Grants 101: Writing a Strong Budget Description

by Mark Livengood, WHC Grant Program Director, writing to an imaginary applicant as if responding to an imaginary grant proposal draft.

Pen, calculator and WHC budget form 

To:  Grant Applicant

From:  Mark Livengood, The Friendly Curmudgeon

Re:  Your Budget Description

Overall, your major grant application is looking really good.  The project description clearly communicates interesting humanities content, identifies solid humanities experts, and suggests the involvement of strong community partners.  In terms of your project budget, the figures balance and you have more than the required one-to-one match.  Nice work.

Still, several of your proposed expenses will likely raise questions from reviewersThis is common.  I recommend you use the ‘Budget Description’ page as a place to address potential questions and show the thinking behind your request.  Use the space to explain your request in well chosen words, for example:

  • Personnel. You ask for $2,000 so that you can direct the project.  But is that function part of your normal job responsibilities?  How is your involvement specifically in this project over and above your “usual and customary” salary?  How did you calculate this amount?


  • Travel, Lodging, and Food. There is a $1,500 request for travel expenses for the project’s humanities experts.  But where are these people coming from, where are they staying, and how are they getting there and back?  Remember that the WHC abides by current Wisconsin state rates.


  • Equipment. Now about that $2,500 for unspecified equipment.  That’s 25% of your total request!  But what is this equipment, why is it essential to your project, and what will happen to it at the end of the project period?  Could you use free, open source tools instead? 


  • Admission.  Is there an admission charge for the public event that you have proposed?  If so, what are the ticket prices?  What steps have you taken to make the event accessible to the broadest audience?


In summary, use the one-page ‘Budget Description’ page to provide context for your request and link specific items in the budget to the project description.  Help reviewers understand.  Make it easier for them to say YES! to your proposal. 

And of course, don’t forget to consult the Grant Application Instructions, read other Tips for Grant Writers, and don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions. 


Major Grant applications are due in the WHC office on April 15 and Mini-Grant applications are due in the WHC office on May 1. All the application materials and instructions are here.   

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