What Story Do Your Grant Budget Numbers Tell?

It might start with an innocent question: “How much should we put in the budget for mileage?” with a well-intentioned answer like “Let’s put in $750, that feels like the right amount.”

But why $750? How does a mileage budget of $750 fit in with the narrative story of your program design? Why would staff need to travel that much if the program is all offered on-site? Or travel so little if it is a monthly home-visit based program?

Your grant budget tells the story of your project or program all on its own, whether  you intend for it to or not. I’ve talked about it before…and fair warning, this won’t be the last time.

The story told by a grant application budget, and the importance of internal check-sheets for validating your numbers, was front and center as part of my week as we worked through a pre-proposal form with a client and their staff. Grant budgets are about crunching the numbers. Ensuring each row and column add. But they are also about telling your story. Do you know what story your grant budget numbers tell? As we dug deeper than the funder required form and looked at the budget numbers that came out through the internal check-sheets the clients story became much richer and more rock solid.

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This week’s process with a client was about two stories that were being told by the grant budget. The story of where match was coming from, and which sources were cash versus in-kind match. The second story was about what the internal organization budget detail was behind the big picture numbers and how those numbers aligned with the anticipated project workplan. Sounds simple, right?

The reality was that the form from the grantmaker was SO overly simplified, that the client conversation was initially too high level. It would have been easy to fill out the simple 5-row table with some back of the envelope numbers and work through the detail in the full proposal phase. Yet what is the risk? The story that those generic big picture numbers were telling the pre-proposal were based on well-intentioned estimates. Not in solid formulas in detail. And when a funder has you setting your request ceiling through an LOI or pre-proposal process, you don’t want to be understating your anticipated project budget.

Hence, the need to have your own blank budget templates and check-sheets to fall back on when developing a budget for a new grant application. By having trusted detailed templates and check-sheets to validate you numbers, templates that require the deeper level of detail from you, when you click on submit on an LOI or pre-proposal, or even a full proposal, you will do with confidence that the budget you have submitted will tell the reviewer the same story as your well-crafted narrative.

Do you want to learn more about how to strengthen the story that your grant application budgets are telling as part of your application? I hope you’ll join me for my upcoming webinar on CharityHowTo as we talk about just that, How to Write a Grant Budget That Tells Your Application’s Story, and share some great bonus materials and templates as part of your session! You can get more info and register here.

Do you have any other tips about how to make your grant budget tell a better story as part of your grant application? Or go to resources to help with your grant budgets? We’d love to hear! Share your thoughts in the comments section on the website, or drop us a note on social media.

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