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How is a Budget Justification like Chess?…and other Grant Budget Quandaries

When preparing a grant proposal there are several key elements that go into the final product. Often, the narrative – or project description – section is that which receives most of the applicant organization’s time and attention. Indeed, there have been ample articles written here, and elsewhere, providing tips and tricks for developing a proposal narrative. But an equally important piece of the proposal is often over looked: the budget. As such, we wanted to take moment to share three Q &As from recent conversations that we’ve had with clients related to grant budgets and budget justifications.

How is a budget justification like playing chess? Well, just like in chess you need to think several moves ahead, connecting the dots along the way toward your end goal. When preparing your grant budget, you should also be prepared to connect the dots for the grant funder between expenses and goals. How does each line item in your budget connect to a specific project activity? Further, how will the expenses related to that activity support your organization in accomplishing their stated goals for the grant project? By providing this information to the funder in your budget justification you are showing that you have intentionally thought through how you plan to accomplish your goals and exactly what will be needed to make those goals a reality.

Do you need to wait to identify a target grant program before creating your project budget? Absolutely not! While you will ultimately want to design your project (and budget) around the required specifications set forth by the funder and grant program for which you intend to apply, having a preliminary project idea and tentative budget will assist in conducting potential funder research. While eligibility (i.e. organization type, geographic focus, project alignment with grantmaking interests) is usually the first thing to look at when filtering out irrelevant grants, you can also gauge the appropriateness of an opportunity by looking at typical award sizes and any budgetary restrictions that the funder has. Comparing this information against your tentative budget will let you know rather easily if you can fund what you want to through the target grant, or if you will need to look towards other funding sources as well.
Furthermore, when you’ve finally identified your target grant and it is time to prepare your final budget and justification for submission to said funder – you’ll now be able to spend your energies on refining your initial estimates for each line item rather than generating this information from scratch. Budgets (and their respective justifications) that are treated as an afterthought run the risk of appearing hastily compiled. From a grant reviewer’s perspective, if an applicant cannot provide sufficiently detailed or reasonably accurate budgetary information in their final proposal then that applicant also most likely isn’t able to effectively manage any awarded grant funding. As such, budgetary documentation should be treated with as much care and consideration as the main project narrative.

Have an initiative that is too big for any one funder? Create your total project budget and then break it up into bite sized pieces! Many organizations use this practice to explore multiple funding relationships, requesting that each grantmaker support a different aspect of their organization’s larger initiative. Moreover, approaching multiple funders for a single project enables you to tailor your grant request based the unique interests (e.g. professional development of teachers, v. student literacy programming) and type of giving made by the funder (e.g. dollars may be used towards technology, capacity building, general operations, capital improvements). Just remember, when submitting your request to each funder: you should mention the total project size, but then provide the detailed budget information for the portion of the project which the selected grantmaker would be supporting.