Your project budget — does the means support the methods?

Funders often turn to the project budget first when digging in to review a grant proposal. The budget gives the reviewer a quick, easy-to-digest snapshot of the project. “The project budget can speak volumes about what’s being proposed, and about the organization applying for funding,” according to Holly Thompson, contributing editor for The Grantsmanship Center, in Los Angeles, Calif.

“Is the budget thoughtful and clear? Is it detailed? Is the financial plan feasible? Most importantly,” said Thompson. “The funder wants to know if the ‘means’ (costs associated with the project) support the ‘methods’ (activities described in the narrative).”

A feasible budget includes reasonable, justified dollar amounts that support those methods. According to Thompson, a persuasive budget is:

Accurate: All the math in the budget adds up, every row, every column. Simple computational errors make a negative first impression.

Reasonable: The proposed expenses are neither too high nor too low. If the costs are too high, the funder might think you’re over-reaching, but lowballing costs can raise doubts about your organization’s ability to execute the project and achieve the expected outcomes. Make educated estimates based on market research and price checking.

Justified: The budget narrative or the budget itself explains how each expense was calculated. What is the annual salary of the director, and what percentage of the person’s time are you allocating to the project? How many pencils will you need for students participating in your test preparation program? Show the math. A formula for pencils might look like something like this: $100 for pencils = 200 students x 5 pencils/student x $.10/pencil.

Comprehensive: The budget includes everything needed to carry out the project. It reflects the major activities in the proposal narrative and shows how all the people, supplies, equipment, space, and other supporting items will be covered. In addition to the requested grant funds, it details the additional cash and in-kind resources other sources will provide.

Don’t let an inaccurate, pie-in-the-sky, vague, or incomplete budget stop you from getting the grant. “It’s amazing how much a one-page chart with numbers can communicate, so it’s important to get the budget right,” Thompson said.