What Size Grant Should You Request?

When hammering out the budget for a grant request, remember the Goldilocks Rule: If it’s too large or too small, it won’t do. It’s got to be just the right size to get the work done. 

“The job of the budget is to support program implementation at a reasonable, professional level,” said Barbara Floersch is chief of training and curriculum for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles. “If it’s unrealistic in either direction it will kill the credibility of your proposal.”

Organizations sometimes reason that inflating line items will safeguard against unexpected program expenses and support the program even if the award comes in on the low side. But stuffing extra dollars into a budget’s nooks and crannies results in a distorted representation of what the work will cost. 

If the award comes in low, you’ll have to negotiate with the funder on what you can deliver, or you’ll have to find additional money to cover the shortfall. If you encounter unexpected expenses during implementation, you’ll have to make program adjustments or find extra cash. “Put your focus on detailed, realistic planning,” said Floersch. “A well-constructed budget is the best defense.”

On the flip side, organizational managers sometimes reason that a bare-bones, low-ball budget will increase the chances of receiving a grant award. This also violates the Goldilocks Rule. Funders know that high-quality program implementation costs money and if your budget gives the impression that the operation will be held together with baling wire and chewing gum, the proposal’s in trouble. The question isn’t how rock-bottom cheap you can chisel down the bottom-line. Funders want to know what it will cost to implement the program in a reasonable yet economical manner. 

Floersch recommends that every line-item budget be accompanied by a detailed budget justification. “The budget justification gives you the opportunity to explain line items that may seem oddly high or low or educate the funder regarding costs that may be unfamiliar,” said Floersch. “Explaining how you established line item amounts, highlights the thoughtful planning that went into the funding request and assures the funder that the amount you’re requesting is reasonable.” © Copyright 2019 The Grantsmanship Center.