Though we tend to think of the budget and justification as a dry, numerical exercise, it is nonetheless another opportunity to build your case for funding in your grant proposal. You are communicating to reviewers your organization’s ability to plan and execute a successful project in accordance with the funding agency’s wishes.
The obvious guidance regarding a budget is to make sure it obeys the grant guidelines. If tuition is not allowed, for example, don’t try to request tuition. Don’t try to hide it in indirect costs. (Surprisingly, we’ve dealt with more than one university that has trouble with this concept.) If indirect costs are limited to 8%, don’t request more than that, even if you have a federally negotiated rate that’s higher. Don’t include a subcontractor from Canada if the guidelines stipulate all work to be done in the United States. These are all real-life examples we’ve encountered - we are not making them up.
The next most obvious guidance is to provide a detailed budget justification that explains your expenses adequately. The REMS grant reviewers especially expect a lot of detail, and will not be satisfied with high-level estimates. How did you arrive at your travel expenses—how many trips, how many people, what rates for rental car, per diem, lodging? What specific supplies will you purchase with the requested funds, and how much does each on cost? If you hire subcontractors, what specific tasks will they perform, how many hours will each take, and at what rate? If the proposal guidelines ask for a description of duties and roles, provide it, even if you have already provided the same information in the proposal text.
Third, and this is perhaps not quite so obvious, link your budget items to project goals. In your budget justification, remind grant reviewers how the expense will fulfill the goals of the project and the mission of the agency. Don’t say simply, “We’ll travel to Washington, DC.” Instead, say why: “We will meet with the national consortium in Washington, DC, in order to determine dissemination strategies. Their assistance and collaboration is vital to making our successes known across the nation and to replicating the success of our program on a national scale.”
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