First and foremost, the figures on the budget form are not the budget. They are a summary of the budget. This proposal section is always placed in front of the budget justification or narrative, giving the impression that it is created first, which it is not. The figures for this section are compiled from the budget justification or narrative. Much of the difficulty grant seekers experience during development of a project budget comes from attempting to create a summary before the itemization. The itemization comes first, then the summary. Use the budget form to structure the budget justification or narrative. Except for doing that, forget the budget form until the real budget has been completed.
It is easily worth the investment of time to use a computer to recreate the budget form with spreadsheet software. Set up the spreadsheet to perform all the calculations automatically. This way, when changes must be made in budget amounts—and changes will most certainly occur—fringe costs, indirect costs, and all the various totals will recalculate automatically as the new amounts are entered.
The amount entered into the "Other or Miscellaneous" line item should always be zero. First, every expense known to human kind fits nicely into a budget category without using "Other." All expenses fall neatly into three types: (1) purchase of tangible items, such as books, computers, buildings, and hot dogs, (2) payment of employee wages, and (3) purchase of intangibles, such as the knowledge and skill of a contractor, or a service such as the telephone. Type one expenses fall into equipment, materials, supplies, or capital expenses. Type two expenses fall into personnel. Type three expenses fall into contractual services. It does not matter that tangible results often follow the purchase of an intangible. A consultant generates a report, a tangible, but the consultant is not being paid for the physical fact of the report. The consultant is being paid for the knowledge, skills, and experience used to create the report.
In reality, the "Other" expense category is used as a hedge against mistakes in other parts of the budget. We all fear that we have forgotten some little something in the budget that will rise up to bite us six months into the project. We allocate a few thousand dollars to "Other" just in case. It's the slush fund. It's the cushion, the insurance against that rainy day when the budget comes unraveled. You know it. We know it. Grant makers know it.
So, what message do you send to the grant maker by requesting funds as "Other?" The message is one of uncertainty and trepidation. Instead, go boldly and assuredly to the grant maker with an "Other" expense of zero. Go with confidence that the budget figures will stand the test of time.
Send the message that even if the budget figures are not exactly correct, the problem will be easily handled when the time comes.
As often as not, grant makers place restrictions on spending, usually one or both of two types. The first type of restriction simply forbids expenditures for specific items. One grant maker will not pay for travel. Another will not allow equipment purchases. Another forbids stipends to project participants.
The second type of restriction limits the amount of the grant that can be spent on an expense. A typical example is a limitation on the amount that can be spent on equipment. The limit is often expressed as a percentage of the total grant request. For example, a grant maker may limit equipment purchases to no more than 15% of the grant.
Another expenditure of time that can pay dividends is to recreate the budget form as a computer document. It may take a little time, but once the budget form is exactly duplicated as a word processor or spreadsheet file, the budget figures can be entered directly into the cells neatly and cleanly. Clean original copies can be printed as needed directly from the software. Applicants are often relegated to using a typewriter to complete budget forms. The results are often less than professional. Taking the time to create a computer-generated version of the budget form, takes one more step on the path of presenting your application in the best possible light.
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