Local Non-Profits Train for Grant Writing Success

Kay Volman

Workshop ‘Takes the Fright’ out of Budget Writing Process

Making sense out of the complexity of budgeting for grants was the outcome for those attending a grant training seminar Aug. 28. Debra Posey, grant analyst for Charles County Government, and Judy Mills, grant and contracts fiscal coordinator for the College of Southern Maryland, opened the scary crypt of the grant budget-writing process at the seminar held at the college’s La Plata Campus. What attendees saw was not an evil demon, but rather the tools and strategy for compiling, preparing and managing a grant budget.

Often times, the first thing reviewers look at in a grant is the budget,” said Posey who reviews the County's federal and state grant funding applications. “I check the balance with a calculator before moving on to the executive summary and narrative of the grant.” If the numbers don’t add up, she said, grant reviewers may not dig any deeper.

  As the majority of attendees were from area non-profits, Posey reviewed the process for quantifying volunteer hours in the grant budget. “It is crucial that accurate records are kept and that sources of information used for calculations be footnoted,” Posey said. In-kind professional services hourly rates can be found through the Bureau of Labor Statistics by profession, according to Posey.

The fine points of facilities and administrative costs were covered by Mills who unraveled the mystery of calculating direct and indirect costs related to the grant application. “It’s tedious but you have to document everything in detail,” she said. Some of those details, which applicants often overlook, are costs to advertise and hire grant program workers and IT and website maintenance costs. 

“The first time you gather info for writing a grant budget it will take a long time, but it gets easier,” said Posey. She also encouraged attendees to contact the grant agency when there are questions. “Don’t worry about looking stupid,” she said. “It’s better to be sure rather than have to pay back [grant money] due to an error or expense items that are not allowed.”

Posey’s final suggestion to attendees was to have a fresh set of eyes review the completed grant application. “If it doesn’t add up and make sense to them, it might not to the grant agency either,” she said.

Joyce Abramson of Charles County Freedom Landing, Inc., a psychological rehabilitation program, found the program very helpful. “I usually write the narrative and someone else in the office works on the budget. Now I have a better understanding of the budget calculations process,” she said.

The grant workshop was sponsored by the College of Southern Maryland, Maryland Governor’s Grant Office, Commissioners of Charles County, Charles County Public Library and Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland.

Links to useful sites that grant budget writers might need are accessible through Charles County’s website http://www.charlescounty.org/fs/grants/researching.html.

The website for quantifying volunteer hours is www.independentsector.org/programs/research/volunteer_time.html; $21.20 per volunteer hour is listed for Maryland.

For information on fall grant workshops, contact Cindy Thornley, Charles County Public Library, P.D. Brown branch, 301-645-2864.