Keep the reader’s attention on the return on investment their grant will generate. Make sure your budget is demonstrably frugal, making the most of each dollar. Show how the funding will be used to leverage other funding (a matching gift? challenge grant?) and so will be multiplied in the near term while benefits are maximized over the long term.
Show how your cost items are consistent with the service you provide and your priorities. An extra staff person may be well justified if their expertise is directly relevant to those you serve and what you are doing. Sometimes relevant experience may be more reasonable than someone with a special degree.
The narration of your proposal and its discussion of your project should line up directly with the line items on your budget.
Foundation program officers were not born yesterday. They have typically seen it all and will recognize “padding” when they see it. So don’t think you can slip in an extra part-time aid or another computer if it isn’t clearly justified.
Use existing resources wherever and factor them into the budget. Perhaps someone on your board or a generous volunteer or friend could donate training or other in-kind services. Only truly incremental costs should be included in the funds requested for your project.
If major pieces of equipment drive up total budget costs, investigate whether the equipment can reasonably shared with other nonprofit organizations or whether second-hand equipment would provide a reasonable substitute.
Include an inflation factor and projected salary increases when applying for multi-year grants.
Some grant experts recommend that budgets aim for no more than 40% personnel costs, with 60% for direct program support. Of course, this guideline does not always apply.
For staff, identify the percentage of time that each individual will spend on this particular project and pro-rate the costs appropriate. Do not double-dip: If your case workers salary is 100% covered by the County Department of Mental Health, then a supplemental 20% of this position’s salary cannot be charged to a different funder. However, the 20% contribution to this project can be shown as a County contribution to the project. In this case, a letter of support from the County would be a helpful supplement to your proposal.
Include the benefits portion of salaries based on specific information provided by our human resources experts and official job descriptions and classifications.
If you are required to provide some sort of “financial match” to secure a grant you might be allowed to include the actual market value of items like computers, offices and equipment and such. This is much more likely with government grants and very unusual for foundation grants.
If you are including general office expenses such as copying and mailing and such be careful to tie them to specific project activities. The funder might view them as ongoing expenses which are being wrongfully included.
Likewise be sure that you do not inflate the costs estimated for training. Foundations are wary of this particular area so be sure any special training is clearly described and justified. Otherwise they will expect that such activities should be performed by existing staff.
The same is true for travel that is perceived as non-essential. Particularly if your project has impact only in your local area, this budget item will be questioned or your veracity will be in doubt.
Always round to the nearest dollar amount; do not include cents. Use proper formatting for your dollar figures. ($4,375 rather than 4375).
Beware of including “contingency” or “miscellaneous” budget items. Funders will expect these to be included in the appropriate relevant categories. If you are proposing a pilot project you might be ok with a small contingency category.