January 23, 2020

But First, Build Your Budget

Does this sound familiar as a grant writer? You know you’re eligible for a particular grant, but you’re wondering if it’s a good fit for your organization. One great way to check is to build a draft budget.

Creating your budget early in the grant application process is a fast way to map out key pieces of information about your organization and the opportunity, and understand if they’re a good match.

There is one big piece of data you’ll need to nail down before you begin. Are you applying for general operating funds or programmatic funds?

General operating funds are unrestricted – you can use them for almost anything in your organization! These are the most flexible funds you can apply for, but also the hardest to find. There just aren’t as many grants for general operating funds.

More often, grants are made for programmatic funds – money used for a specific program within your organization. Programmatic funds are restricted to that purpose.

Make sure you know which kind of funds your organization is focused on finding, and which kind of funds the potential grant is offering, before you begin building your budget.

When you start building your budget, you’ll quickly gather information on the details of the grant opportunity. Use each of these pieces of information as a prompt to better understand fit:

  • The start date of the grant: Is your organization prepared to begin activities as quickly as is required?
  • The grant’s duration: Is the timeframe of the grant compatible with your own? Are you planning on conducting the program or activity for the length of the grant period?
  • Total award amount: Is this enough to do what you’re hoping to accomplish? Too much?
  • Whether the grant has yearly award amount limits: If it does, can you conduct your work with that amount, or will you need to find additional sources of income? If it doesn’t, does it make sense to weight the funds toward one end of the award period or the other to better accomplish your goals?
  • What costs are allowable: Are the staff positions, supplies, or operating funds you’re hoping to be awarded acceptable uses of the grant funds? Does the grantor have any restrictions on how their funds should be allocated across grant activities?
  • Whether indirect costs are allowable: If indirect costs are important to being able to accomplish your work, this is when you double-check to make sure it’s an acceptable component of the budget and what the maximum allowable rate is.
  • Whether a match is required: Does the opportunity require matching funds? If so, what percentage is required? Do they have any restrictions on whether the match must be in the form of other grant funds, or can you contribute internal resources like salaries and in-kind support?

Once you have a sense of the budget requirements, start brainstorming the components of your idea and plugging them into the budget. Depending on your goals, you may quickly find that the grant is either too big or too small. Adjust accordingly. Now is the time to right-size!

If it looks like there will be extra funds, scale up components or add new ones if you feel you can support them internally and they’re integral to the program. Or, cut down the scope of your project if funds are going fast and a smaller project still accomplishes your goals.

If your ideas and the amount of funds offered by the grant don’t match, or the grant contains budget restrictions that your organization can’t reasonably meet, now is the time to find out, and bail out, if necessary.

Even if you end up deciding the grant isn’t the right fit for your project or organization, drafting your budget and timeline provides valuable insight around what the right fit will look like. And, if all budget indicators point toward go, congrats! Depending on the complexity of the budget form, drafting the budget can be one of the more time-consuming steps in the grant application process. If you build your budget first, you’ve got a head start.


This post was filed under: ,