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


Budgets are the epicenter of grant decision-making. Applicants should propose a budget in only the format and degree of detail that a specific grant maker requires. The budget should be cost-effective for the expected benefits and results that a proposal describes. It should be reasonable with respect to the objectives. And it should be adequate to support the proposed activities.




In creating an itemized budget, an applicant should:

  1. Propose items that reflect the applicable rules, regulations, review criteria, and instructions
  2. Observe a funder’s limits (e.g., on administrative costs or on indirect costs)
  3. Align line-items with objectives, activities, and the rest of a proposal narrative
  4. Ensure that every line-item is neither a surprise nor a ghost nor a stray
  5. Defend line-items with well-established rates or schedules
  6. Base line-item calculations on actual costs, not arbitrary estimates
  7. Use formulas, where possible, to show the elements of calculations
  8. Calculate costs per participant and/or per unit
  9. Justify calculations with local, state, and/or federal guidelines, as appropriate
  10. Check and recheck the accuracy of all calculations


In presenting a budget summary for a grant proposal, it often helps to:

  1. Complete the summarized budget as a spreadsheet or a table
  2. Indicate funds from other sources (e.g., matching cash, matching in-kind)
  3. Complete all applicable budget cost categories for each year of requested funding
  4. Indicate the applicant’s indirect cost rate, if any, and its type and source
  5. Calculate the total cost and the total grant budget request


The larger the grant maker and the larger the amount requested, the larger the number of cost categories that may appear in a proposal. Among typical cost categories in a grant budget are:

  • Personnel
  • Fringe benefits
  • Travel
  • Consultants
  • Equipment
  • Materials or supplies
  • Contractual services
  • Other


A grant maker, particularly if it is a government agency, may require a budget justification narrative for all or some of the line-items in a proposed budget. Writing such justifications is the subject of another post.






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