp the importance of the travel line in terms of how it relates to the overall impact of the project.
4. Include in-kind contributions.
Your organization may not have significant financial resources to invest in the project, but that doesn’t mean it is not supplying and contributing meaningful amounts into making sure the project is a success. If a funder understands the value of in-kind contributions, it can add to the story your budget tells them as they review. If an Executive Director is giving 25 hours a week to the project, that is absolutely worth something and should be noted. If the organization has furniture or computers they are donating to ensure the project can run successfully, that can be noted within the budget as well. If an outside organization is partnering in some way, their time or resources can be accounted for through an in-kind contribution that is also highlighted in the budget.
5. Make sure the numbers actually add up.
One of the most frustrating things to have happen for a funder during their review is to be looking over the budget and noticing that the numbers don’t actually add up properly. Just like editing the rest of your grant proposal is vital, don’t forget to check your numbers more than once. Incorrect numbers can cause a funder to think you lack the ability to actually manage the money they might give you. It demonstrates a lack of professionalism and an inability to stay organized. One simple mistake can make a very strong negative impression.
Read about some of the other mistakes grant writers make that can negatively impact overall success: “The 5 Grant Writing Indiscretions That Drive Funders Crazy.”
A GrantsEdge Coach Can Help You With Your Budget
If you are unsure about how to approach the budget in your next grant proposal, take advantage of the GrantsEdge Coach service to provide you with feedback and support. We will review your budget (and the rest of your proposal) before you submit the application and provide you with insight and an assessment you can use to make changes before you formally apply. GrantsEdge Coach brings you the experience of a funder and will provide you with the confidence you need to complete the budgeting process with future applications.
Go to our Grant Coaching section to read more about what we can offer and to book your appointment.
For grant writers looking for some additional information about how to complete a budget, we have included a list of the categories you should include with every budget you prepare. Download the document here by providing your name and email address and get “11 Categories Every Budget Should Have.” It’s FREE and your email address is safe with us (we won’t put it in the hands of anyone else).
Additional Resource: 11 Categories You Must Include In Every Budget
For grant writers looking for some additional information about how to complete a budget, we have included a list of the categories you should include with every budget you prepare.
Download the document here by providing your name and email address and get “11 Categories Every Budget Should Have.” It’s FREE and your email address is safe with us (we won’t put it in the hands of anyone else).