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This post is one of a series about what goes into proposals that win grants. Its topic is budget justifications. Its context is the United States of America.

 

The budget often makes or breaks a grant proposal. It is a focal point for deciding its merits. It is also one of the main reasons for asking for funding in the first place. It is vital, therefore, for an applicant to present a clear and well-reasoned budget; otherwise, it can be all for nothing.

 

Tips

 

Clarity is critical. The assumptions underlying line items need to be clear to proposal reviewers. The need for clarifying assumptions increases with the length of a proposal and the size and duration of the grant being sought.

 

Many state and federal agencies require all applicants to explain their assumptions in a budget justification (also called a budget narrative or a budget justification narrative); some private foundations require one as well. Applicants may need to explain every line item in every cost category or only some of them.

 

Always follow the specific grant maker’s instructions for justifying budget line items. If an item is not clear to an applicant’s red team reviewers, it is unlikely to be clear to the proposal reviewer.

 

In preparing an item-by-item budget justification, applicants should:

  1. Present each budget line item in the same sequence as in the itemized budget
  2. Present locally established authority as a basis for calculations (salary schedules, rates, policies)
  3. Adopt regularly updated state or federal per diem reimbursement rates (mileage, lodgings, meals, fares)
  4. Describe or explain factors in the formulas used for specific line items (numbers of units or events, costs per unit or event)
  5. Associate line items with specific goals, objectives, or program design components
  6. Explain unusual or unique budget line items or costs
  7. Use real costs – not estimates – as they exist at the time of application
  8. Avoid vague and opaque line items, such as ‘miscellaneous’ or ‘contingency’
  9. Give only as much detail as will clarify or explain or justify each line item

 

 

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