Cultivating a Grant’s Budget  

There’s an adage that resonates with grant reviewers: “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” I’ve served on grant review panels assembled by tribes, private entities, my home state of Wisconsin, and the United States government. In each instance, the committees combed over the submitted budgets seeking evidence of the sincerity behind the endeavor. I’ve witnessed reviewers question expenditures for being either too high or too low, resulting in skepticism of whether the project could successfully achieve its outcomes. The entire proposal must paint a convincing picture of what could be accomplished if the project is approved. While a grant’s narrative conveys the necessity in addressing an urgent need, it’s the proposal’s budget that shows grantors that their seed money will be well spent.

A good place to start cultivating a grant proposal’s budget is by listing what you will contribute. Although a dollar-for-dollar match is not required for every submission, convincing the reviewers you have skin in the game shows them you believe in your project. An organization’s committed investment of cash-on-hand is always compelling, but showing that your entity will cover a part of the expense for salary, fringe benefits, incidental costs, or space rental is often enough to persuade reviewers. Grantors also like to see that they are contributing to a project with a proven success record, so listing secured outside funds from additional smaller grants, endowments, or even fundraisers can hold sway.

While highlighting your entity’s investment makes the project more enticing for the granting agency to underwrite, it’s how entities propose to apply their funds that separates the wheat from the chaff. In my experience, reviewers are drawn to projects that fund collaborations with people or groups outside of the submitter’s institution. A successful grant yields extraordinary results, which by definition means outside of the ordinary, and that is difficult for reviewers to accept without the input of additional perspectives. With this in mind, showing that your project includes compensation for an expert in a field, such as a language teacher or culture keeper, can be the catalyst for approval.

I’ve also observed how reviewers are drawn to opportunities to invest in developing talent. Since grants are essentially seed money, grantors are inherently looking to fund projects that include support personnel at the beginning of their careers. Paid student-internships are a must for institutions of higher learning, and I encourage these funds to be both meaningful and generous. Include interns in all facets of the project, including marketing, execution, and reportage, as you will benefit from their commitment and they will learn from your tutelage. The grantors will appreciate your project’s commitment to the next generation.

A proposal should additionally discuss how the outcomes of a grant will be disseminated locally, regionally, or even nationally. Yet, if the funding for that line item is not listed in a submitted budget, then reviewers may doubt your commitment to sharing your work. Of course, list the timeline for creating and the method for presenting findings, but you should also ensure that the final product’s showcase, be it a community report, performance, or publication, is properly supported. Grant agencies are most interested in meaningful work, but they also enjoy having their own profile elevated through your funded project’s success. If you show how you will share your outcomes, it can go a long way towards convincing reviewers your work offers the highest yield on their investment.

I also encourage you to create a budget that rewards the “volunteers” who will help you without seeking anything in return. Successful individuals are blessed by untold numbers of people who help them along the way. Be sure to compensate those who need little persuasion to lend a hand. Your budget should include meals, gas cards, or, ideally, honorariums for their time and talents. It takes a small community of people to facilitate a meaningful project, and recognizing their contributions in your budget shows reviewers you’ve considered the details. Moreover, compensating those who have contributed to the project is the right thing to do.

Before you submit your work, be sure to review a draft of your budget separate from the rest of your proposal. Ask yourself what reviewers who only saw that document would conclude about your proposition. Would they see the chance to invest in a project destined to apply funding towards meaningful change? Simply put, your budget reveals what you value, and so you should ensure that you’ve cultivated it so that it tells a compelling, holistic story.

Ryan Winn teaches in the Liberal Studies Department at College of Menominee Nation.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the Writer’s Corner or any other opinion columns published by the Tribal College Journal (TCJ) do not necessarily reflect the opinions of TCJ or the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.

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