Grant Writing: Part 3 of 3, but let’s make it 4

12 Jun

Disclaimer: I’m compelled to hit four parts on this. I can’t do justice to the beauty known as program evaluation in 250 words. So, welcome to budgeting, baby. Sit back and enjoy.

My students love the budget. It’s like dessert – let’s cut out vegetables and head straight to the money. I ask them, ‘what are you requesting?’

They respond, ‘whatever they’ll give me’.

 And therein lies the problem.

When you draft the budget from the standpoint of how much you can include, then it’s nearly impossible to avoid the padding plague. And dear friends, reviewers spot a padded budget even quicker than an editor can nuke your pet project. It reminds me of a long ago scenario with one of my daughters.

The sweetheart climbed up a chair, plopped on the counter and began to stack up the cooling sugar cookies. She carefully placed a gentle kiss on the top of a stack before starting a new one (gross, I know, but ‘germs don’t count between a mommy and her kids’ ~ a different toddler explained that gem).

I asked her ‘who gets all of the cookies?’


‘Why just you?’

She looked at me as though I’d not a molecule of intelligence. ‘Cuz I’m gonna ask real nice and say please.’

The strategy didn’t work for my adorable little girl (ok, maybe sometimes) and it won’t in grant writing.  Success comes to the grant writer who understands the budget as a critical fiscal document intended to demonstrate capacity and illustrate the intended program.

Think of the true cost of project accomplishment. Recognize some of the necessary resources might currently exist in the organization. Other resources might be non monetary and more easily forgotten when considering the reality of accomplishing the project.

Subtract the monetary match your organization can offer (e.g., portion of an administrator, or funding of a position). Then, if possible, deduct an estimated value of the non monetary resources (e.g., valuation of volunteer hours), the remainder must be funded either by the organization you’re targeting or through another source. If you don’t request this full amount, then you must demonstrate where you’ll find the additional funding.

When a reviewer looks at your budget, they will consider whether it’s possible to accomplish what you claim on a given dollar amount. If it seems unlikely, then said reviewer would be reasonably concerned about what other errors in judgment might be lurking in your proposal.

In the grants I’ve seen, budgets are outlined in line item form. The categories line up with the standard breakdowns for personnel (e.g., salary/wages, fringe benefits, consultants, etc). The materials/supplies category is another standard (e.g., office supplies, printing, postage, dues/subscriptions, software etc). I usually separate equipment into a distinct category, but others lump ‘office management’ content together and would include equipment with materials/supplies.Sometimes, you might include facilities/maintenance  or training/development as distinct categories. Travel/transportation is common in the projects I see; the funders expect grant recipients to attend conferences and present their findings and experiences (e.g., airfare, hotel, per diem, or mileage).

Often, funders allow an organization to claim a general unrestricted portion attributed to administration/overhead or ‘indirect’ costs. These amounts are usually capped at some percentage of the budget and must be based upon a rational and justifiable written cost allocation/criteria. Examples of the criteria include distributing A/O/S based upon program/unit’s percentage share of the total budget or the total salary budget, distributing A/O/S based upon program/unit’s per unit cost of an activity or even distributing A/O/S based upon program/unit’s use of space

Before you seal that envelope . . . ask several closing questions in reviewing your grant application draft.

Is your budget complete and accurate? Free from typographical errors and mistakes in computation?

Does your budget appear to reflect your organization’s mission/goals/use of resources?

Does the proposed budget make sense in light of actual financial and program performance (use of staffing, organization activities, or perhaps fiscal capacity)?

Do all budget items reflect the planned project/activity?

Are all sources of cash or in-kind support outlined in the grant application?

Does the budget meet the requirements of your organization in terms of internal policies and procedures, existing funding sources (in the case of matches), individual contracts and grant agreements, various accounting rules and pertinent regulatory groups (e.g., IRS)?

Does the budget consider the unexpected . . . unforeseeable expenses, unexpected opportunities, etc?

Does your organization possess the talent, skills and capability needed to implement the proposed programs and activities?  If not, budget for it!


Posted by on June 12, 2012 in grant writing, Idaho, writing craft


Tags: , , ,

10 responses to “Grant Writing: Part 3 of 3, but let’s make it 4

  1. Janis McCurry

    June 12, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    I think first time appliers have a hard time realizing that in-kind and labor costs do count. Thanks for the primer on the grant budget.

    • Liz Fredericks

      June 12, 2012 at 10:37 AM

      Your point is key, Janis. We generally presume that if we don’t have additional outlay for something and it is, in effect ‘free’, then it’s valueless. That’s not the case and the budget allows us to make explicit the entire resource picture.

  2. Meredith Allen Conner

    June 12, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    I love budgets. I’m a budget girl. This part of grant writing I could do and even have fun with! Thanks for all the great info Liz!

    • Liz Fredericks

      June 12, 2012 at 10:38 AM

      I wish I loved budgets. Lists are more my thing. And chocolate. Swamp people.

  3. ValRoberts

    June 12, 2012 at 9:01 AM

    I love budgets. I know, it’s something I should probably be on medication for, but I like figuring how much it’s going to cost to do what I want to do. It’s the rest of a grant proposal that I find to be a pain in the…tender place. Great series of posts, Liz.

    • Liz Fredericks

      June 12, 2012 at 10:40 AM

      Thanks Val! You reminded me of something often neglected in talking about grant writing. Just as we benefit from varied perspectives in critique groups and writing organizations, grants are stronger with a partnered approach. I like the idea of writing grants in teams, especially if you balance interests and skills. I’m crazy for evaluation and narrative, and even program design, but not so much on budgeting and the budget narrative. As in so many things, diversity strengthens the endeavor.

  4. Peggy Staggs

    June 12, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    Great information. This is a series I’m going to print and keep. One never knows when one may need to write a grant. If I ever have to write a grant I know who I’m going to come whining to.

    • Liz Fredericks

      June 12, 2012 at 10:42 AM

      I’ve never heard a whimper or whine from you and can’t imagine any circumstance, even a pending grant that might prompt it. You’re too tough, Peg!

  5. Lynn Mapp

    June 13, 2012 at 9:04 PM

    Thank you for share this information with us

  6. maryvine

    June 16, 2012 at 9:35 PM

    Kinda late getting here-better late than never, I suppose. I particulary like this third (or fourth) section about grant writing, it really says a lot about what needs to be included and how serious it is to cover all these areas. A keeper. Thanks, Liz!


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