Round off your numbers instead of using dollars and cents.

If you are creating your very first budget for a grant proposal, where should you start? Here are eight suggestions that might make the process a little less daunting.

  1. Check the RFP (Request for Proposals) or grant guidelines for any budget information. Some funders will provide you with a budget form that must be submitted with your proposal. Others might not provide a form but will describe what they expect to see in your budget. If a budget form is not provided, search the internet for samples and use one that meets your needs—as well as the funder’s requirements.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the allowable and non-allowable budget items. Again, this information should be included in the RFP or grant guidelines, and it tells you the kinds of items you can request grant funds to support. Some line items that funders typically will allow include salaries, supplies, travel, consultant fees, and equipment (although some funders place a cap on the amount of equipment that can be purchased, so beware). Non-allowable budget items are those that the funder will not pay for; however, this doesn’t mean your project will not include these types of expenses. You’ll need to look for other sources of funding to support these, such as your general operating budget.
  3. Before you start to work on your grant budget, make a pledge to use only real numbers. If you don’t know how much something (or someone) costs, look it up online, check with vendors, verify with consultants, and so on. Often, other applicants will include identical or similar items in their budgets. When reviewers see wide disparities in costs for identical or similar items (or for items they are familiar with themselves), “red flags” go up—and they question the validity of the rest of the budget numbers, too.
  4. As you’re working on your activities section of the proposal, keep a running list of every cost that is associated with each activity, such as salaries, equipment, supplies, or consultant fees. Then, you can add up these items to get an idea of how much funding you are going to need to implement your project. I have seen some budgets that use this kind of list to connect activities and costs to each objective the applicant has listed in the proposal.
  5. Keep track of the calculations that you use to come up with specific dollar amounts for line items. This will make writing your budget narrative very easy.
  6. Check with your school district’s business office or human resources department if you are going to include salaries and/or benefits for current employees—or if you plan to hire new employees for the project. I’ve found that many people think they know their salary and benefits, but they’re often wrong. If you’re going to use a percentage of an individual’s time in your grant budget, just request the annual salary and make the calculation. However, if the individual is going to spend a specific number of hours on the project, it’s easier to request his or her hourly wage. If you plan to hire a new employee, you’ll want to make sure that you use a salary and benefits figure that is realistic for the position—and one that your organization is willing to pay.
  7. Round off your numbers instead of using dollars and cents, and remember the old adage to round up if it’s five or more. In my experience, I’ve found that most funders prefer to give award totals that do not include cents.
  8. Ask someone who is good at math to review your budget before you submit it. It’s always a good idea, I think, to have at least one other person double-check your addition and multiplication and review what you’ve included in your budget.