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!