Grab your calculators, slide rules, and adding machines! This month’s column will offer advice on developing sound budgets for grant proposals.
After you’ve written the goals, objectives, activities, and personnel sections, it’s time to sit down and develop a budget for your project that encompasses the expenses for all these components. Grant reviewers should not be surprised when they get to your budget and see line items and expenses that haven’t been covered in another section of the proposal.
It usually helps to go through each activity and then the personnel section, making a list of the expenses that need to be covered. These can include salary, benefits, training, equipment (both purchase and maintenance costs), travel expenses, office supplies, installation costs, dissemination costs, advertising costs, stipends, substitute reimbursement, consulting fees, and subcontractor’s fees.
After you’ve made your initial list of expenses, it’s crucial to reread the request for proposals (RFP) to make sure you know what expenses the funder considers allowable and what expenses you can’t include in the budget. As you’re going through this process, remember to call the program officer if you have any questions, rather than taking a wild guess or making any assumptions.
Double-check your narrative to make sure that every objective or activity is supported by an expense in the budget. It might help to create a chart that cross-references every budget expense with a specific objective and activity.
When budgeting for technology, don’t forget to include any installation fees, security expenses, insurance costs, or expenses associated with the maintenance or upgrading of software and hardware. Again, it’s important that you check what types of technology are allowable expenses and whether there is a limit to the amount of grant dollars that can be spent specifically for technology. Some grant programs include specifications for equipment that is purchased with grant dollars, so be sure that what you buy will meet or exceed those specifications.
Even if the RFP doesn’t ask for it, consider putting your budget into a chart format with three columns: one for the amount requested (if you have the room, include your calculations for each expenditure, so reviewers know where the numbers come from), one for the amount of in-kind contributions, and one for the total costs. Remember that even if in-kind contributions are not required, you can make your proposal more attractive to funders by including them.
Always include a budget narrative when it is required, and consider including one even if it isn’t. This is a narrative of your budget that explains in greater detail how you came up with your expense figures. In this narrative, for example, you can explain travel costs by indicating the number of people who are traveling, the reason they are traveling, and where they will be traveling.
For multiyear grants, narratives can explain an estimated increase in salary and benefits for subsequent years. If you need to include indirect costs in the budget, make sure they are allowable expenses and do not exceed stated limitations, even if they are less than what your district usually gets.
Always be sure to double-check your computations. Also, make sure that someone from your business office reviews the budget and budget narrative for accuracy and thoroughness. Never put inflated numbers into a budget! Unrealistic numbers will stand out like a red flag to grant reviewers and will damage the credibility of your entire proposal.
Finally, remember that in most cases, it is not allowable to include costs for grant writing in a proposal budget. For federal dollars, it is illegal to include expenses for any activities that occur before a grant award is made.
If you have not already seen it, I would recommend that you contact the U.S. Department of Commerce at (202) 482-2048 and request the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program Application Kit. I believe this RFP has one of the most easy-to-read-and-understand sections on preparing budgets and budget narratives. You can also use its examples to create your own templates for a variety of grant applications.
Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program