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  • Writer's pictureJean Dion

Budget-First Grant Writing: Why It’s a Smart Approach

Grant writing project budgeting

Arguably, a budget is the least sexy part of any grant writing project. Most of us would rather focus on stories about how the funds will help us change our communities. And, many organizations just can’t wait to share their mission with potential partners.


I get it. I also agree that a company’s mission statement and vision are critical parts of any grant response. (I’ve even written blogs about mission statements in the past).


However, starting with a stout budget could help you avoid some common grant writing mistakes—including some that could lead to errors and last-minute panic.


Let me explain.

Budgets Help Define the Ask

Many grants come with clearly defined rewards. Before you get started, you should know how much the granter is willing to award. However, you may not know exactly how much you really need without a budget.


Imagine you’re working on a grant with a potential $10,000 award. Your nonprofit wants to use those funds to conduct a community survey to shift your services accordingly. Without a budget, you’re flying a little blind.


You might ask for the entire $10k award, but as you complete the budget the day before the submission deadline, you realize that’s not enough to cover your materials and administrative time. You can’t ask for more money, so you have to redefine your scope. That could mean changing every single part of your response—with very little time to do it.


A budget-first approach helps you understand just how much you need for a specific project (or part of a project). You’ll eliminate last-minute scrambles and ensure you’re writing from a place informed with data.

Budgets Streamline Conversations  

Very detailed grant-writing projects involve plenty of time, work, and stakeholders. Often, you need several busy people from your team to collaborate on detailed responses. I find that a big figure (like $10k) is hard to understand in the abstract—but people often get motivated by numbers that apply to their teams or departments.


A budget could help you reach out to a stakeholder with a very informed ask. Without it, your initial conversation might sound like this: “I’m working on a $10k grant right now, and I need you to help me with the section on data security.” With a budget, you could say something like this: “I’m working on a grant right now, and I’ll be asking for $500 for our data security services. Can you help me answer questions about that, so I can find your work on this project?”


With a budget in hand, you can also ask your stakeholders to review your figures as they help you answer questions. Instead of pestering busy people twice, you can connect with them just once and get what you need.

Budgets Define Teams

Many grant awards come with tight timeframes. If you miss one of these deadlines, you could get a smaller award. In worst cases, you could be required to give back the funds you’ve already received.


A clearly defined budget helps you understand who will be involved in the funded project and how much of their time you’ll need. If you tackle this step at the last minute, you could get funds for a project people don’t have time to complete. By handling it early, you can ensure that everyone knows about the project you’re proposing and is on board with the work. It’s more likely to get done on time with this approach.

Get Help with Grant Writing Projects

I’ve worked on RFPs and grants for years, but I just added this service to my freelance business. I’m looking for opportunities to build up my grant-writing credibility while giving back to the community. You can help!


Right now, I’m offering free grant-writing services to a few Oregon nonprofit organizations. You’ll get my time and expertise, and in return, you’ll let me add your responses to my portfolio, and you’ll provide me with references for the next project.


If this sounds interesting, head to this page and start the conversation! I can’t wait to hear from you.


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