How to Answer Budget Questions Funders Will Ask 

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Funders put the budget and budget justification under a microscope. So you’ve got to get it right. When you understand their concerns and the questions they’ll pose, you’re in a much stronger position to nail it. Here’s a list of questions funders are sure to ask.


  • Does it fit within our general range of giving? If the foundation’s top grant is $5,000 and you ask for $25,000, you’re waving a huge red flag.
  • Is it consistent with instructions in the application guidelines? If the funder provides a form, use it. If you’re instructed not to request over $10,000, don’t ask for $10,001.
  • Is it consistent with the narrative? If an activity will require resources, it must show up in the budget. If a line item shows up in the budget, it must be discussed in the narrative. The budget should mirror the proposal narrative.
  • Is it reasonable to support the program? A budget that’s too lean is as bad as one that’s inflated. It must be adequate to fully and professionally implement the program and no more.
  • Are line-item calculations specific and based on solid estimates? Show the funder how you calculated the line items and indicate that they’re based on real estimates. Don’t just guess when constructing line items. Do some research.
  • Are expenses justified? Unless there’s no way to include it, we recommended that a narrative justification always accompany a line item budget. Without a budget justification, the burden of explanation within the proposal narrative increases exponentially.
  • Does it include resources from other sources? If other resources will support the program, funders want to know how much will be contributed, where they will come from, and whether they’re committed. Even when funders don’t have match requirements, they want to see the entire program budget, not just the portion you’re asking them to support.
  • Will supporting the proposed budget be a good social investment? Funders are in the business of social change and they want to know that the results you expect are worth the investment of their grant money. Is the program cost effective, given what it will produce?
  • Does it add up (and down and across)? Nothing screams carelessness and incompetence like a budget that doesn’t add up. Spread sheet formulas can get wacky. Check the math with a calculator and when you’re satisfied, get someone else to give it a shake. You can’t be too careful.

The budget section of the proposal can be a huge plus or minus. It’s worth your effort to ensure it moves you closer to a win.

— Barbara Floersch, Chief of Training & Curriculum


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