Budgeting for success

School business managers know a lot about budgets and targets. So how can this knowledge shape your application for funding? Sharon Noble explains

Every grant application will ask for a budget and targets. While it’s easy to make an educated guess, nailing down the details before you begin looking for grants will make the whole application process much easier and more accurate. It will also help create realistic and achievable milestones and outcomes.

I firmly believe that funding should not be ‘chased’ (creating a project around the requirements of a potential funder). This will result in a project developing to fit a funder’s criteria, which will create additional pressures on schools to get the outputs they need, as well as those that the funder wants. Therefore, the exercise of setting budgets and targets is best done before a potential funder has been identified. Once completed, it can be used to determine suitability for a bid, and tailored to reflect the criteria of certain funders. In fact, it’s a really worthwhile exercise in collecting ideas, brainstorming and forming your project.

Setting a budget

Work out a budget, including costs incurred before a project can take place and those required to get it up and running, throughout the project duration and at its end. This will help ensure ‘full cost recovery’. Once these costs are laid out, you can identify which can be absorbed by the school or identified as ‘matched funding’. Some costs will be negligible, but look at all of them, even though not all funders will fund all costs.

Pre-project costs

  • Time spent in pre-project meetings with relevant staff/stakeholders
  • Consultation and research to help prove the need of the project.

Project start-up costs

  • Planning permission (where required) – drawings, architects, consultation costs
  • Recruitment and selection procedures (where required) – advertising, interview time, essential checks
  • Marketing and advertising costs to ensure take-up of the project.

Project running costs

  • Salaries and CPD (include costs for pensions, tax and annual increase in cost of living if multi-year)
  • Equipment
  • Materials
  • External expertise
  • Room hire/use
  • End of project/post project costs
  • Surveys and evaluation
  • Publication of reports
  • Opportunities for dissemination of project success (conferences/webinars/events).

Other costs

  • A contingency – ensuring that there is a small pocket of funding available for unseen costs such as re-recruitment, unexpected equipment needed, or more staffing to meet demand
  • A small amount (normally 10-15%) to cover insurances, management, supervision, general support (IT, HR, premises), general overheads
  • Volunteer time that will be spent on the project (not necessarily a cost, but could be used as match funding).

Setting targets

Targets are hard: you want to make them achievable and yet impressive. They are the measure of success of a project against which a funder may consider a further year’s funding.

Start with the end result – what do you want to achieve? For whom? And by when? These are your outcomes (the end change as a result of the project). For example, in a horticultural therapy project, the outcomes could be ‘improved mental wellbeing of students’, ‘better behaviour of students’, ‘respect and interest in plants and gardening’ and ‘improved biodiversity and environment for students to enjoy’.

Note how you will measure these outcomes – surveys (students, parents, teachers), improved logged behaviour at school or perhaps anecdotal records from staff/teachers. Ensure this cost is factored into your budget.

Now consider what you need to deliver for your outcomes to reach the target audience in the specified time. These are your outputs (practical deliverables). Make sure they are quantitative. For example:

  • 24 students identified with behavioral difficulties will take part in horticultural projects weekly
  • 180 students will have the opportunity every month for drop-in gardening activities and help improve the biodiversity of the school grounds
  • Three teachers/LSAs will be upskilled in using the outdoors for teaching
  • Five new species of plants and three new species of animal identified on site.

It is crucial to think about providing value for money in delivery (outputs), but also that there may be a part of those outputs that do not reach the outcomes. For example, 24 students identified with behavioral difficulties will take part in horticultural projects weekly (output) – of these 50% will show improved behaviour (outcome).

A good model is SMART targets (specific, measurable, achievable, relative and time-bound). You can use these to go back and improve your outcomes with numbers.

Once you have developed your outputs and outcomes, you can work out a timeline. Ask how long will it take to achieve this? What steps need to be taken to get there? What milestones would be useful to check progress of the project along the way? What time factors do you need to consider (school holidays, time for recruitment, planning permission, time to recruit for the project).


Once you have put all this information together, it is easier to find a trust that matches your project idea. It will also be easier to meet tight deadlines as the groundwork has been done, and you have an idea of how long you need to make an impact (ie for a year-long project, you may need 16 months of funding to get everything set up).

Check what a trust will not fund and take that out of your budget (check to see if this could be covered by your organisation or elsewhere). Ascertain whether a trust prefers to be a sole funder, or likes to see significant funds already secured. Think about buzz words you can include in your outcomes and outputs to meet the eligibility criteria. Lastly, always keep in mind that trust and foundations want to fund projects that are worthwhile and will make a difference!

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