How to develop a Grant Budget

The budget and budget narrative are key components of your grant application packet. The budget is very important for the review process. The review panel will want to see that your research project is cost-effective, but also that your research project is properly resourced. You may have support from your institution to help you develop a budget and complete any budget forms that are required by the funder. Here are some useful tips to help you when developing your project budget.


Your budget should clearly align with your research project plan. The reviewers will want to see how all of the expenses you list are aligned with the activities in your research plan. The budget will include the direct costs of your proposed research project and an indirect rate. Direct costs are the funds you are seeking from the funder that will directly support the research project. An indirect cost rate is the rate negotiated between your institution and the funder. This rate is used to estimate the cost of supporting research projects that are not direct costs of any specific activity in one research project. These are the necessary costs for the general operation of the institution and the conduct of activities it performs to support research projects.


The first task is to articulate any direct costs that will be associated with completing your research project successfully. If you are collaborating with colleagues on this application it is good to include your team in a discussion of the direct costs. When developing the budget think about the following:


✦ Who will be working on the research project?

➡ Which key personnel will carry out the work and what time they will need to dedicate to this project? You will need to include salary and benefits for all personnel.

➡ Will you need administrative support for your research project? Is this an allowable expense for this grant? Many funders believe administration costs should be incurred by the institution and are covered by the indirect rate that goes to the institution.

➡ Will you include graduate students? What is their rate of pay at your institution, and are you required to include tuition costs for them?

➡ Are you using any consultants on the project? What is their daily rate, and do you have a scope of work from them?


✦ What do you need to support research project activities?

➡ What supplies will you need?

➡ Will you need equipment and is this an allowable expense? Remember to investigate who owns this equipment once the grant ends.

➡ Will travel be required and what are the estimated costs for this travel? Understand the per diem amounts allowed for housing, transportation, and meals.


✦ What is the length of the research project?

➡ Set up a budget for each grant period. Each grant period is typically the date of an award to the end of the first year.


Although the funder may have a set of required budget forms that you will populate with all of your expenses, you should choose a software application to develop out your budget and then populate the forms from the number generated by the program. Using a program such as Microsoft Excel will allow you to play around with some of your numbers as you develop out the proposal and some of the budget categories shift. Your institution may have budget templates in Excel that contain the categories required by your chosen funder. So, check out whether colleagues or your grants office have such a template available.


Below is an example of a budget developed for a submission to the National Science Foundation. As you can see, the budget has been developed out over four years, which is the length of the research project. The start date for the first year is the anticipated date of the award. By the time a grant is awarded and processed through your institution, the start date might shift and you may then need to revise this budget as you launch your research project.


               Grant Budget


You can see from the example that the budget categories are:

Key Personnel Salaries: this category includes any senior personnel who will be working on the research project including the principal investigator and any co-principal investigators. As you can see, the budget lists an annual salary, the percentage effort this person will dedicate to the project (FTE) and the cost of that time for each period of the project.

Key Personnel Benefits: since benefits accompany salary, you will also need to include this as an expense. The funder typically wants to know the benefits rate of your institution and then what percentage of benefits they will be covering, which aligns with FTE from the salary category.

Other Personnel Salary: Salary for any other personnel, such as a project manager or administrative support, who works on the research project would be provided under this category. Always check what type of work functions are allowable for your grant. Many funders, for example, will not cover the cost of administrative support because they believe this cost should be covered by the institution.

Other Personnel Benefits: You can include the associated benefits for any other personnel you have listed in the category above under this category.

Operating Expenses: You can include expenses like travel, consultants, and research supplies, sub-awards to any partners under this category.

Indirect Costs Return Rate: This is the rate that was negotiated between your institution and the funder. In this case the indirect rate is 57%. The rate for your institution should be available through your research and grants office. Remember to check that rate before developing out your direct costs. If the funder will award a maximum of $1,000,000, for example, and your institution has an indirect rate of 50%, you can only plan direct expenses of up to $500,000.


Once you have completed the budget in your program, it is a good idea to have someone else look through all of the calculations and numbers to make sure everything is accurate. Someone in your research and grants office should be able to complete this task. Your budget will typically be reviewed and signed-off on for approval by a fiscal agent at your institution before the numbers are entered into the official budget forms. A budget narrative should accompany the budget. This is a narrative description of each expense category for each year of the research project. The budget narrative is sometimes called a budget justification because this is where you justify each expense. Below is an example of the budget narrative for the key personnel category of the budget shown above.


Senior/Key Personnel
1. Principal Investigator, Name (45% FTE each year of the grant) will be responsible for the overall design and delivery of grant activities. These responsibilities will include, but not be limited to, the design and completion of the research design component of the grant, the development and facilitation of all professional development activities (summer institutes, follow-up days, and online mentoring), and overseeing the collection and analysis of data over the course of the grant. Funds are budgeted for each year of funding for this position. Total salary across all years $261,051.
2. Co-Principal Investigator, Name (25% FTE YR 1–2 and 15% FTE YR 3–4) Name’s research interests include studies in the areas of psychometrics and test development. His recent works include studies on the validity of assessment, accommodation, and classification for English Language Learners (ELLs) and ELLs with disabilities. For this project, Name will provide oversight for randomization and analysis of impact outcomes. Total Salary across all four years $96,042
3. Lead, Name (40% FTE YR 1–2 and 15% FTE YR 3–4) will be responsible for assisting with the design and delivery of grant activities. She will be engaged in research work as well as design work related to issues of organizational context in the professional development model. These responsibilities will include, but not be limited to, collaborating in the design and facilitation of all professional development activities that relate to working with English Language Learners, and collection and analysis of data. Total salary across all years $144,433.
4. Lead, Name (40% FTE across all four years) will be responsible for assisting with the design and delivery of intervention activities. She will lead and oversee a team of consultants to deliver the intervention and supervise the logistics of working with partners for implementation activities. She will also be responsible for oversight of all sustainability strategies and activities. Total salary across all years $167,345.

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