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The thing I see most often is a lack of understanding of what the budget really conveys to the grantor. Good budgets sell programs to grant makers. Grantors want to see that their funds are going to be used efficiently and that there is sufficient control to provide accountability for the use of the funds at the end of their involvement in the project. Here are seven quick steps to make the budget process work for you.



1. Understand your program

Think through your program. If you want to provide pet food to elderly pet owners, how are you going to get the word out that you have food available? Many elderly folks don’t have computers or iPhones. If you can’t rely on the “techie” stuff you take for granted, how will you get the word out and what will it cost? If you are asking for a large in-kind donation from a store or supplier, where will you store it, and what will that cost? Your program evaluation, or SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis should consider and budget for contingencies.


2. Prioritize the budget near the top of the “things to do” list

How can you ask for money, if you don’t know how much you need? The very first thing I ask any new client is, “How much money do you need, What are you going to use it for, When do you need it, and Why do you need it?” It is surprising how many times that draws a blank look. The budget should come right after your organization defines a specific area of need that it wants to address. 



3. Have good recordkeeping and accounting controls

Good records make compiling financial data such as cost of products, wages, fringe benefits, and non-personnel costs such as cost of product, printing, utilities and mileage a relatively simple matter to plug into the budget.



4. Put someone in charge

Make one person responsible for compiling the data, even if that person is a committee chair. Writing grant applications is tedious enough without making the person writing the grant chase 20 people down to get each little piece of the budget puzzle. There should be one person who has access to all the data needed to complete the budget. That person should also designate a back-up in the event he or she is unavailable for some reason.



5. Review the numbers

Does the budget make sense in light of the grantors guidelines? An example would be a budget that is top-heavy on the personnel salary or administrative cost end. Grantors want to see that the bulk of the funds are directly benefitting the recipients of the goods or services for which they are being requested.



6. Don’t reinvent the wheel

Some information is subject to standardization. One place many smaller nonprofits get derailed is in assigning a cost or value to things like volunteer hours. There is a standard for volunteer hours that is used by the Federal government, it is broken down by state, and available on the Internet.  Trying to pin down the exact value of your particular corps of volunteers every time you write a grant is counterproductive. Use a template to set up your budget and keep it handy for any proposal.



7. Keep it current

At some point you will have to account for the use of this money. If things change (maybe the items you are purchasing go up in price) you want to be able to show that you allowed for that in your budget. If your actual expenditures and use of grant funds closely parallel your budget, this will make that final step a breeze. 



A final thought here - if something substantially changes within your program, don’t keep the funder in the dark. Do a revised budget and ask if you can use the funds in another area. Most of the time, and assuming that the changes are program-related, it will be fine, but you need to show that you made an effort to stay within the grant guidelines, and received permission for the redirection of funds.  


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