Developing a Budget – Overview

To do anything with your plan you need money. And to get money you need a budget. Grants require a budget, sponsoring organizations require a budget, and donors like to know how much the project will cost before they make a contribution, which you know from doing a budget.


A budget is an estimate of the money you will receive and the costs you will incur to implement your program. It is your best guess at the time you develop the budget but should be as accurate as possible. A budget should cover a specific time period such as 9 months, 12 months, or 18 months, for example. A budget has at least two parts: revenue and expenses (or income and costs).


The person(s) in charge of the program should also have a budget narrative which tells in detail how the numbers in the budget were determined. The budget template and instructions in this section provide step-by-step guidance to develop a budget for a single project or for a plan that includes several projects. For example, you can use these materials to develop a budget for a nutrition program in a local Head Start program or to develop a budget for a comprehensive, citywide nutrition and physical activity plan for low-income families.


These materials do not include enough guidance for developing a budget for an organization. For example, an organization would have the revenue line item interest and the expense line item insurance and neither of these is included in this template.


The Community Tool Box provides more information on developing a budget for an organization – see Part L, Chapter 43, Section 1: Planning and Writing an Annual Budget by clicking here. The Community Tool Box is an online resource for developing and managing community health programs. Developing a budget can be challenging.


Below are a few tips to avoid the most common problems in preparing budgets.


  • Be accurate. Estimate the income by considering previous years income or a similar programs revenue. And, as appropriate, consider existing donor commitments, probable contracts, and/or reasonable projections in dues, fees, events, and sales. Base estimated costs on previous years costs, a similar programs expenses, or bids from possible contractors, and make calls to find out how much things will cost.
  • Consider the time period. Pay attention to the time period of the budget and calculate the numbers accordingly. For example, if your budget is for nine months, then adjust the salary figure to reflect nine months of full-time salary, which would be three-quarters of a 12-month, full-time salary. Fringe benefits would need to be adjusted too. Time period is also relevant if you are developing an 18-month budget that runs across two calendar years.
  • Be precise. Calculate, recalculate, check, and then doublecheck your numbers. This is especially important in developing a budget for a grant. Some grant reviewers read the budget first and check the figures and calculations to get a sense of how well-planned and organized the grant proposal is. No matter when a grant reviewer reads a budget, errors in the budget affect a reviewers confidence in the whole application. This would also apply to a supervisor reviewing a project proposal
  • Be either conservative or aggressive. There are different philosophies in putting a budget together. A conservative budget would include only the revenue that has been committed and only the expenses that are most likely to happen. A primary advantage to developing a conservative budget is that you dont have many surprises or last-minute adjustments to the program design because youve planned to spend only what you know youll bring in. An aggressive budget would include the revenue that program planners are confident will come in once the intervention is up and running. An advantage to being aggressive is that you are less constrained in implementing your plan. Well-connected partners and a history of success increase your ability to be aggressive in preparing your budget.


The intent of the Budget Template and its instructions is to provide guidance. The budget for your program will probably not use all the revenue or expense categories listed in these materials. Use what is helpful and modify these materials to meet your needs. You may want to use this template to draft your budget, but when finalizing the budget use the specific revenue and expense categories of the organization funding the project or providing oversight.


About midway through your budget period, you should generate a budget-to-actual report. This report compares the actual revenue and expenses for a specified time period to the budgeted revenue and expenses. This information can give you a sense of the progress on your project, and it helps manage the project. Doing a budget-to-actual report one or two months before the budget period is over helps reduce your risk of over or under spending.


  Budget Template : Use this template to develop a budget for your project or your plan

  Budget Template Instructions : These instructions go with the Budget Template



People work together in a number of ways, in coalitions, partnerships, committees, teams, task forces, and so on. The tools in Moving to the Future will help you no matter how your group is structured. To make Moving to the Future friendly to people working together in different ways, we use these group terms interchangeably. So, if you are working in a formal committee and Moving to the Future uses the word team, the information applies to you as well.


In Moving to the Future, the word program is defined broadly and could encompass any group of activities including projects, services, programs, and policy or environmental changes.

Nutrition and Physical Activity

In Moving to the Future, we often pair the wordnutrition with the phrase physical activity, as for example in “address the nutrition and physical activity needs” or “develop a nutrition and physical activity plan.” This does not suggest that these materials are only useful to people working on community-based nutrition AND physical activity programs. You can use the Moving to the Future resources to develop a plan focused only on nutrition or a plan focused only on physical activity. Moving to the Future provides guidance on a process–not on content. In fact, these materials could be adapted and used to develop a teen pregnancy prevention plan, for example, or a plan for any other community health priority.

Be Flexible & Realistic

Moving to the Future principles Flexible and Realistic are the bywords of this approach. The intent of Moving to the Future is to provide guidance. Use what is helpful and modify materials to meet your needs. Planning and implementing community-based programs is not work that can be done perfectly. Do the best you can, given your real-world limitations, and commit to making improvements every year.