Grant Budgeting When You're Not a 'Numbers Person'

If you’re a grant writer, you probably prefer words over numbers. When it comes time to develop a project budget, you would hope someone more technical would take lead, but unfortunately this task usually falls on your shoulders. Don’t despair! In this post, we will give you an example of how to develop a project budget in just a week.  

The Native Village of Tetlin in Alaska was pursuing an Indian Community Development Block Grant for housing rehabilitation. To develop the project scope and budget, we first needed to assess what work needed to be done. To do this, the 1st Chief and Grant Writer, Patricia Young, went door to door over two days to conduct housing assessment interviews. 

Think you’re not qualified to do a housing assessment? Think again! Patricia has no experience with housing, but she thoughtfully developed a two-page assessment that provided the exact information needed to develop a project scope and budget. After she developed the housing assessment, she checked with a housing weatherization expert to make sure she was collecting the right information.

We aggregated all housing assessments into an excel spreadsheet. There was a column for each question asked on the assessment.

To help understand what each house renovation was going to cost, we again worked with a housing expert to estimate costs for things like new windows, heating stoves, roof replacements, etc. By estimating costs for basic weatherization and energy efficiency upgrades, we could estimate ball-park material costs for each home.

No need to be a sophisticated Excel user, these few tricks helped make this process faster. If you know that you will be selecting from a list, it’s most efficient to create a drop-down menu in the cell. For instance, we knew that the cost for a Toyo Stove is $2,000 and a Blaze King wood stove is $4,000. Based on the homeowner’s preference, we could quickly select which option they wanted, which was faster than typing in the cost every time.

To create a list, select the cell where you want the drop down list. In the Data tab, select Data Validation.

In the Data Validation box, go to the Settings tab. Below ‘Allow’, select List from the drop down menu. In Source, type in the values you want included in the list. In this example, we're estimating general repair costs of $1,000, $1,500, $2,500, and $3,500.


In the second to last column, we added a 10% contingency meaning that we were padding the estimate with an extra 10% for unaccounted expenses.

In the last column, we added up the values of each material cost per house for a total estimated material cost. Click in the cell and type =SUM. Then select the cells you want to add up. To add multiple cells, be sure to hold the Ctrl key. This is how the total cost looked for the first house: =SUM(V3+Y3+AA3+AD3+AH3+AF3+AL3)*AR3. We added all material costs and multiplied that total by 1.1 for the 10% contingency.

The grand total was over $220,000 in material costs. This exceeds what we could afford for the grant application. We knew we could afford about half of that, then selected the homes that seemed to need the most attention for priority during this funding cycle. The exact homes to be worked on will be a final decision made by the tribe, but for the sake of estimating costs, we took a first stab at it. This ended up totaling rehabilitation work on eleven homes.  

Now what? I have an estimated budget for material costs, but that doesn’t account for everything needed to develop a budget.

Then we moved to LearnGrantWriting’s Excel Budget Template to factor in personnel, fringe benefits, travel, equipment, supplies, contractual, construction, other direct costs, and indirect charges. This budget template is set up to easily complete Federal grant applications. (You can get instructions on how to use the budget and the Excel template by taking our first course on Project Planning.)

To estimate personnel costs, I received an estimate from the housing expert that a house needing a lot of work is about 174 man hours. We multiplied that number by eleven houses and added in a buffer for time spent emptying the houses, preparing a job site, cleaning up, etc.

Within two hours of reviewing the housing assessment data, we had a budget that was about 95% complete. We still have some small tweaks to make, but this budget is enough to move ahead with the rest of the application.

Now that we know how many homes we will be working on and what work needs done, the second grant writer supporting this project can now write the narrative and implementation plan. We can now work with the Tribal Administrator to calculate how much match needs secured. With that number in hand, we can finish the Resolution for the tribe to pass authorizing submission of the grant.

As you can tell – everything really hinges on getting your cost estimate complete! The entire process for developing a scope of work and budget took us about two weeks.

If you have any questions about how to get started developing your cost estimate, don’t hesitate to reach out on Facebook or Contact us here. You don't have to be a numbers person to succeed and we want to help you! 

If you want to learn more, check out these FREE Grant Writing Tips and Tricks!

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