Building a Budget


As a prospective Principal Investigator (P.I.) or project director, your primary concern about developing your budget is probably twofold. You want to develop a budget that will sufficiently support your project while impressing the reviewers of the reasonableness and cost efficiency of your proposal.

Although these two goals may appear contradictory, they are not. Potential funders will review your budget with one simple question in mind. Can the author(s) accomplish what they propose with the resources they outline in their budget? As long as you do not exceed the funder’s limits on maximum award size, and as long as you do not include costs in your budget that are not allowed by the funder, your proposal and its budget will be given serious consideration.

Most funders will negotiate the final budget for their awards. You should be prepared for the question, “If we give you $10,000 less, what will you cut and what will you accomplish with the remainder?”

Never underestimate the importance of the Budget Narrative. The budget narrative is the description most funding sources request as an explanation of your budget. This is where you get the opportunity to explain and justify your budget, and to provide details that are important to anyone considering your budget but that will not fit into the format of a budget table. Depending on the format required by the prospective funder, the budget narrative may be the only space you have to explain your match. When a peer reviewer has read your budget narrative, he/she should have no unresolved questions regarding the relationship between things in your budget and the objectives of the project.

Four Simple Rules for Building a Credible Budget:

  • Be clear and complete -- Answer every question that your budget raises
  • Be accurate -- Use the correct rates and check your math
  • Know the budget limitations of the funder -- don’t exceed the maximum and don’t ask them to fund things they exclude
  • Maintain a realistic and clear relationship between your budget and your objectives

Each funding agency may require a different budget form or format be submitted as part of their application materials. In addition to the funder's required budget templates, all routed proposals must be accompanied by SPF's Internal Budget Template for consistency. Our Pre-Award Staff at SPF are happy to assist you with any aspects of budget development and implementation. They have developed this short presentation on "Building a Budget at SPF" to guide you throughout the process.

Sponsored Programs Foundation (SPF) also maintains a 'Guidebook on Developing Budgets' for Principal Investigators and Project Directors. This guidebook provides information to assist Principal Investigators (P.I.) in developing budgets for grant and contract proposals that sufficiently support the projects that are accurate and implementable under all the rules and regulations. Any questions regarding budgets or any aspect of this guidebook should be directed to our Pre-Award Staff.