Join Karl Kapp for an in-depth discussion in this video Budget mistakes, part of Grant Writing for Education.
- A critical area of grant writing is, of course, the budget. Often funders will look to a budget first to see if it's well organized, feasible, and well researched. There are several common budget mistakes you need to avoid if you want your project funded. One such mistake, believe it or not, is not asking for enough money. Yes, that's right, if you ask for too little money you may not get funded. Funding agencies typically have a maximum amount of money they are willing to fund each project.
Sometimes this information is contained in the request for proposal, and sometimes you'll need to research past funded projects to determine this number, but once you determine the amount this is the amount you should request. If you are only requesting a fraction of the money the organization has allocated for each project the agency might think you didn't do your homework, or that your project might not make a big enough impact for them to fund, or that you don't really understand what needs to be done, and they'll wonder why everyone else is asking for the maximum amount and you aren't.
Remember, it's not more effort to request more money. Find the typical funding amount, and request that amount. Related to this mistake is asking too much. Again, you need to know how much is typically funded, and ask for that amount. Requesting too much is an easy way to have your grant proposal eliminated. Another common mistake is not paying enough attention to the budget narrative. The budget narrative, budget justification, or budget detail as it's sometimes called, explains to the funding agency why you are requesting the amounts indicated.
It provides notes linked to the line items in the budget. Use the budget narrative to explain how fringe benefits are calculated, why you need a large equipment purchase, or what percentage of time the principal investigator is going to dedicate to the project. The narrative needs to be comprehensive, but sometimes the number of pages is limited by the funding agency, know the page limit before you begin writing it. A related mistake is to not have the budget reflect the objectives and tasks of the written narrative.
You need to link what you are doing within the body of the grant to the budget items you are requesting. Mismatches can derail an otherwise solid grant proposal. For example, if you're proposing a review of learning objectives across a large curriculum, you need to have allocated time for personnel from within the grant to conduct the review, or explain why the grant doesn't need to pay for that time. If you're having a summer camp for kids, you need to mention how transportation is going to be covered.
If you are taking teachers out of the classroom for a day, you need to mention how the grant will pay for the substitute teachers, or how the school district plans to cover that cost. There should be nothing new, and no surprises in the budget. Everything you propose to do in the budget narrative will have a budget item. Make sure you link grant activities with specific budget items. Mistakes in the grant budget can also be a result of not properly calculating fringe benefits, not having the right number for general and administrative expenses, and not accounting for yearly increases in salary for faculty and staff.
It's also important to properly consider in-kind contributions. First, you want to know whether or not a funding agency requires in-kind or matching contributions. If they do, then you need to know what is allowable and what is not allowable, and of course the most common mistake is miscalculations of numbers. Always check and recheck the numbers to make sure they add up correctly. Sloppiness in a budget calculation is an easy way for a reviewer to eliminate your grant proposal.
Always use a spreadsheet to calculate your budget amounts, and have another person double check your numbers and your spreadsheet formulas to make sure everything is in proper order. Keep these common grant budget mistakes in mind and work to avoid them. If you avoid these mistakes you'll have a solid budget that is properly calculated, and in line with what the agency typically funds and you'll increase your chances of being funded.
- Finding a private or governmental funding agency
- Locating collaborators
- Understanding an RFP
- Dissecting the anatomy of a grant proposal: front matter to appendices
- Avoiding common grant-writing mistakes