Count Your Pennies

There's no room for guesswork in grant writing.

Less experienced grant writers often use the "by guess or by golly" approach to developing the budget for a proposal, allocating the total amount of money available across spending categories using best guesses. The thinking behind this strategy is that the grant coordinator will rework the budget once the proposal has been funded. However, writing budget revisions after the fact takes valuable time, and some funders will restrict the amount of money that can be reallocated, making it impossible to implement the proposal as it was written.

Here are three tips for accurately developing a budget at the outset.

  • Make certain that proposed expenditures fall within grant guidelines. Funds provided through grants are often restricted or mandate specific expenditures. For example, grants from foundations or other nonprofit organizations often prohibit spending on facilities or personnel, and budgets for Title II, Part D applications must set aside 25 percent of the total requested amount for professional development.
  • Do your homework. If you're writing a proposal that includes salaries, don't forget about benefits, which can often be as high as an additional 28 percent over the base salary. You must also factor in raises and increased benefit costs when writing a multiyear proposal. Get accurate price quotes for equipment and materials and remember to include sales tax and shipping, which can add an additional 15 percent or more.
  • Ask about indirect costs. Many school districts charge anywhere from 4 percent to 10 percent off the top of any grant. This money is used to defray the cost of processing purchase orders, generating budget reports, and more. Find out what your district charges and include it as a line item. If indirect costs are prohibited by the funder, the district might refuse to manage the grant funds.

Susan Brooks-Young is an educational consultant and writer.