Many nonprofit Fundraisers focus on writing grants to bring in dollars.

Unfortunately, the thought of creating a budget to go with the narrative or the application strikes fear in the hearts of the bravest Fundraisers.  Here are some ideas to help you overcome the fear and be on your way to creating a successful budget.

First, you must get your head in the game. 

If you think “I’m not a numbers person” you must change that thought. When you think that and say it out loud, you are in essence letting yourself off the hook.  If you raise money for a nonprofit, I’m here to tell you that you must be a numbers person.  Once upon a time, I didn’t think of myself as a numbers person, but I soon realized if I was going to do a good job of raising money, there were some numbers I needed to get comfy with.

Now, let’s have a look at what a program budget for a grant really is.

A program/project budget is more than just a list of expenditures.  It’s a way of describing your program/project with numbers.

Incomplete budgets are a sign of sloppiness, so make sure to include all direct and indirect expenses.

Direct expenses are those expenses that directly relate to your program/project, like program/project supplies.  Any staff that are directly involved in a program or project need to have their time included on the budget.  In other words, be sure to include salary expenses in the budget as appropriate.  Indirect expenses are those are expenses that don’t directly relate to your program/project but are critical to your program/project, like utilities for your building where your program/project is housed.

If the funder has a specific budget form or format, use it.  Otherwise, you can use your own format. Be sure to include all line items requested by the funder. Include in-kind items like donated time (volunteers) and donated items.

Once you have all your budget numbers plugged into the form or format, manually calculate the numbers to make sure the totals are correct.  I’ve seen Excel do some weird things before that left grantseekers with mistakes on their budget sheets!

Don’t inflate your numbers to appear more impressive. Share the truth.  Actual numbers or estimates are much better.  It’s easier to believe that $1280 is a real budget number than $1,000.

Overstated budgets are a sign of waste or ignorance about the program/project. So, it’s important to have an accurate, clear, well-planned program/project budget.

Lay your budget out so that it’s easy to read – use descriptive column headings and make sure your numbers are aligned.

You’ll find that the more practice you get in working with numbers and budgets, the more comfortable you’ll become and the easier it will be to put them together.



  1. Hi there, great blog. I would love to get a copy of those spreadsheets too, as I am currently in the process of writing a financial forecast for a funder! HELP! Clare

  2. I too would love a copy of those budget sheets. We are getting ready to submit grants for two new projects and could really use these to guide us!

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