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Do Not Skimp on the Details - Let Your Budget Tell the Story

Did you know that some reviewers will look at the budget in a grant proposal before any other part? That means before they see your heartwarming pictures; read your amazing impact story; or review your data, and project description, they will focus on the story your budget tells. Does it tell the whole story? Don't skimp on the details – use the budget to wow the reviewers!

Take a look at the comparisons in the scenarios below. Which one would you submit?
Scenario 1
The foundation didn't ask for a narrative; they just want me to fill out their form.
Even if the foundation does not specifically say to include a narrative, or the form they provide doesn't have a notes section, you can still include the details that will tell your story.

Example 1 – No Detail

Expense Total
Program Director Salary $20,000

Example 2 – Details Included

Expense Total
Program Director Salary (40% of Program Director time for managing Healthy Kids (includes outreach, daily operations, staff oversight, gathering evaluation data, and submitting reports). 40% of $50,000 FTE annual salary = $20,000) $20,000

Scenario 2
The guidelines said to include a list of expenses funds will be used for.
It would be easy to submit a budget that includes only a list of items for the specific amount you are asking for. But, wouldn't it make more of an impact if you explained what those items were, how you arrived at your total, and included all expenses for the project and highlighted what the foundation's funds will support?
Example 1: Only noting expenses for foundation request.
Expenses for XYZ Foundation, Tech Project Total
Laptops $9,000
Supplies $1,000
Total Requested $10,000

Example 2: Noting all project expenses and amount requested from foundation.
Expenses for Tech Project Request to XYZ Foundation Total
Laptops – 20 Model 2295 laptops @ $600 each $9,000 (15 laptops) $12,000
Supplies – Surge protectors (20 @ $30 each); Extension cables (20 @ $20 each) $1,000 $1,000
Software Licenses – 20 Plumtree Design software licenses @ $175 each   $3,500
Tech Consultant – 40 hours @ $100 per hour   $4,000
Total Expenses $10,000 $20,500

Scenario 3
The foundation didn't tell us to include project revenue!
Whether or not you were asked, doesn't it tell a more complete story if the reviewers know who else is supporting your project?
Example 1 – No revenue section included in budget.
Expenses Total
Food $50,000
Supplies $3,000
Volunteer Training $500
Program Coordinator – 40 hours @ $18/hour ($720) $720
Total Expenses $54,220

Example 2 – All projected included revenue sources help the foundation see others are invested in your project.
Expenses Request to XTC Foundation Total
Food – 50,000 pounds of dry dog food @ $1.00/pound $15,000 $50,000
Supplies – Storage Containers (5,000, 10lb capacity storage containers @ $2.50 each   $12,500
Volunteer Training – Training Manuals (15 binders with copies of training materials @ $10.00 each = $150; Space Rental, $175; 15 T-Shirts @ $11.66 each = $175)   $500
Program Coordinator – 40 hours @ $18/hour ($720)   $720
Total Expenses $15,000 $63,720

Revenue Amount
XTC Foundation (this request – 23.5% of needed revenue) $15,000
ABC Foundation (confirmed/received) $25,907
Community Development Block Grant (confirmed/received) $7,500
Q Foundation (submitted, pending) $15,500
Total Revenue $63,907

Like Karsh and Fox write in The Only Grant-Writing Book You'll Ever Need: “…even if the narrative isn't required, developing one helps you make sure you haven't left anything out.” You may think your lists are self-explanatory or your request makes sense, but putting in the details might make all the difference between getting funded—or not.
What has your experience been with crafting budgets? Have reviewers commented on the budgets submitted with your proposals?
Lisa M. Sihvonen-Binder, MS NMP, is a nonprofit consultant, teacher, board member, and professional grant writer with over 10 years of experience in the grants profession.



By: Ashley Cain
On: 08/21/2018 15:10:49
This article is spot-on and really good advice!
By: Katherine F.H. Heart, GPC, M.Ed.
On: 08/21/2018 15:19:09
These are all good examples of budget "do's and don'ts," and I've seen that some busy and small foundation boards only review the budget and executive summary. I would add that using the Common Grant Budget Format helps grant professionals to remember and complete all of the required budget elements.
By: Betsy Leeman
On: 08/23/2018 15:42:39
Great article. When we show only numbers, unless the funder knows the organization extremely well, they only tell a fraction of your story.

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