When you find a grant you want to apply for, chances are you will also find a budget form. Most grant applications require one; the bigger the grant, the more complex the form. Don’t let the budget scare you. Think of it as the story of your proposed project told in numbers. (If numbers make you nervous, get help from a mathematically inclined friend or colleague.)
Usually the form has two sections: one for expenses and one for income. This month we will focus on the expense side. The budget is as important as your answers to the application questions, so leave yourself as much time to prepare the budget as you do for answering the questions.
Here’s what to do:
1. Make a list of all the steps required to complete your project. This may take a few rounds of revision. Don’t forget the minutiae like purchasing office supplies, arranging hotel accommodations if you’re traveling, printing, designing marketing materials, hiring consultants, etc. Don’t concern yourself with the cost of anything now; just write down every small step of your project and any items you need to purchase or hire out.
2. Calculate prices for each item on the list. Some prices you will know off the top of your head. Other prices you will have to research. How much is round trip airfare to Alaska these days? What is the cost of printing postcards? What is the hourly rate of that consultant? What does a box of paperclips go for? Depending on the detail of your budget, this could take several hours; however, most information is readily available online or by calling your suppliers. Estimates are fine; you don’t need to be accurate to the penny.
3. Put like with like. Depending on the complexity of the form, you may need to lump expenses in categories. For example, the price of the paper clips may fall under “office supplies.”
4. Contact the Funder to see if you can look at budget forms from successful grant recipients. Seeing one filled out correctly can be a big help. Find out what expenses are allowable. For example, some funders don’t pay for equipment purchases; some don’t pay for meals. Don’t include any expenses that the funder doesn’t pay for. This will usually disqualify your application. If you are not sure, call to double-check.
5. Explain all line items. None of the information you provide should be mysterious. It should all make sense and relate to expenses you’ve outlined in your proposal. Label every line item specifically. For example, rather than “Printing,” write “Printing posters and postcards” so that it is clear what each expense relates to.
Remember: Your budget is the story of your project told with numbers. Making your list of potential expenses will give you all the fundamentals you need to tell your story well.
Gigi Rosenberg is a writer, teacher and occasional performer of edgy, comic monologues on motherhood, relationships and the existential nature of being. Her essays and how-to articles have been published in Writer’s Digest, The Oregonian, The Jewish Review, Cycle California! Magazine and Parenting (forthcoming). “The Hanukkah Bush,” her radio commentary, was featured on Oregon Public Broadcasting. She coaches writers on how to read in public and teaches regional and national workshops on “Grant Writing for Success.”