Budget Your Way to Winning More Grants

It is hard to admit when you’re wrong. See what I did there? YOU are not the problem in the difficult topic I want (not really) to discuss. I am. Or at least I was.

And I was seriously wrong about something particularly important. Something so integral to success in grant-seeking that it held me back when I wrote my first applications, lo, those many years ago. Dear reader, I am dancing around the basic concept of just how important budgets are, and how insignificant I considered them to be. And was I wrong?!

I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t reading. Books helped build my world, language and then writing made such sense, felt so familiar and right. But math and numbers? Not so much. Why reduce fractions, solve quadratic equations, or practice long division in my head when all I had to do was keep turning pages to visit different worlds, to learn about ways of doing and being, to experience stories.

By the time I started college, something warm and wonderful in the universe had helped me score high enough on testing so that I never had to take a math course in college. So, I didn’t. Like more grant writers, I wound my way through life experiences until I found that I could use my writing abilities to get money to help make good things happen. It felt good. It felt right.

For years, though, I dreaded the budget portion of grant proposals. Chasing down program directors for details, fighting to keep my eyes from glazing over as I attempted to understand accounting speak around indirect costs. Words were what mattered, I told myself. Clear, concise, compelling writing IS crucial to winning grants. But what if the numbers and line items in the project budget don’t match all those beautifully precise words. Then, you don’t have a grant—you have a nice essay. That’s not what gets the grant awards and helps to change the world for the better.

For the gory details of how I saw the light and became a budget booster to the point that I now begin grants budget first, check out the latest episode of the Fundraising HayDay podcast here: Better Budgets Win More Grants (podbean.com). My cohost Amanda Day and I are both confirmed bibliophiles, but we offer practical suggestions on building budgets that make sense and get grants.

Nothing brings a new program together or shows its potential flaws more than discussing what or who is needed to make it happen, and how much it will cost. Budgeting is a team sport. Working with a program or project expert AND the CFO or staff accountant bridges gaps of information or data and strengthens the entire proposal. Involving these experts early in grant development also helps dispel the notion that the responsibility for the entire grant process from conception to management rests on the grant professional’s shoulders. It may seem strange to read these words from a confirmed introvert, but “playing” well with others is essential to winning the grant. More importantly, including everyone involved—the community served, program staff, finance team and you, dear grant pro, truly helps create positive change.

Finally, clutch your pearls and swoon, because I may have exaggerated my numbers aversion ever so slightly. Shocking, I know. Dear reader, I loved reducing fractions, distilling them to their essence. And that’s what I love about budgets. In a strange way, budgets are the essence of how a program or project works. Budgets are the poetry, and program descriptions are the prose. And grant professionals are the lucky few who weave words with numbers to help transform our communities.

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