Using the Budget to Tell Your Story
Over the past few weeks, we have covered all of the major components of a grant proposal. Note, that these are the major components – some funders have other requirements and may want additional information. Today, we wrap up our series by talking about the BUDGET.
The budget is probably one of the most under-utilized areas of the grant proposal; use it to the fullest extent possible to tell your story and bring in more grant dollars.
Before starting the grant budget, be certain you understand exactly what the funder is looking for. There are three types of budgets, and funders may request one or more of them. Knowing exactly which budget they are looking for will help you to respond with the requested information.
Organization Budget – This is the large budget for the entire organization. It includes all program and service expenses, administrative and operating costs. It should be the largest of the three budgets.
Program Budget – The program budget is for a specific program. For example if your organization provides a mentoring program and an after-school program and you are seeking funding for the mentoring program, you will want to use the budget that supports just that program.
Project Budget – This is the smallest of the three budgets. Continuing with our example from above, if you are seeking funding to support the training component of the mentoring project, the project budget would be those specific costs.
Once you have determined which budget the funder wants, think about how you can best communicate the budget while using it to tell a story. Budgets should be fully aligned with the project description, goals and objectives of the proposal. There should be no surprises in the budget; every dollar requested in the budget should be able to be linked back to the proposal. In other words, if you are requesting transportation funding for the youth who are being mentored, transportation should be mentioned as part of the project in the project description. Then, when funding is requested in the budget, the funder will recall how transportation “fits” in the overall project.
Once you have all the numbers in place and have double-checked your calculations, it is time to write a budget narrative. Some foundation funders do not request a budget narrative, but more and more of them are doing so. And, even if one is not requested, it will help you to tell your story if you include one.
The budget narrative gives you an opportunity to explain the program or service in greater detail, giving you more space to share how the numbers and dollars relate to the program delivery. Sometimes numbers are very misleading, and we know that numbers can always be interpreted to say what we want them to say. But, when you take the time to explain the numbers and provide the calculations, it will give the potential funder a deeper understanding of the program and a clearer understanding of where the numbers came from. (In all honesty, it will help them to know that you didn’t just “make up” the numbers).
Just as an aside, I would encourage you to develop a budget narrative for yourself as well. Sometimes after funding is received, or the grant award is less than we requested, we wonder how the numbers were calculated. Develop a narrative, including all your thoughts and notes so you remember exactly what you were thinking when the grant was submitted.