Grab funding by the tale with a strong budget narrative

I recently wrote a federal grant that included a budget narrative and was reminded of the important role this can play in a proposal. My mentor once told me that every proposal should include a budget narrative, even if it’s not specifically asked for. Over the years, I have come to appreciate how wise that advice was.

I find a budget narrative to be helpful because it keeps you honest. If you have to show where numbers came from, you can’t just pull them out of the air. By writing a budget narrative, you’ll know (and so will the funder) that your budget is based on actual numbers, not just someone’s best guess.

What, exactly, is the budget narrative? I like to think of it as “numbers turned into words.” In compiling a budget section for your grant proposal, you must translate your methodology (activities) section into dollars. The budget narrative explains to the reviewers just how you translated these activities into the numbers found on the budget pages and assists reviewers and program staff with their evaluation of your budget.

The narrative should provide a complete explanation of how you derived these figures: the sources for them (in the case of salary determinations or travel expenditures) as well as the mathematical equations you used (usually addition and multiplication) to arrive at a final number. Within each category, such as “personnel,” “supplies,” and “equipment,” budget items should be described fully. In most cases, you’ll find the length of the budget narrative is not counted in the page limits of the proposal.

The best way to write a budget narrative is to look at samples from funded proposals or use an example that is included in a request for proposals. One of the examples I frequently use is the budget narrative included in the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) application kit. I find this very helpful to use as a guide because it is so comprehensive and easy to understand.

The sample TOP budget narrative provides suggestions for what to include in each category. For example, in the personnel section, the narrative recommends, “You should include each staff position for which expenses will be claimed, by name and/or position title. Each listing should contain: (1) the person’s expected level of effort (e.g. 75 percent, or 30 hours per week); (2) the duration of the person’s involvement (e.g. 18 months); (3) the position’s base salary or wage rate (e.g. $35,000 per year, $12 per hour); and (4) a description of the activities to be performed by the person in that position for the proposed project.”

The TOP budget narrative also requests that federal and non-federal funds be provided for each category. This is a good suggestion to adopt for any budget narrative, because it gives you the opportunity to identify the matching funds you have secured for a project and to direct those funds to specific categories, thus showing reviewers that their funds are not the only source of support for your project.

Just as you should with the entire proposal, I highly recommend that you ask someone to review your budget narrative before it is submitted to be sure that your explanations make sense—and to make sure all the numbers in the budget narrative correspond to the numbers in the budget pages.

See this related link:

TOP application kit

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