Ethical Decision in Grant Writing ©

Part II. Inflating the Budget Proposal

By Dr. Vanessa S. O’Neal



Ok, so, we have all looked at the title and said, "I haven't done anything like that before," and because you are all good upstanding community citizens you may be right. However, for those of us who can be honest and say, "Yes! I have inflated a budget or two in a grant proposal," I commend you for your honesty. 


Why is this an issue?  Well, let us first discuss the budget.  The budget is the most important component of the grant proposal. It tells the funder not only how much money is needed but also how much money your organization (project) has and how the money is projected to be spent.  A good budget answers several questions:

            1. How much money is needed to fund the program/project successfully?
            2. What is the percentage of money being allocated in all areas?  i.e. personnel, supplies, equipment, and so forth.
            3. How much money has been contributed?
            4. What is the expense to revenue ratio?
            5. Does the budget reasonably fit the program/project?


For the purposes of our current argument, let us focus on Question # 5: "Does the budget reasonably fit the program?"


I have to stop and laugh here because this is the question that most people who inflate budgets fail to answer. Believe it or not, when a budget is constructed for a program it is suppose to give actual figures. meaning a little research should have taken place.  The two most popular reasons for inflating budgets knowingly are: 

            1. To increase the amount of funding to be rendered
            2. To make a component of the project look bigger than it really is


Those who inflate budgets unknowingly do so because of one reason:

            1.  Lack of knowledge, training and/or understanding.


Unknowingly inflating a budget does not carry a penalty most learn from their mistakes.  However, knowingly inflating a budget is definitely an ethical issue and here is why.  Funders base their decision to award funds based on the information they are given and, even though philanthropic organizations are moving toward on-site visits, unannounced visits, references, vitae, and so forth, a large part of the decision to fund or not to fund comes from what is in black and white in front of them. 


If the information that is presented to them is false and an award is given you, the grant writer has just committed a crime.  In most states it is called theft by deception


The most common components inflated in a proposal are:

            1. Personnel
            2. Supplies and materials
            3. Equipment
            4. Other/miscellaneous


Now, let us take a minute to clarify something. I am in no way stating that if you add a percentage to your budget, or if in your budget you add a little wiggle room in your calculations for growth, increase or accuracy, that you are a fraud.   I am talking about the people that intentionally increase the numbers to gain an excess of funds.


Dr. Vanessa S. O’Neal is Founder of the National Society of Grant Writing Professionals, Founder of Families4Life, and the author of Grant Me The Money: The Practical Guide To Successful Grant Writing Practice.