How to structure your budget justification to assure the project budget is well justified

Critical to receiving the funds you need for your proposed project is a well justified budget. Here we’re sharing some best practices and advice for communicating that justification effectively.

Starting with a cumulative budget form (link above), the goal is to provide a detailed breakdown of the funds requested (the actual dollar amount) on each expenditure within a category/budget line of the form. Note there are specific categories for different types of expenditures; when there is no specific category for a budget item, this item can be included under ‘G.6.Other’ (details below).

Here are some tips to help you craft your justification:

1) It is helpful to use the exact terminology that appears on the budget form and to discuss the items in the order they appear on the form. For instance, you can allocate expenditures in categories A. Senior Personnel, B. Other Personnel, C. Fringe Benefits, D. Equipment, E. Travel, F. Participant Support Costs, and G. Other Direct Costs. In your budget justification, you would then use these categories exactly as designated in the budget form as headers to describe each expenditure. If no funds are requested within a category, you would leave that category/header out of the budget justification. Please note that it is important to always use headers as designated in the budget form for maximum clarity. This is even more important when you begin to detail the subcategories within each larger category, for example, when describing G. Other Direct Costs, which includes 1. Materials and supplies, 2. Publication costs, etc.

2) Provide enough information about the roles of the personnel that are being supported on the project to justify their time commitment, and therefore the salary support, being requested. Provide a specific justification for the allocation of more than 2 months of salary support, in any budget year, to any senior personnel.

3) Provide enough details to justify larger budget numbers so that a reader can understand what those funds will cover and how you arrived at the total. Take this approach throughout the budget, especially when justifying requests for funds in categories such as E. Travel or G. 1. Materials and Supplies where allocations often sum to a large dollar amount. Here is where it is important to provide enough detail so that the reader and NSF understand the rationale for the expenditures.

As an example, suppose you are requesting funds for lab supplies and the justification for G.1. Materials and Supplies reads, ‘Lab Supplies: $10,000’. A more informative budget justification would read ‘Total Lab Supplies $10,000, including Animal husbandry supplies (food, tank cleaning, environmental enrichment): $3,000, Experimental aquaria (10 x $500 each): $5,000, Reagents and disposables for hormone assays: $2,000’.

4) Some budget categories have specific requirements, be sure to adhere to these requirements. For example,

a) F. Participant Support Costs This category can include expenditures to support project participants. Participant support refers to the support for participants in project activities (such as broader impact activities, or workshops/conferences) or trainees (but not employees). These costs can include stipends, subsistence, travel and other. Subcategory F.4 Other can be used to include workshop or educational materials. These costs are expected to be the same for each participant so remember to enter how many participants will be supported.

b) G.3. Consultant Services This is a budget category used to request funds to support the work of a named consultant who has key expertise and is not an employee of the proposing organization. It is valuable to detail the scope of the services being supplied and their specific costs. This is distinct from costs for services that are outsourced, such as sequencing costs.

c) G.6. Other This is a catch all category for any costs that are not specifically named in the budget form. Often, this category is another source of confusion. It is important to use ‘G.6. Other’ as a budget subheading in the budget justification to itemize the costs that are included in this subcategory. Each of those costs should be justified in the context of the project. Common costs that appear here include student tuition costs, costs of sequencing analyses that are outsourced, greenhouse space, and animal care, etc. It is also the appropriate place for any costs of the project that do not have a specific budget line.

5) Funds to Foreign Institutions should be specifically justified and, in particular, it should be clear that the expenditure is necessary to the project and that the outcome could not be achieved via an Institution based in the U.S.

6) Remember to include the additional information requested on the budget form itself such as the numbers of personnel, participants, and NSF-funded person-months, as well as the indirect cost rate and base on which total indirect costs are calculated.

For more detailed information please see the guidance in the Proposal & Award Policy & Procedures Guide (PAPPG). Also be sure to check the budgetary instructions in the solicitation to which you are submitting.